Getting Off Opioids Safely

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No one enjoys experiencing pain. Pain is to be avoided at all costs, right? We humans have sought and developed medicines and other analgesic tools and methods to reduce or eliminate pain for thousands of years. One of the key sources for these medical miracles is a particular poppy plant, the opium poppy, from which morphine, heroin, and other pain relievers were derived. Morphine is the foundation of all future prescription opioids, including Dilaudid, Demerol, and OxyContin. Amazingly, heroin was used as a cough suppressant for children as recently as the 1890s!

The powerfully addictive properties of the opiate products became widely known by the early 1900s, so heroin was reclassified as an illicit, illegal narcotic and efforts to rein in the effects of morphine abuse and addiction have continued to this day. It seems that pharmaceutical companies delude themselves to the addicting properties of the drugs they concoct until reality shines a bright light on the subsequent devastation and forces them to retrace.

Opioid-related deaths have taken over 217,000 lives in an eighteen-year period between 1999-2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now that it is impossible to deny that the U.S. has a serious opioid epidemic on its hangs, the focus now shifts to helping people with getting off opioids safely. Medical detox programs, tapering schedules, and medication-assisted treatment are all making inroads for getting off opioids safely, and offering hope to individuals held captive by opioid dependency.

How Opioids Become Addictive

It is easy to understand how someone might become addicted to opioids. A doctor prescribes the pills to assist with pain management after a surgery or sustaining an injury. The opioids attach to the opioid receptors in the brain, spine, and other organs, blocking pain messaging. With the sensation of pain now gone, the patient experiences a deep sense of relaxation and euphoria.

The brain imprints the positive effects of the drug into the reward system, something to be remembered as a desirable experience, and to be repeated. The patient continues to rely on the opioid as they continue to heal from the medical event, and the brain becomes accustomed to its presence. Because the drug floods the bloodstream with dopamine and endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, the brain cuts back on producing these neurotransmitters naturally. Over time, the brain stops producing dopamine altogether.

Tolerance to the drug increases as the individual continues to diligently take their pain medication. This translates to a need to take ever-increasing amounts of the drug to enjoy the original effects of the opioid. This eventually leads to opioid dependency.

Warning Signs of Opioid Addiction or Dependency

In addition to increased tolerance and using more and more of the drug to get the desired affect, there are other signs that dependency is forming. These might include:

  • Obsessing over acquiring the drug, having enough on hand, looking forward to next dose
  • Doctor shopping when primary doctor discontinues refills
  • Buying opioids from strangers
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Stealing pills from others
  • Chronic constipation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Agitation
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit or cut back

Getting Off Opioids Safely

Detoxing from opioids can be very uncomfortable, with withdrawal symptoms arising within 12 hours of the last dosing. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Chills, fever
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cold sweat
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Insomnia
  • Shaking
  • Agitation
  • Bone pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Goose bumps
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excessive yawning

To get off opioids safely it is important not to go cold turkey and stop suddenly. Instead, a medical detox program will set up a tapering schedule so the body can slowly adjust to incrementally lower levels of the drug over a period of about two weeks. Other features of a supervised medical detox include:

  • Monitoring vital signs throughout the detox and withdrawal process
  • Providing medications to aid in gastrointestinal distress, headache, fever, constipation, muscle aches
  • Providing psychological counseling and support

Opioid detox usually lasts about one week, with withdrawal symptoms peaking on days 2-3.

Medication Assistance for Opioid Addiction

Using a replacement drug in opioid recovery is becoming much more common. These medications are not considered to be taken permanently, but focus more on the first year of helping to sustain recovery and prevent relapse. The drugs, including methadone, Suboxone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine, are also opioids, but they act as opioid agonists or antagonists, which can reduce cravings.

Individuals on medication-assisted treatment should be closely monitored, as the drugs can also be abused, too. Methadone is very highly monitored, and the other drugs managed through a primary care provider.

Treating Addiction Behaviors

It isn’t enough to simply detox from an opioid drug; detox is only the first step of the recovery process. Deeply ingrained reflexive addictive behaviors have become habit, and these behaviors will need to be identified and replaced with healthy responses in recovery. This is accomplished through a combination of approaches, such as using cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and motivation enhancement therapy. During both individual and group sessions, recovering addicts are guided through examining their disordered thoughts and behaviors, and then reframing the self-messaging to elicit positive, constructive behavioral responses. Therapy can also help individuals identify their recovery goals and take ownership of them.

Holistic and experiential activities compliment the evidence-based therapies and promote a deeper dive into personal insights by contemplating contributing psychological factors. These activities might include mindfulness meditation, yoga, art therapy, equine therapy, gardening therapy, journaling, or massage therapy. These activities also help reduce stress and promote a sense of peace and relaxation, which can be helpful throughout recovery.

Quest 2 Recovery Provides Effective Opioid Addiction Treatment

Quest 2 Recovery is a residential addiction treatment program in an intimate home setting outside Los Angeles. The extensively trained addiction specialists at Quest 2 Recovery understand the importance of helping their clients with safe, effective strategies for getting off opioids safely. Without the compassionate support of a caring detox staff, most who attempt to quit opioids will quickly return to the drugs to avoid the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. In a dedicated medically supervised detox program the individual is guided safely through the detox and withdrawal process and offered medications that help alleviate discomfort. For more information about the tapering detox program at Quest 2 Recovery, please contact us today at (888) 453-9396.

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