Table of Contents
- Home Remedies For Opiate Withdrawal That Are Essential For Success.
- There Are Three Main Phases of Opiate Withdrawal
- The Tapering and Planning Phase
- The Acute Phase
- The Post Acute Phase
Home Remedies For Opiate Withdrawal That Are Essential For Success.
Are you are one of the thousands right now dreading opiate withdrawal and feeling as though you have no choice but to sit back and gut it out? Well, I have good news for you; there are proven home remedies for opiate withdrawal that can help. These strategies and tactics can help reduce the intensity of your opiate withdrawal symptoms. Some of these home remedies that I will share with you can even reduce the duration of certain withdrawal symptoms. However, it is important to remember that opiate detox is what it is; your body determines how long it will take to detox completely.
Having said that, if we can have a positive impact how you feel during the opiate withdrawal process, it will help you become functional in a shorter period of time. The term “home remedies” is also a bit of a misnomer since many of the tips that I’m going to outline aren’t really remedies at all; tapering is a good example of a strategy that can help significantly. For me, the term “remedy” sometimes conjures up old wives-tails like putting butter on burns (makes it worse by the way).
To be clear, this article is meant to summarize all of the different “tools” that can be used for opiate detox and withdrawal. I would classify this as a detailed list or summary. We have other resources such as “How To Detox From Opiates At Home” as well as the Withdrawal Survival Guide that are more instructional in nature. There are many purported remedies for opiate withdrawal, some of which may be effective and some of which are bunk. I am only going to provide proven remedies for withdrawal and perhaps you can try the unproven stuff on your own if you like. Who knows, some of the more esoteric remedies like “eye of newt” and “wing of bat” (for God’s sake don’t eat a bat…I’m just kidding!) may prove useful to you but for now, I’ll just stick to the facts.
Speaking of facts!: You may have heard prescription painkillers described interchangeably as “opioids” and “opiates”. There’s a difference. The term “opiate” only refers to natural alkaloids derived from the poppy plant. The word “opioid” refers to both synthetic (Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic) and natural occurring alkaloids. Since the term “opiate” is more popular, I’ll use that from here on out.
There Are Three Main Phases of Opiate Withdrawal
- The Tapering and Planning Phase
- The Acute Phase
- The Post Acute Phase
The Tapering and Planning Phase
The more that you prepare for your detox (both physically and mentally), the more comfortable you will be; it’s really as simple as that. Some people cannot prepare due to a variety of reasons such as not getting refills, stolen pills or other reasons beyond their control. Others do not prepare because they do not have the discipline or the determination to get through the process. I can say this because I did this many times prior to detox and I paid for it big-time. So do yourself a favor and follow these recommendations to the best of your ability; you’ll thank yourself later.
Tapering is a proven method to reduce the acuity of opiate detox symptoms. It works and there’s no doubt about it. As you taper, you lower the blood concentration of opiates in your bloodstream and begin to clear out your opiate receptors. When you detox “cold turkey” (stopping suddenly) you can get severe withdrawal symptoms and sometimes it can even be dangerous. But if you can ween your dose down over time, your detox symptoms will be a lot more manageable and you will be far more comfortable. We have a great article called The Art of Tapering that gives step by step instructions on how to put together a tapering schedule that works for you and your daily dose. If you are not able to taper due to a lack of willpower of discipline, that’s ok but that doesn’t get you off the hook. In The Art of Tapering, we discuss ways to enlist a friend or a family member to act as your “pharmacist”. This person obviously does not have to be an actual pharmacist but it needs to be someone whom you trust. It must be a person that can keep you on schedule by dispassionately handing out your pills based on your tapering schedule. They will also need to hide them in a safe place to make sure you don’t cheat. When I say “cheat” please don’t assume that I’m suggesting that you are a “cheat-er“; it is not easy to stay disciplined during the taper process so I’m just trying to encourage you to stay engaged and on schedule.
2. Address Personal Obligations Beforehand:
The last thing you want to do during acute withdrawal (Phase 2) is worry about obligations for childcare, bills, relatives and any other distractions during the relatively short period of time that you are in acute withdrawal. That is why you need to take the week or so before you are in withdrawal to pay upcoming bills, get help with the kids and take care of any other errands ahead of time. The key is to make sure that the only thing you need to worry about during your detox is YOU.
