Is Opioid Withdrawal Safe?

Written by Buprenorphine Doctors

Often, people addicted opioids try to quit, to return their lives to normal. But then opioid withdrawal sets in, and often the person will use opioids again to get relief from the pain. It can become a cycle of quitting, suffering, and relapsing. But what if it didn’t have to be?

We’d like to explain a few things about withdrawal: what it does, how medically-supervised detox fits in, and why withdrawal shouldn’t deter your opioid addiction treatment.

What is Withdrawal?

It’s the physical discomfort you feel when your body needs its opioids and doesn’t receive them. Consistent opioid use acts on the pleasure centers in your brain and will eventually make sure that you only feel pain relief from the opioids themselves, not your own body.

That’s what makes the symptoms of withdrawal so physically unpleasant. They’ll begin a day after your last opioid use, and with time, they’ll intensify. Here’s what you can expect from opioid withdrawal:

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Sleeplessness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurry Vision
  • High blood pressure

Withdrawal can become intense. Though it’s rarely life-threatening, it’s usually extremely painful for those going through it. That’s why medical detoxification is so important.

What is Medical Detoxification?

Also called “detox,” it’s the period where healthcare professionals see you through the throes of withdrawal under close medical supervision. But you won’t just have nurses poking their heads in and out of your room. Supervision here includes opioid addiction medications known as medically-assisted treatments (MATs), such as buprenorphine or methadone. These medications are opioids (with less risk of addiction under medical supervision) that give you controlled pain relief during withdrawal. We’ll get back to that—we need to describe medical detox in the larger opioid treatment context.

You see, you undergo detox before you start the larger opioid addiction treatment program. Detx by itself won’t completely kick the addiction to opioid use. Think of how you’d deep-clean a house: before you scrub the floors or redo the wall paper, you have to empty the house of its cluttered furniture, old rugs, and leftover trash from the past. You have to get back to a clean slate, or something like it.

That’s how your body has to work to treat opioid addiction. Detox strips down the house back to its basics; your body has to flush all the opioids out of its system before you can get into the in-depth opioid treatment program. By itself, detox won’t “cure” you of opioid addiction.

How Do Medically-Assisted Treatments Help?

MATs do two things for opioid addiction treatments: 

  1. Detox – MATs ease your withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision
  2. Opioid addiction treatment – MATs (combined with naltrexone or vivitrol) ease your body off its opioid dependence and lower your tolerance for later opioid use

We’ve written before on how MATs help your body through addiction treatment and about how opioid addiction treatment programs happen for patients. For today, we’ll explain a little more about how MATs assist with medical detox.

MATs give your body a physical relief during its painful withdrawal symptoms. But they won’t give the same high of other opioids—thanks to doctors’ supervision, you’ll only receive enough for relief, not addiction. Not to mention that these medications are lesser opioids, meaning the risk of addiction is slightly lower. When paired with opioid antagonists (drugs that prepare the body to react less and less to opioids), that risk of addiction becomes even less.

That is, with supervised MATs during your detox, you receive pain relief from your withdrawal but are also on your way to the controlled MAT of your later treatment. Again, note that it’s medically supervised. Even though their risk of addiction is smaller, MATs remain opioids, and so doctors need to involve themselves in the detox process.

So What Now?

Now, you understand a little more about opioid withdrawal and medical detoxification. And that understanding can hopefully make a difference—many people suffering from opioid addiction resist the first step toward recovery because they fear withdrawal. But it doesn’t have to stop them: withdrawal might be painful, but if you receive with medical supervision in detox, you’ll have the right safeguards to get through it.

Where should you look first? Buprenorphine Doctors has directories for opioid addiction doctors and for opioid treatment centers, so that if you or your loved one wants to take the first recovery step, there are options. Visit our site and see how we can help you today.

Photo by EVG photos from Pexels

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