I think I stayed on painkillers for as long as I did because I was afraid of experiencing withdrawal. I think that’s why most people stay stuck.
Detoxing off opioids was in fact, the hardest thing I ever had to do. I remember counting my stash the night before —just to make sure I had enough to not get sick the next day. It really is a vicious cycle. You know you shouldn’t but how can you not?
The animal brain inside you wins every time. Then, you hit rock bottom. Maybe you have no other choice but to get clean. The thing is, you’re going to need help. I know I did. It actually took me several years of feeling like shit and white knuckling before I saw the light.
Some may not be so fortunate. Maybe you have a friend out there right now. I feel lucky in a way because it’s way worse today. Law enforcement is cracking down, pills are harder to come by, which is why so many of us turn to street drugs like heroin. The thing is, my worst day sober is better than my best day using and I want you to experience that too.
Unfortunately, it’s easier to talk about than follow through on. But instead of wallowing in all of this misery, why not take a more active approach? So, whether you’re a loved one of an addict, currently addicted, or in recovery, these seven therapeutic remedies can connect the dots so that you can battle opioid withdrawal and actually win.
1. What’s Up?
If you’ve been hesitating to tell your doctor about your substance abuse, don’t be. Maybe you accidentally started taking an extra pill here and there? And somewhere along the way, you got lost? I get it. Before I knew what I was getting myself into, I became physically addicted.
The thing is, there are actually specific specialists out there that can help you withdrawal without suffering. Start by taking a little less each day and be honest with your medical team. They can update your withdrawal regime, but only if they are aware it’s not working.
2. The Pad
According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, medication may be an essential component of an ongoing treatment plan, enabling opioid-addicted persons to “regain control of their health and their lives.”
The three main types of medication for opiate withdrawal and recovery are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These treatments can be expensive, ranging between $500 and $800 per month, and can create both a physical and psychological dependence. Some users describe it as worse than the drugs they were abusing before they entered treatment —so tread lightly.
While your treatment counselor may or may not prescribe these, there are a few medications that will tremendously aid in opiate withdrawal. I can’t emphasize this enough —these prescriptions can be as addictive as the opioids themselves. Please speak with your doctor about your specific options (risks vs. benefits) before taking them. You’ll need him or her to write the actual prescription anyway.
Nevertheless, here are those prescriptions:
Methadone, a narcotic used to manage moderate to severe pain. It can also treat narcotic drug addiction and is available as a tablet, liquid, or injection. Methadone works on parts of the brain and spinal cord to block the “high” caused by using opiates.
It also helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms caused by opiate use. The action of methadone is similar to other synthetic (man-made) medicines in the morphine category. Taken once a day, methadone eases opiate withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours, decreasing the chance of relapse.
Buprenorphine is an opioid medicine similar to morphine, codeine, and heroin. It targets the same places in the brain that opioids do —similar to methadone.
You take buprenorphine by placing the pill or film (as seen above) under your tongue. Buprenorphine can cause side effects similar to other opioids and physical dependence too. However, because the benefits, at the time, are more important than these side effects, it’s normally a doctor’s withdrawal go-to.
Now, the Benzodiazepine family includes medications such as Xanax (alprazolam) and Klonopin (clonazepam), which treat symptoms like anxiety, agitation, and muscle aches. At first glance, they seem extremely similar. I mean they are both members of the benzodiazepine class, central nervous system depressants, and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety, anti-panic).
Both Klonopin and Xanax affect the brain in the same way by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels. This increase helps the body and brain slow down by reducing the amount of activity —in the part of the brain that controls emotions and rational thought. You’ll be so relaxed you won’t even think of your withdrawal pain.
3. CVS is Your Friend
Using the correct doses of over-the-counter pills can help too. Consider loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea. If you’re experiencing nausea, you might try medications like meclizine (Antivert and Bonine) or dimenhydrinate (Dramamine). You could also throw in an antihistamine such as Benadryl.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol), as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), can help those aches and pains that seem to crop up everywhere.
You may want to consider topical analgesics such as Ben Gay, Tiger Balm, or Icy Hot. To treat restless leg syndrome, I recommend Hyland’s Restful Leg Quick-Dissolving Tablets. I actually still take them to this day. Natural sleep supplements such as melatonin or Valerian root —even Naproxen (Aleve) PM can make counting sheep easier. Just make sure to follow the instructions.
4. So is Mother Nature
One of the most talked about methods for battling withdrawal is kratom, a little-known herb made from the leaves of a tree that grows on the other side of the world, a.k.a. Southeast Asia. Kratom is an unregulated drug that is used for anything from making tea, treating insomnia and relieving chronic pain. It has been recently suggested that kratom may help alleviate heroin and opioid withdrawal.
I am seeing more and more opiate addicts who are not getting medically detoxed, use it to get through the discomfort. Does it work? Yes. But is it safe? The DEA is trying to criminalize kratom and the FDA has not approved its use because of its addictive qualities —meaning, you can also become physically addicted, if taken over longer periods of time.
Kratom is described as stimulating at lower doses and more sedating at higher doses. Most would agree it’s far less powerful and much less addictive than prescription painkillers but its effects are very similar —it just depends on the strain, how much was consumed as well as your individual chemistry. Remember though, addiction isn’t about drugs, it’s about brains. The reward pathway that is triggered by opioids is the real culprit behind opioid addiction.