3. Take Care of Business:
When it comes to work, things obviously get tricky. Not everyone has days off on Saturday and Sunday and not everyone has a stack of vacation days piled up to use for opiate detox. That’s why you need to be crafty and schedule your time accordingly. In our Withdrawal Survival Guide, we talk about this in more detail but I’ll give you the highlights here. Lets say you actually do have the weekends off or perhaps 2 days off back to back. The typical acute phase of withdrawal is 3-5 days, so you need to make sure that the majority of the days within that time frame are during your days off. This will minimize any disruptions at work caused by your symptoms and/or lack of function. Nevertheless, lets assume that your days off are Saturday and Sunday:
- Thursday (Day 1): For the most part, onset of withdrawal symptoms begin 16-24 hours after you stop taking opiates. With this in mind, it would be best if you complete your taper (discontinue use) on Thursday by noon. This will be your last dose of whatever you are taking. And don’t act like you’re going to go out with a bang and take a bunch of pills here; the party is over pal.
- Friday (Day 2): On Friday, you will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms but they will not be overwhelming and most people are able to function. Please bear in mind that working with heavy machinery, explosives, electricity, razor sharp tools or other things that could kill yourself or others need to be avoided during this period. Common sense people. Overall, you’ll be able to get through Friday relatively unscathed and it may be wise to plant the seed with upper-management that you may “have a flu coming on.” I know it’s a lie but it’s your job we’re talking about here.
- Saturday and Sunday (Days 3-4): At noon on Saturday, you will be 48 hours into your detox and withdrawal symptoms should be acute by now. Sunday will not be fun either but remember the goal is to have the most severe symptoms fall outside of work. By Sunday night should have “peaked.”
- Monday (Day 5): By Monday at noon, you will have been in detox for 96 hours. You may still feel like you’ve been run over by a truck but you should start to feel some improvement in energy and function. Many are able to work at this point. This is a critical time because many people can get discouraged at this point; they feel as if they should be feeling much better by day 5. As a result, this is frequently the time when people decide they can no longer take it and go back to their pills. Please remember that the improvements in energy, sleep and overall function return slowly. At this point you’ve come too far to turn back so don’t make the same mistake that many others do. It’s also worth pointing out that any suspicion of lying about your “flu” will quickly fade after taking one look at you!
Timing your detox correctly can make a big difference and help you minimize and disruption in your personal and/or professional life.
4. Stock Up:
There are a variety of items that we list in our Survival Guide that can help you during your detox. The last thing you want to do is have to run out and get the essentials when you are sick. You need to summon your inner “prepper” and get all of the supplies that will help you get through the rough period.
Food: You will be nauseous (although vomiting is rare) and also probably have some gastrointestinal distress; you will not want to eat when you are in withdrawal. But you MUST eat. My suggestion is to stock up on small meals that do not have a lot of spice or rich flavors. Things like soup, crackers, carrot sticks, rice, bread or anything else that you will be able to tolerate and eat on a consistent basis throughout the day. I myself preferred Cup O Noodles (Chicken Flavor). You get the point.
Drinks: Due to the loss of fluids from consistent trips to the bathroom, it is essential to stay hydrated. Many suggest drinks like Gatorade but I actually prefer water. Gatorade is fine but it has a very rich taste and may make you nauseous. You can buy packets of electrolyte powders for drinks that are far more effective and don’t taste like popsicles. Whatever you choose, make sure that you have a bottle or glass with you at all times and take small sips. Big gulps of water will just flush right out…(think flash flood!).
Proper Clothing: During withdrawal, your body will feel as though it is fluctuating between hot and cold. At one moment you will be sweating and the next you will be shivering like a leaf. To make this as comfortable and effortless as possible, try to wear work-out clothes that are designed breathe and wick away moisture. These types of clothes also have the added benefit of easy on and off so you can change as needed without too much trouble. Brands like Under Armour or Nike are good choices.
Heat Pads and Cold Compress: Both of these items can be found at your local drugstore or mega-market. They will help you in numerous ways. As I mentioned, you will rapidly transition from chills to sweats and back again so having both on hand can help. Since most of the body heat leaves through your head and neck, it is very helpful to use both of these on your neck as needed. Of course, do not put the heat pad on “high” or do anything else rash with these things….common sense. If you do not have either of those, a good cool or warm towel will do the trick.
5. Consider Some Over the Counter (OTC) Remedies:
Advil or Tylenol: Although it seems almost laughable to use OTC pain meds for opiate withdrawal, they really do help! You can use them for general muscle cramps, aches pains etc. Just give them a chance and I think you’ll be surprised at how effective they are…take as directed of course.
