Opiate withdrawal is no walk in the park and can be extremely uncomfortable, which is why so many people remain trapped in a cycle of opiate addiction (opiates are drugs such as prescription painkillers, heroin, methadone, Vicodin, etc.).
The pain and discomfort of withdrawal is enough to make most people fail at recovery before they even get started. So if you or someone you know is addicted to opiates, what is the best route you can take to get through opiate withdrawal? What options do you have, and what can you do to increase your chances of success? Let’s take a look.
Best suggestion for most people: medical detox in a treatment center
The number one suggest for getting through opiate withdrawal is that you check in to a medical detox unit of some sort, most likely in a treatment center or drug rehab. This is going to be your best option because they will be able to treat your withdrawal symptoms better than you can and ultimately make you feel more comfortable for most of the time. Remember that you are really only dealing with about a 3 to 5 day withdrawal period, but the intensity of that withdrawal can make it seem like a much longer time. Depending on the exact opiates you were taking, withdrawal could stretch out a bit longer than 5 days as well, because some opiates have a longer half life and take longer to process out of the body (such as methadone).
Most treatment centers will treat your withdrawal symptoms by administering a synthetic, partial opiate that takes away the withdrawal symptoms without getting you high. This is ideal because it can allow you to bounce back much faster and start attending groups right away so that you can get new information about how to live a clean and sober life.
Second best suggestion: get help from your doctor
If you refuse to go with option one and attend a treatment facility, the next best idea is to talk to your doctor and see if they can help. In some cases, a doctor can prescribe you with a medication that can substitute for the opiate drug that you are addicted to, and then you can eventually ween yourself off of that. The doctor can also instruct you as to what dosage of the medicine to take each day in order to step down off of it properly so that you minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Really, the only reason you would want to go this route is if you could not afford or get funding for treatment. The ideal situation is really to go through this process in the safety of a drug rehab, in which you would also be under the care of medical staff and ultimately of a doctor as well.
Not a great suggestion: do it yourself
Of course it is possible to go through opiate withdrawal all on your own and without any help, and there are actually some advantages to doing so. While the odds of staying clean are significantly reduced if you choose this route, the amount of pain and discomfort you go through is likely to be far greater than with the other two options. This can actually be a benefit if you manage to stay clean, because the memory of that discomfort can be a powerful ally in helping you to remain drug free. I gained first hand knowledge of this principle when experimenting with quitting smoking. I quit several times using the nicotine patch, and always ended up relapsing because in my mind I knew that it would be fairly easy to detox again by using the patch. This mindset was working against me in terms of staying clean.
Eventually, I discovered a trick that ended up working for me: I declined the use of the patch and went through the misery of cold turkey withdrawal. This was an intense level of discomfort but I managed to sleep through quite a bit of it, and after waking up at one point I realized that I had it beat because I was through the worst of it.
So if you are locked in a pattern of failure due to a relatively comfortable detox from opiates, you might want to try treating yourself to a dose of reality next time, in the hopes that the pain of withdrawal will act as a deterrent for future relapse. It’s not a great suggestion for everyone, but it might work for some people after other methods have failed.