How to stop taking opiates?

Learn the safest ways to stop taking opiates and avoid relapse, here.

minute read

Overcoming an opiate addiction is not easy, but it is possible! When deciding to how/when/why to quit using opiates… you should definitely consult a doctor since there are recommended methods to quit, and some risky and ineffective ones. In fact, there are medications and protocols that can make the process much less intense or severe.

But what can you expect when you decide to stop taking opiates? How can you manage the withdrawal symptoms? We explain how you can stop taking opiates safely in this article. Then, we invite you to ask your questions or share your experiences in the comments section at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all questions or comments personally!

Can I just stop taking opiates?

Not really. Quitting opiates cold turkey can trigger serious, intense, or severe withdrawal symptoms that can be lessened.

Why do most people want to quit n the first place? There are several reasons you may want to quit using. The most common reasons include:

  • Decreased level of pain tolerance or drug effect
  • Evidence of illegal or unsafe behaviors
  • Lack of drug efficacy
  • Negative consequences to your health, work, or home life
  • Occurrence of severe unmanageable adverse effects

Regardless of the reasons why you may think it’s best to discontinue an opiate, it is almost never recommended to do it all of a sudden. Quitting an opiate drug overnight might cause intense and dangerous withdrawal and lead to serious health complications.

What happens when you stop taking opiates?

First, let’s get a better understanding of what happens when you are taking opiates.

With continued use over a period of several weeks, you become tolerant and physically dependent on opiate drugs. Over time, psychological dependence can also develop.

1. Tolerance means that a previously effective dose becomes less efficient at blocking pain or getting you high. This is why you need to take larger doses… to get the wanted effects.

2. Physical dependence means that the body has adjusted to the presence of the opiate and cannot function normally without regular dosing. A physically dependent person is ready to go great lengths to keep their drug use active and avoid feeling pain again…nicluding the effects of detox or withdrawal.

3. Addiction is a chronic, cyclical brain disease. With habitual use of painkillers or stronger opiate drugs, your brain is rewired in a way that opiates become your primary source of pleasure. A person may start to crave opiates just to feel joy and happiness in life, or to block emotional pain.

So, what happens when you quit?

The process of stopping or cutting back on opiates after heavy use causes a number of symptoms called withdrawal symptoms. Here are the reasons behind the occurrence of the most common opiate withdrawal symptoms:

SWEATING: When you stop taking opiates, the hypothalamus (the part of the brain responsible for emotions) starts acting chaotic and panicky. The hypothalamus also regulates the body’s temperature and when opiates are stopped the body starts sweating excessively.

INTESTINAL ISSUES: Taking opiates causes constipation or a slowing of excretion. When you quit, the gastroinstestinal tract is sped up and usually ends up vomiting and having diarrhea.

MUSCLE PAIN: Active opiate users are accustomed having the pain receptors in the synapses of the nerves blocked, so after quitting… minor muscle aches and everyday discomfort can feel extremely painful.

Side effects of stopping opiates

When a person uses opiates habitually it is very likely that they will experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Opiate withdrawal effects appear quickly after discontinuation and can be quite uncomfortable. While withdrawal from opiates is not life threatening in healthy individuals, detox can be risky for people with significant health problems.

Opiate withdrawal symptoms are divided into two groups based on their time of onset.

Withdrawal symptoms felt right after quitting opiates:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
    increased tearing
  • insomnia
  • muscle aches
  • runny nose
  • sweating
  • yawning

Symptoms felt during later stages of opiate withdrawal:

  • abdominal cramping
  • diarrhea
  • dilated pupils
  • goose bumps
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Stop taking opiates suddenly

Stopping opiate use suddenly and on your own is not only against many doctors’ recommendations, but it can be dangerous.

While you may succeed from staying away from using for several days, withdrawal symptoms can be extremely harsh and too much to handle. When you relapse quickly after a sudden opiate discontinuation, you may also be risking your life. After only several days, your level of opiate tolerance gets substantially lower than it was before. This puts you in a risk of overdose, in case you take your previous dose.

Stop taking opiates cold turkey

Cold turkey is NOT a recommended alternative for quitting opiates. The risk of relapse is actually the highest among users who decide to go cold turkey off of opiates. Although they may start off with a high level of self esteem and determination, the strong and intensively unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can quickly change their mind and motivation. If you are considering going cold turkey off opiates you should know that you increase your chances for going through extremely unpleasant withdrawal, as well as relapsing.

How to stop taking opiates safely?

It is best to consult your doctor first when you feel like you want to stop taking opiates. Your doctor will most likely recommend an opiate addiction treatment program. Entering addiction treatment is considered the safest way of quitting, and it consists of 4 steps:

1. Medically assisted and monitored opiate detox to free your body from opiates.
2. Opiate replacement therapy that includes medications such as buprenorphine or methadone that help trick your body into thinking that the previously abused opiate is still present in your system.
3. Professional treatment with a therapist specializing in addiction.
4. Opiate addiction support groups that you can join to meet and interact with people who have gone through the same struggles as you.

How to stop taking opiates questions

Still have questions about stopping opiates? Please leave your questions, comments, or experiences in the section below. We try to respond to all legitimate questions personally and promptly, or refer you to professionals who can help.

Reference sources: Medline Plus: Opiate and opioid withdrawal
U.S Department of Veterans Affairs: Pain: Opioid Tapering
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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