Imodium AD (Liquid form!): Imodium AD contains a crucial ingredient that can not only help with diarrhea but also alleviate some of the more generalized withdrawal symptoms. The magic ingredient is called Loperamide. In technical terms, Loperamide is called an opioid receptor agonist which occupies the opiate receptors in your gut but does not affect the central nervous system (no narcotic effects). As a result, Imodium will not only slow down your motility (diarrhea) but also provide some welcome relief from your withdrawal symptoms. Get the liquid form if you can but ultimately, the key ingredient needs to be Loperamide.
Ben Gay: Restless legs can be one of the more aggravating symptoms so we have a strategy called The Towel Trick that can help relieve some of the intensity of RLS; especially during the night. Get the cream without the strong scent.
6. Common Prescription Remedies For Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms:
There are a variety of prescription meds out there that have been prescribed for opiate withdrawal symptoms. Many of these medications are indicated for other health related issues but have proven beneficial when prescribed for opiate withdrawal symptoms. Some work better than others and there’s always a risk of side effects and drug interactions whenever you take a prescription medication. However, many people get good results with these medications. All of these drugs must be prescribed by a doctor and taken as directed.
Benzodiazepines: Drugs like Xanax and Klonopin can help with anxiety and insomnia. It’s important to note that these are strong medications with a high risk for dependence if taken for too long. Your doctor may prescribe a small amount for anxiety and/or insomnia but you should only take these for a short period of time. Tread lightly with Benzos.
Gabapentin (brand name Neurontin): Although Gabapentin is primarily indicated for seizures, it also has a variety of “off label” (i.e. prescribed for other maladies or symptoms) benefits. In fact, 90% of the prescriptions written for Gabapentin are for off-label indications. I’m a big fan of Gabapentin (if there is such a thing?) because it is non-narcotic, does not have many side effects and can help with a variety of withdrawal related symptoms. It’s a synthesized form of the neurotransmitter GABA produced by the brain and can help with restless legs, insomnia, involuntary muscle jerks, pain and even depression. You may want to ask your doctor about this drug to see if it may be useful and safe for you to take during detox.
Clonidine: This is one of the most widely prescribed drugs for opiate withdrawal symptoms. Its primary indication is for hypertension (high blood pressure) but it has demonstrated the ability to reduce the intensity of anxiety, restless legs, insomnia and even hot flashes.
SSRI’s/Anti-depressants: Drugs like Prozac and Paxil can help with anxiety and depression. They need some time to build up in your brain but some have reported more immediate results with respect to opiate withdrawal related depression.
Seroquel/Quetiapine: This drug is controversial. It is primarily indicated as an anti-psychotic for bi-polar disorder but has been handed out like candy to active and retired vets for post traumatic stress and insomnia. However, there are a bunch of side effects and some controversy surrounding off label uses. Nevertheless, it is commonly prescribed for insomnia and anxiety. Again, tread lightly with this one.
The Acute Phase
The acute phase of withdrawal is when your symptoms become the most intense. It will vary depending on a number of factors including the half-life of the drug, length of use, dose and your own personal reaction to the detox process. It is the most challenging part of the withdrawal process. How you respond to the challenge both mentally and physically during this time will determine your success.
This is where the rubber meets the road and determination comes into play. In the “Tapering and Planning section” of this article, we have provided examples of items that can be acquired before the acute detox to help reduce the intensity and/or duration of your withdrawal symptoms. All of those items will help you feel more comfortable when your are having severe withdrawal symptoms. Having said that, there are a variety of products, services and other “tools” that can employ during the acute phase to help you cope.
The ultimate goal of the acute phase is to distract both body and mind. Ultimately, the best way to distract yourself is to change your environment. That is why I emphasize getting out of the house whenever possible. It doesn’t really matter where you go or what you do but if you can find a way to change your surroundings, you’ve won half the battle. It’s literally THAT important. It’s even better if you can find your own island in the South Pacific but lets assume you don’t have that luxury. The mall is fine.
How Long Does the Acute Phase of Withdrawal Last?
Acute Detox from most opiates takes 3-5 days before slowly improving. “Maintenance Drugs” such as Methadone and Suboxone have much longer half lives which can lead to acute withdrawal symptoms for up to 2-3 weeks in some cases.
The following strategies and resources will help you get your mind off of the discomfort:
Audiobooks: Do yourself a favor and get an account at Audible.com. They have every book imaginable that will transfer directly to your iTunes, phone or whatever you have that plays audio files. If you don’t have anything that plays these types of files then c’mon go get an iPod or something; it’s the 21st century. I cannot overstate how effective audiobooks are for getting through the day (and even the night). It takes absolutely no effort to listen to these books and it does a great job of distracting you from your discomfort. BIG fan of audiobooks! Just don’t get any “self-help” titles and whatever you do, don’t get any books on addiction; now is not the time for that. You want pure entertainment and distraction.
