Finding Treatment for the Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioids

Opioids are a class of psychoactive drugs that are derived from the opium poppy plant as naturally occurring substances (including opium, morphine, codeine, and thebaine), semi-synthetic forms (including heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone), and synthetic compounds with similar properties (methadone, buprenorphine, and fentanyl). Many other opioids exist in a various forms, prescriptions brands and combinations with all having the potential to cause withdrawals after a person becomes tolerant to their effects.

Finding treatment for the withdrawal symptoms of opioids is an agenda often put off until the person has had repeatedly unsuccessful attempts to quit using opioids on their own. It’s usually not their fault or a lack of willpower to remain abstinent. Instead, it is the conditioned adaptations that these drugs cause which makes quitting so difficult. According to the NIDA, “drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.”

One thing is for sure, any opioid withdrawal attempt is likely to operate against a background of powerful forces and finding treatment for the withdrawal symptoms of opioids can help to level the playing field.

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioids?

opioid withdrawal symptoms

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include abdominal pains, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Anyone who has ever attempted to quit using opioids and relapsed fears having to go through the experience again. The problem with opioids, is the longer you use them, the more dependent on them you become and self-medication to prevent or alleviate the symptoms often takes first priority.

Without enough of the opioid drugs in a person’s system, they begin to experience agitation, anxiety, runny nose, sweats and chills, goose-bumps, tachycardia, muscular and abdominal pains, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, insomnia, and the dreadfully, intense cravings for more of the opioid drugs.

After a while, using the opioids is not as important to experience their pleasure, although that definitely plays a part, but, avoiding the withdrawal symptoms becomes perceived as a matter of survival.

Treatments for the Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioids

Although it may feel like it, opioid withdrawal is almost never life-threatening and treatment choices are up to the individual. Eliminating the drugs from the person’s system in a safe, controlled, and comfortable manner, according to the SAMHSA TIP 45, consists of the following three sequential and essential components:

  • Evaluation
  • Stabilization
  • Fostering patient readiness for and entry into treatment

For those with a low dependency level, a positive and drug free support system at home, and no history of relapse, the withdrawal symptoms of opioids may be treated with adjunct medications to alleviate pain, insomnia, and agitation. Many people who become dependent on opioids, however, end up relapsing to use within a short time after their detox has completed and this poses a serious risk for opioid overdose.

Combining counseling and psychosocial interventions with medication assistance using agonist medications like methadone and buprenorphine has proven more effective in reducing the cravings and withdrawals during detoxification while blocking the effects of short acting opioids to deter further abuse. Stabilizing patients using these medications proves to motivate engagement in recovery and retention in treatment.

Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs)

OTPs are certified by the SAMHSA to dispense methadone and/or buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid addictions including detoxification and medically supervised withdrawals using these drugs. Buprenorphine can be prescribed by a qualified physician with greater ease and less restrictions than methadone.

Both medications can be used for long term detox to help manage cravings and while the physical withdrawal symptoms from opioids diminish much quicker than the psychological ones, OTP programs increase the chances of recovery by integrating medical and psychosocial services to address the important needs of patient. Linking detoxification treatments in OTPs with resources for co-occurring medical and psychological disorders, education, vocational, housing, transportation, and other needs improves their social functioning and encourages a higher degree of abstinence.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Patient Placement Criteria for the Treatment of Substance-Related Disorders: ASAM PPC-2R, “ the domain of detoxification refers not only to the reduction of the physiological and psychological features of withdrawal syndromes, but also to the process of interrupting the momentum of compulsive use in persons diagnosed with substance dependence.”

Where to Find Treatment for Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioids

The SAMHSA maintains a monitoring system for accreditations and outcomes of OTPs that keeps up to date with current guidelines and practices. For information and to find an accredited OTP program in your area visit the SAMHSA @ or go to the Buprenorphine Physician and Treatment Locator @

Online explorations for finding treatment for the withdrawal symptoms of opioids can be helpful and daunting at the same time. There are a wide variety of settings, amenities, locations, and costs. Most of the time medication assistance can be provided on an outpatient basis, but, keep in mind that methadone must be dispensed daily whereas buprenorphine can be prescribed for several days at a time. Location is important because travel expenses and other burdens can add up and you want to choose the program that is most suitable and manageable for you to commit to.

Other resources for finding treatment are:

  • Contact your physician or a local healthcare provider such as a health clinic or hospital for information and referrals
  • Attend Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to get recommendations from others in recovery and who have a sincere willingness to help
  • Contact providers directly to get their most up to date availability and program offerings
  • Contact your local clergy, church, or social agencies