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Opioid Withdrawal

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is opioid withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal is a group of symptoms that occur when you suddenly decrease or stop taking opioids. Opioids include medicines to control pain, such as morphine and codeine, and illegal drugs, such as heroin. Withdrawal symptoms occur if you are physically dependent on opioids. Dependence means that your body gets used to how much medicine you take. This happens after you have used opioids regularly for a long time. Addiction means that a person uses opioids to get high instead of using them to control pain.

What are the signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal?

Withdrawal signs and symptoms may start within 6 to 16 hours after you stop taking opioids. The symptoms usually last for days but some symptoms may be present for months.

  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills or goosebumps
  • Muscle aches or cramps
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Overwhelming craving for the medicine or drug

How is opioid withdrawal diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam. He will ask about your symptoms and your use of opioids. He will also ask about your current and past use of other drugs. Tell him about any family history of drug abuse or dependence.

How is opioid withdrawal treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Opioid medicine may still be needed if you have chronic pain. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to continue taking an opioid and explain how you should take it.
    • NSAIDs decrease pain. This medicine can be bought with or without a doctor's order. This medicine can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow the directions on it before you use this medicine.
    • Blood pressure medicine decreases symptoms of withdrawal, such as nausea, vomiting, muscle tension, and anxiety.
    • Antianxiety medicine decreases anxiety and helps you feel calm and relaxed.
    • Antinausea medicine helps calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.
  • Detoxification is the process of slowly decreasing the dose of opioid you are dependent on. Healthcare providers may use another opioid medicine, such as methadone or buprenorphine, to decrease symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Maintenance therapy is when your healthcare provider prescribes another type of opioid to replace the opioid that you are dependent on.
  • Psychological counseling and support may be provided to you if you are dependent on opioids. Healthcare providers will speak with you about your opioid use. They may also help you find resources for any daily living needs you have, such as housing or employment.

What are the risks of opioid withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal may be uncomfortable, but it is not life-threatening.

How can opioid withdrawal be prevented in the future?

If you need to continue taking an opioid, do not suddenly stop taking it. Work with your healthcare provider to decrease your dose slowly if that is the goal.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are about to run out of your opioid medicine.
  • You have nausea and vomiting.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have a fast heartbeat.
  • You have a seizure.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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