By constantly stimulating the reward pathway, patients get hooked. The drugs are no longer about pain, they are about maintaining an increasingly difficult-to-get payoff from this one specific pathway in the brain. Stop that pathway from firing and the withdrawals withers. Stop the reward pathway and addiction subsides, life resumes, which is where CBD comes into play.
Significant medical benefits are attributed to the non-intoxicating sister molecule of THC called CBD or cannabidiol. CBD has been shown to reduce the side effects caused by THC and enhance the benefits of THC. In animal studies, CBD has been shown to decrease addictive behavior. Medical scientists found that the heroin-seeking behavior of self-administering rats decreased when the animals were given CBD.
During the decades of prohibition, cannabis breeders grew strains that had more and more THC (the high causer) and less and less of the sister cannabinoids because that’s what sells on the black market. People want to buy something that’s pleasantly intoxicating. But recently there’s been a shift, a complete reversal, where people who are medical patients want serious symptom relief, they want the medical benefits, but many people don’t want to get high or impaired.
At a time when America is searching for solutions to a burgeoning opiate problem that kills 46 Americans a day, a new tool for jumpstarting the fragile recovery process is emerging: cannabis. Proven to alleviate symptoms of serious medical conditions including cancer, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, and glaucoma —marijuana as well as other cannabis products are beginning to gain notice as an effective alternative to synthetic painkillers as well as opioid withdrawal.
On top of providing relief from the physical pain associated with opioid withdrawal, experts suggest it can help your emotional state of mind as well. Marijuana and CBD can calm you —making any anxiety and nausea symptoms go way down. They can also help your appetite because chances are, you won’t be able to eat, especially when the withdrawals first start.
5. Vitamins Say What
During both addiction and withdrawal, the body can experience a number of nutritional deficiencies. According to a study in the Iranian Journal of Public Health, people who have been addicted to opiates may have deficiencies of calcium and magnesium, which can contribute to muscle pain and spasms.
Low potassium is also implicated in restless leg syndrome. Eating light, healthy meals can improve nutritional balance. For example, eating bananas increases your potassium intake. Taking a multivitamin or supplementing in areas of deficiency can help with recovery and ease symptoms.
Since a major symptom of withdrawal is severe anxiety, it’s common to use magnesium and calcium —known to help with cramps, twitches, and other muscular issues that are caused by withdrawal. Although you can take pills for calcium and magnesium, you can also find it in common foods such as leafy vegetables, grains, and dairy products. If you are going to take a supplement, it is recommended to take 2,000 mg of calcium and 1,000 mg of magnesium a day.
6. The Essentials
Essential oils are a highly concentrated version of the natural oils in plants. Essential oils work by addressing the source. They are smart. Oils have the ability to delete misinformation and reprogram your cells with correct data so that they can function in harmony with one another. In fact, these oils can also help you fight withdrawal symptoms.
Here are some examples:
Eucalyptus is atomically configured in a molecular structure that resonates with our natural opiate receptors on the surface of the cells. It offers relaxation and expands the space between stimulus and response.
Researchers from Iran instituted a new use for rose essential oil (Rosa damascena) —to attenuate the side effects of morphine withdrawal. It’s said to act as an antioxidant, relieve gastrointestinal symptoms, improve mood while promoting sedation.
Frankincense offers mental clarity and promotes mindfulness. It can diminish drug cravings, relieve chronic stress, anxiety, pain, inflammation, and can even boost immunity. But all of this means nothing if you’re not resting.
7. Get Some Shut-Eye
Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles. A good night’s sleep can help a moody person decrease anxiety. You get more emotional stability when you sleep well, however, I know that’s easier said than done. The thing is, every day you’ll feel that much better and with a good night’s rest, you’re literally helping yourself heal.
8. Get Lit
Many individuals in recovery from opiate addiction report that taking a hot bath is a helpful trick that can improve the experience of some withdrawal symptoms. Muscle aches and pains, as well as headaches, can be relaxed away by soaking in hot water, and this kind of relaxation can help improve sleep.
You want to avoid hot baths during episodes of fever; in this case, a heating pad can be helpful to soothe achy muscles while keeping the rest of your body cool. Feeling crazy? Take a warm bath with Epsom Salt. Named for a bitter saline spring at Epsom in Surrey, England, it’s not actually salt —rather a naturally occurring pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate.
The wonders of Epsom Salt have been well known for hundreds of years and, unlike other salts, it has beneficial properties that can soothe the body, mind, and soul. Some of the health benefits include relaxing the nervous system, curing skin problems, soothing back pain and aching limbs, easing muscle strain, healing cuts, treating colds and congestion, as well as drawing toxins from the body.
So one of the simplest ways to ease stress and stress-related problems is to soak in a tub full of hot water with a few cups of Epsom Salt. Once you’re clean and refreshed, consider laying down with a heating pad and/ or portable fan to help with any of the cold sweats.
I know I said overcoming opioid withdrawal was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. But, being on the other side, well —was the best decision I could have ever made.
Yeah, it hurts like hell for a little while, but eventually, you will get better. I promise you that. The best piece of advice I can give is, to be real with yourself and those around you. And honestly, it’s never easy and it’s never over. It will be a fight renewed each day, but it’s not unattainable —just look at me.