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

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Feb 20, 2024 • 10 cited sources

It’s impossible to stop opioid withdrawal symptoms by using over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Physical dependence causes opioid withdrawal. When you quit abruptly, your body can’t perform properly. No over-the-counter medication can fix that.

Experts consider opioid withdrawal a life-threatening condition.[1] It’s always best to get professional help to overcome your opioid-use disorder (OUD). Your team will use medications like Suboxone to help you stop misuse of addictive drugs.

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Your team may also use OTC medications to ease discomfort. While using these medications alone (instead of pairing them with Suboxone) isn’t recommended, understanding what these therapies are and how they work could help you in your recovery.

Over-the-Counter Drugs Used to Treat Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Understand Common Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

When people take opioid drugs for long periods, they develop withdrawal symptoms when they quit the drug abruptly or attempt to reduce their dose.

Common symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be placed into the following groups:[5]

  • GI upset: Nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping could be treated with over-the-counter medications like loperamide.
  • Insomnia: Rest is important for recovery. Medications like diphenhydramine could help people sleep.
  • Pain: Muscle aches are common in people moving through withdrawal. NSAIDs may help.

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.

LoperamideDiarrheaEases diarrhea at therapeutic levels; causes severe side effects at high doses, including heart arrhythmia[6]
DiphenhydramineInsomniaSafe and effective sleep aid for short periods; can cause sleepwalking, poor sleep quality and tolerance after repeated use[7]
NSAIDSPainSafe and effective short-term therapy for pain; side effects (including GI upset) after long-term use[8]
Electrolyte solutionsDehydration from nausea and vomitingEffective remedy for dehydration and can ease diarrhea in some people[9]

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.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS): These medications can 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 or Suboxone – would be right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the questions people often ask about the role of OTC medications during opioid withdrawal:

Can I use OTC medications instead of methadone or buprenorphine for withdrawal?

No. Experts say that opioid withdrawal is a life-threatening condition that should be treated with prescription solutions like methadone or buprenorphine.[1] OTC medications can work in tandem, easing acute symptoms, but they’re not a replacement for MAT drugs.

Why do I need OTC medications if I’m using methadone or buprenorphine?

You may not need them. When you enroll in a detox program, your team will administer your medications and watch your symptoms. You may not need additional therapies at all. But if you do need more help, your team can administer additional medications.

I’ve heard I can use loperamide instead of MAT. Is that true?

Many websites and drug forums claim that loperamide is a safe alternative to methadone. Sometimes, posts suggest that people can use megadoses of the drug to get high. Researchers say the drug can be toxic at high doses and can cause problems like respiratory depression.[10] It’s not a safe alternative to MAT.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Opioid Withdrawal. StatPearls. Published May 2022. Accessed July 2022.
  2. Opioid Use Disorder. American Psychiatric Association. Published 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. Published April 2019. Accessed July 2022.
  4. How Do Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder Work? National Institute on Drug Abuse. December 2021. Accessed July 2022.
  5. Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published April 2022. Accessed January 2024.
  6. Loperamide, the “Poor Man’s Methadone:” Brief Review. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. PublishedDecember 2016. Accessed January 2024.
  7. Trouble Sleeping? Experts Say Skip Antihistamines. Baylor College of Medicine. PublishedJune 2021. Accessed January 2024.
  8. Effectiveness and Safety of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Opioid Treatment for Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis. BMJ. Published October 2021. Accessed January 2024.
  9. Oral Rehydration for Viral Gastroenteritis in Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of 3 Solutions. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. Published September 2006. Accessed January 2024.
  10. “I Just Wanted to Tell You That Loperamide Will Work.” A Web-Based Study of Extra-Medical Use of Loperamide. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Published June 2013. Accessed January 2024.

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