Movies, TV Series: Movies are obviously a staple and they will definitely take your mind off of things. I’ve recently been suggesting TV series to our customers and those that write to me. Netflix is a beautiful thing and they will let you stream entire seasons of some really good shows. This is a great way to get yourself immersed in an ongoing storyline and have literally dozens of episodes to watch if you pick the right shows. Obviously you want to stay away from the really dark or depressing shows. “Breaking Bad” is one of my favorite shows of all time but it’s not one that I’d pick to watch during withdrawal but it’s your choice; have at it. TV series will give you something to look forward to.
Get Out!: I’m serious; get out of the house for at least 3-4 hours a day. The last thing you want to do is lie in bed and ruminate about how bad you feel and how guilty you are etc. etc. You can go to the mall and stare at people, buy something totally useless yet rewarding (not a car though..just a knick knack). Perhaps go visit that friend that you can confide in. Directing energy, concentration and a new environment will reduce the intensity of your withdrawal symptoms.
Exercise: Take a walk or light jog in the early evening to stretch your muscles and get the blood flowing. Breaking a sweat would be great if you can manage. This will help you get to sleep, reduce depression, increase appetite and also help with your restless legs.
Hot Bath or Shower: I prefer the shower because of the water pressure on the muscles but whatever floats the boat.
Towel Trick: We describe this in more detail in another post but essentially it is a great way to combat restless legs at night to help you sleep.
Sleep Sound Machines: I had a lot of success with these during the night. You can also get a couple apps off of iTunes to save some money.
The Post Acute Phase
Although most people recover fully after approximately a week from start to finish, there are some people that take a bit longer to feel truly “back to normal.” There is a clinical acronym for this pathology and it is called P.A.W.S. or Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. Essentially, P.A.W.S. is a continuation of less acute withdrawal symptoms that can last for weeks and even months after the acute withdrawal period. Don’t worry, it happens to a small percentage of those that are detoxing from full agonist opiates like Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet and other common prescription painkillers.
For those that do suffer from post acute withdrawal, it can be frustrating and sometimes it feels like the end will never come but it almost always resolves itself within a couple weeks. By and large, these are not necessarily the drugs that you need to be worried about when it comes to post acute withdrawal. The most common offenders for P.A.W.S. are drugs like Methadone and in particular the “wonder drug” Suboxone. I’ve talked about these two “therapies/cures” for opiate dependency in numerous blog posts and I have some strong opinions about them but for now, I’ll stick to their contribution to post acute withdrawal syndrome.
In my opinion, these two drugs are -by far- the most difficult drugs to detox from. Not just among prescription painkillers mind you; they are the hardest to kick of all pharmaceutical agents that I am aware of. The reason? They both have a very long half-life. They stay in your body (essentially stick to your opiate receptors) much longer than any other opiate. This can result in protracted withdrawal symptoms which is why it is sometimes difficult to detox from these particular drugs. When people suffer from P.A.W.S., they become discouraged, deeply depressed and convince themselves that they will never be “right” again. That’s not true but they are difficult nonetheless and that is due to post acute withdrawal.
I want to emphasize that not everyone who detoxes from these drugs will have P.A.W.S.; some people go through the detox process and end up just fine without any protracted symptoms. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea and think that detoxing from these drugs will always include a healthy dose of post acute withdrawal; that is not the case. Methadone and Suboxone just happen to be the two drugs that cause this condition more often than other opiates.
I wish I had some answers for these symptoms but the fact of the matter is that PAWS just takes time. The most aggravating thing a person can say to you during withdrawal is to “be patient”…I know. But your brain needs to clear out its opiate receptors and “re-boot” naturally. You can also use some (not all) of the pharmaceutical agents that I have listed above for ongoing insomnia and depression but ultimately you need to wait it out and not get discouraged. The good news is regardless of what opiates you take, if you stop them for long enough, you should make a full recovery from the detox. It’s important that I use the term “detox” here because that does not necessarily define a complete recovery. We are just talking about one part of the process.
You may need ongoing psychotherapy, addiction counseling and other resources to prevent relapse. Some of you who have been desperate to get off of the pills but were afraid of the withdrawals may simply be happy to be free of them. Everyone has different needs and I would not presume to think that all facets of recovery can be covered in a blog post; even one as agonizingly long as this one. My hope is that I have provided people who want to detox more comfortably with useful, proven strategies and remedies to help reduce the discomfort of opiate withdrawal. If you succeed, you’ll be one step closer to getting your happiness and life back.
Thanks for reading,