Five Steps for Opiate Withdrawal Treatment


Opiate withdrawal treatment requires a personalized approach for every individual. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on how long the patient has been addicted, which drugs they used, and other personal details such as age, height, and weight. However, there are some basics, which most people go through, and a successful treatment approach should follow these steps where they are appropriate.

Step 1: Patient Decides to Quit

Many addicts continue using long after the pleasure of the original drug use is gone because they fear the withdrawal symptoms or cannot imagine life without the routine. A successful opiate withdrawal treatment plan will involve a patient who is fully committed to recovery and sobriety. Withdrawal symptoms will begin within hours after the patient’s last usage, so a coordinated detox effort will usually involve a last dose of the drug.

Step 2: Make the Patient Comfortable

As withdrawal begins, the patient should be in a quiet, comfortable place. There should be easy access to a bathroom, plenty of clean bedding, fluids with electrolytes to combat dehydration, and foods such as orange juice and bananas which contain potassium to ease muscle cramps. Warm baths, heating pads, massages, and distracting activities such as movies and books can be helpful as well.

In addition, over-the-counter medications, which might alleviate symptoms, should be kept on hand. Motion sickness medicine may help with nausea, Tylenol or NSAIDs may ease muscle pain, and antihistamines can be used to treat insomnia and anxiety.

Step 3: Peak Symptoms

The hardest time in detoxing is usually around 36-72 hours. Without a caring, comfortable environment, this is the time when many addicts relapse. Symptoms during this time are severe and typically include nausea and diarrhea, anxiety and panic attacks, muscle pain and cramping, insomnia, restlessness, fever, and hot and cold flashes. Drug cravings will likely be intense. The biggest risks during this time are dehydration and aspiration of vomit. Although the peak of withdrawals is difficult and extremely unpleasant, it is not usually life-threatening.

Step 4: Symptoms Dissipate

As symptoms begin to fade, it is very important that the patient has a strong support system. This is a vulnerable time as the addict seeks to carve out a new self-image, so the understanding of friends and family is vital. The patient will need to build a new life with a great deal of structure to replace the old lifestyle of addiction. Exercise, new friends, church, and school can all be great ways for the patient to learn new habits while distancing themselves from the old ones. Good nutrition is also important as the body seeks to rebalance itself.

Step 5: Long-Term Care

Some long-term symptoms following opiate withdrawal treatment may be present for up to a year in the most severe cases. These symptoms might include physical weakness, muscular pain, sleeplessness, and anxiety. These are lasting effects of the psychological changes caused by addiction and can cause some addicts to relapse long after the physical pain has faded. Treatment of these should include ongoing family support and counseling by a licensed professional.


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