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What can I do to stop experiencing withdrawal symptoms from opioids?

Your doctor can prescribe medications to relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) can be vital in helping you to feel comfortable as you achieve sustained recovery. Other medications can help to address specific withdrawal symptoms as you stabilize on MAT. 

Primary Medications That Can Stop Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are never life threatening but they can be extremely uncomfortable and are one of the main reasons why people continue to use opioids - to prevent the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The good news is there are many medications that can prevent withdrawal symptoms while you focus on recovery. 

The primary medications used to relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms are methadone and buprenorphine. Extensive evidence shows the following:[1] 

  • MAT can stop opioid withdrawal symptoms, allowing a person to focus on treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD).
  • MAT reduces the risk of overdose in those with OUD.
  • MAT reduces the likelihood of infectious disease transmission.
  • MAT lowers rates of criminal behavior associated with opioid use.

What Other Medications Treat Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?

While buprenorphine and methadone are the primary medications used to treat OUD withdrawal symptoms, other medications can address specific withdrawal symptoms if a patient does not want or does not tolerate methadone or buprenorphine. 

Other second line, or adjunctive medications, include: 

  • Clonidine: This medication can reduce anxiety, irritability, muscle aches, sweating, and runny nose. 
  • Hydroxyzine (Atarax): Your doctor may prescribe this to help with anxiety and insomnia. 
  • Tizanidine (Zanaflex): This can help reduce muscle spasms. 
  • Ondansetron (Zofran): This medication can relieve nausea and vomiting, often associated with early opioid withdrawal. 
  • Loperamide (Imodium): This medication can relieve diarrhea. 
  • Bentyl: This drug can relieve gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, especially abdominal cramping. 

Talk to your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing and which medications might work best to manage them. 

Once you start either methadone or Suboxone, you will experience a significant reduction in withdrawal symptoms. Rest assured that it will get better and that there are professionals there to help you through the process.

Tips to Reduce Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Support is crucial during early opioid withdrawal. With medical care, most withdrawal symptoms can be severely lessened and even eliminated altogether. This will help you to get through this critical early stage so you can stabilize on MAT.

Here are some tips to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms in the short term:

  • Stay hydrated. It’s easy to get dehydrated if you are vomiting or have diarrhea. Even if you simply don’t feel great, you’re less likely to drink water. But this will only make you feel worse. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Eat nutritious food. While we’re often tempted to turn to junk food when we feel bad, healthy food will make you feel better if you are experiencing opioid withdrawal. Try bland, non-greasy foods that will be easy on your stomach.
  • Move. Though it can seem counterintuitive if you feel bad, some gentle exercise can get the body moving and help you mentally and physically. Walk around the block a couple times or engage in some gentle stretching.
  • Sleep. Your body’s restorative processes are in full swing when you sleep. Aim to get more sleep than normal during the early days of withdrawal to best support your body.
  • Get support. Opioid withdrawal is not easy, but the reward on the other side is well worth it. You don’t have to do this alone. With a medical support team in place, you are much more likely to get through opioid withdrawal and sustain long-term recovery.

SOURCES 

  1. How Effective Are Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder? Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder Report. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/efficacy-medications-opioid-use-disorder. December 2021. Accessed April 2022. 
  2. A Review of Abuse-Deterrent Opioids for Chronic Nonmalignant Pain. Pharmacy & Therapeutics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3411218/. July 2012. Accessed April 2022.

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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