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Is It Possible to Stop Opioid Withdrawal With Over-the-Counter Medications?

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There are some medications that are sold over the counter (OTC) that may help with opioid withdrawal symptoms.  While these medications may provide some relief, the gold standard for preventing withdrawal symptoms is still medication assisted treatment (MAT), including Suboxone and Methadone.

Your team may also use OTC medications to ease discomfort. While using these medications alone (instead of pairing them with Suboxone) does’t have the best evidence, they can still be used if patients do not wish to be on MAT or cannot tolerate MAT for other reasons. 

What Over-the-Counter Drugs Will My Treatment Team Use?

Withdrawal symptoms are sometimes described as "flu-like," but they can be excruciating. Adding OTC remedies to the mix could help your team keep you comfortable while your body adjusts to a life without drugs.

OTC drugs typically used in treatment include the following:

  • Loperamide (Imodium): This is an anti-diarrheal medicine.
  • DIphenhydramine (Benadryl): This is an allergy medicine that causes drowsiness and can be used to help patients sleep if they experience insomnia.
  • Ondansetron (Zofran): This is an anti-emetic used to treat nausea.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS): This can help treat headaches and muscle aches associated with withdrawal.
  • Electrolyte solutions (Pedialyte): Dehydration caused by relentless vomiting and diarrhea could be eased with these fluids. 

Why Is At-Home Detox Dangerous?

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be so overwhelming that you're tempted to return to drug misuse.[2] This can lead to changes in tolerance and increased risk of overdose.

Some people grow so distressed during opioid withdrawal that they consider suicide.[3] The problem is so serious that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires prescription painkiller labels to state withdrawal risks clearly.

What Other Methods Can You Try to Help With Opioid Withdrawal?

Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) can stabilize chemical imbalances within your brain.[4] Physical withdrawal symptoms fade, as do your drug cravings. Therapies like this can not only help you to get abstinent during acute withdrawal, but they can help you stay abstinent long term.

Don't take a risk with your health and try detoxing with over-the-counter meds alone: Get professional help instead, and consider if MAT - including Methadone Suboxone - would be right for you.

Sources

  1. Opioid Withdrawal. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/. May 2022. Accessed July 2022.
  2. Opioid Use Disorder. American Psychiatric Association. https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/opioid-use-disorder. November 2018. Accessed July 2022.
  3. FDA Identifies Harm Reported From Sudden Discontinuation of Opioid Pain Medicines and Requires Label Changes to Guide Prescribers on Gradual, Individualized Tapering. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-identifies-harm-reported-sudden-discontinuation-opioid-pain-medicines-and-requires-label-changes. April 2019. Accessed July 2022.
  4. How Do Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder Work? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/how-do-medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction-work. December 2021. Accessed July 2022.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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