Addiction Treatment
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Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms & The Importance of Medical Support

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Medically reviewed: 01/10/2019
Last updated: 05/13/2019
Author: Addictions LLC

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Opiate withdrawal is an unpleasant, difficult process. Its symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable, and many people attempting to go through the withdrawal syndrome relapse in order to make these effects stop. While the symptoms themselves are not usually life-threatening, there is a high importance of medical support in the case of many successful opiate detoxes.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms you will experience during opiate withdrawal are complicated and often painful. However, knowing this going in can help you through the process. According to Harvard Medical School, the withdrawal syndrome “lasts for about a week” for heroin addicts and is similar for most other opioids.

According to SAMHSA, the symptoms you will likely experience during this time are:

  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Yawning
  • Tearing (crying)
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Runny nose
  • Agitation

Because the symptoms are not life-threatening, many people choose to withdraw from opioids in their homes and without medical support. This can actually cause the syndrome to be more dangerous, increasing the risk that a person might relapse and take opioids during these symptoms and possibly overdose. With medical support, there is a lower likelihood for relapse during withdrawal.

Why is Medical Support So Important?

Opioids are intense drugs that often cause a strong reaction in users and abusers. Withdrawal can be just as strong, especially if the person has been dependent on the drug for some time. Medical support during this time can actually help mellow and curb some of the symptoms of withdrawal, among other things.


Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Medical professionals help to ensure that you detox from opiates safely.

Many people try to go through withdrawal from opioids without the use of medication, but this can be extremely painful. SAMHSA states, “Management of withdrawal without medications can produce needless suffering in a population that tends to have limited tolerance for physical pain.” When medical support is used to help patients through withdrawal, patients experience:

  • Less severe withdrawal symptoms
  • A shorter withdrawal syndrome
  • A less traumatizing and painful time than those who are not given medication
  • A better chance of fully achieving detox from opioids

Remembering that a successful opioid detox does not mean that a person has recovered from opioid addiction, this can be a much easier and less unpleasant time for the patient, and it can also help them through this difficult time where they might have relapsed otherwise.

Behavioral Treatment

In many detox facilities, medical support for withdrawal does not just mean medication. It can also mean behavioral treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and group therapy. While these treatments do not specifically lessen withdrawal symptoms, they can help patients bridge the gap between detox and addiction treatment.

Many detox facilities include this type of treatment specifically for this reason. The use of one-on-one therapy and group behavioral treatments during withdrawal can get a patient ready for attending addiction treatment which can, in the long run, do better to lower the risk of relapse and other issues.

Medical support is important during opioid detox because it can lessen the symptoms with medication and prepare patients for addiction treatment with behavioral therapies. There is no need for opioid addicts to suffer through withdrawal alone as it is unnecessary and much more dangerous.