Home Remedies for Opioid Withdrawal and Their Dangers
When someone is addicted to an opioid, they may be physically dependent on the drug and go through withdrawal when they cease or reduce their use. Rather than enter medical detox, some people may turn to home remedies for opioid withdrawal.
This page will go over how home detox remedies for opioid withdrawal and their risks.
Opioid Dependence and Withdrawal
Chronic opioid use can lead to physical drug dependence. This means someone’s body has adapted to functioning with the drug. When someone reduces their opioid use or quits opioids altogether, they will likely experience withdrawal as their body re-adjusts.
Withdrawal symptoms can include flu-like symptoms, such as:
- Loss of appetite.
- Muscle aches.
- Irregular heart rate and blood pressure levels.
Opioid withdrawal can also have psychological symptoms, including:
- Trouble thinking straight and concentrating.
- Drug cravings.
- Trouble feeling pleasure.
- Significant mood swings.
Opioid withdrawal syndrome can start within 12-30 hours of the last dose of an opioid drug, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Side effects generally peak in intensity in 3-5 days, and some of the symptoms can continue for a period of time, potentially a week or longer.
There are many “natural” methods and home remedies for combating the side effects of opioid withdrawal; however, none are as safe or effective as being supervised by medical professionals in a specialized medical detox facility. In many instances, at-home detox attempts can even be dangerous.
Why Home Remedies for Withdrawal Are Dangerous
Opioid withdrawal is seldom life-threatening; however, serious complications can occur when detoxing from opioids like:
Many of the “home detox” products contain herbs and amino acids, and they are sold online and over the counter to help a person “naturally” detox from opioids. These products are not clinically tested or proven to work, however. Stopping an opioid drug suddenly without professional supervision can cause someone to experience greater discomfort than necessary.
Why Detoxing from Heroin and Fentanyl at Home is Risky
All kinds of opioids can be dangerous, but heroin and fentanyl are known for being especially potent. Despite fentanyl having some legitimate medical uses, heroin and fentanyl are commonly illicitly manufactured, which means they may contain toxic adulterants or be strong enough to cause an overdose.
In some cases, withdrawal without medical intervention can be so severe that it leads someone to relapse. Relapsing on a potent drug like heroin or fentanyl is incredibly dangerous, especially if the patient has a reduced tolerance from a short period of abstinence.
Can At-Home Opiate Detox Be Fatal?
It is very rare for someone to die from opioid withdrawal; however, symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be fatal in extreme circumstances.
Medically managed detoxification can make the symptoms of withdrawal less severe and ensure medical staff is ready to respond to potential emergencies.
Natural Supplements and Over-the-Counter Medications
There are many supposed “natural” remedies out there for the treatment and management of opioid withdrawal symptoms. Many of these products contain vitamins and minerals, and they are supplements aimed at helping to restore a person’s physical health which can be negatively impacted by chronic drug abuse.
Opioids can deplete the body of some of its essential nutrients, and supplements may help to balance things out. Electrolyte solutions like Gatorade or Pedialyte may be beneficial as well. Nutritional diet plans and healthy eating can be helpful, as opioid abuse and dependence may interfere with normal eating habits and appetite levels.
Some over-the-counter medications may be useful in managing specific symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as:
- Antidiarrheal medications like Imodium (loperamide)
- Non-steroidal and/or anti-inflammatory medications for pain relief and muscle aches, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen)
- Sleep aids and antihistamines like Benadryl or Nyquil (diphenhydramine)
- Topical muscle relief and analgesic products like Bengay or Icy Hot (methyl salicylate, camphor, and menthol)
- Anti-nausea and antiemetic medications, such as Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) or Dramamine (dimenhydrinate)
Holistic Methods for Opiate Detox
There are many holistic and alternative methods that can aid in opioid detox and withdrawal. While they may be touted as standalone home remedies, they are best used as adjunct methods and combined with a medical detox program. Some of these methods include:
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese technique of inserting needles into specific parts of the body, called acupuncture points, to restore the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. Acupuncture is safe for everyone and has virtually no side effects to speak of. Several studies have been done to determine its effectiveness for use during detox. The journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that while it may be helpful, data does not yet empirically prove its total efficacy as a standalone method for opioid detox. It may be best used as an adjunct method as a part of a complete and traditional detox program.
Pain and muscle aches are common during opioid withdrawal, and massage may help to relieve some of the tension and discomfort. Massage therapy only targets a few of the opiate withdrawal symptoms; therefore, it is likely most helpful as a part of a comprehensive detox program.
Exercise or fitness programs
Getting outdoors and into the fresh air and sunshine can be soothing emotionally and physically. Workable fitness programs may help to increase some of the body’s natural endorphins and neurotransmitters that are depleted from opioid misuse. Exercise is a healthy outlet and can provide stimulation, stress relief, and engaging activity to occupy the mind. Studies published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry indicate that exercise may help to prevent relapse and minimize drug cravings as well. Fitness regimes are often part of detox and substance abuse treatment programs.
Hot baths or showers
Hot water can soothe aching muscles and relieve pain, and they may be a good way to reduce some of the physical side effects of opiate withdrawal, at least temporarily. Taking a hot bath can also help a person to relax and may serve to lower stress and anxiety for a short period of time as well.
Sleep and engagement
Getting enough sleep during opiate withdrawal is vital. When a person is well-rested, they are better able to handle stress and some of the other emotional side effects of withdrawal. Keeping engaged and busy is also beneficial. Finding healthy hobbies and way to occupy time can help to prevent relapse and minimize drug cravings.
Relapse is a return to drug abuse and can be very dangerous after a period of not using drugs. When a person relapses after being abstinent for a period of time, their tolerance level has likely dropped. Returning to using drugs at previous levels can overwhelm the body and lead to a life-threatening overdose. Drug overdose rates were the highest ever recorded in 2014, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and opioid drugs accounted for more than 60 percent of all fatal drug overdoses that year.
Support during detox is essential in helping to prevent relapse and minimize withdrawal symptoms. A medical detox facility can provide the highest level of professional care and supervision using both pharmaceutical and supportive methods to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Why Is Medical Detox the Safest Option?
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports that in 2011, around 250,000 Americans received emergency department (ED) medical care for an adverse reaction to the abuse of heroin while nearly 500,000 individuals visited an ED for negative consequences related to the misuse of a prescription opiate drug. Opiate withdrawal syndrome can be unpredictable, uncomfortable, and even dangerous, resulting in the need for professional medical care.
Central nervous system functions can be irregular, and some of the vital life-sustaining functions, like breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure, can be negatively impacted during opiate withdrawal, requiring medical intervention to regulate them. Medical detox can provide a safe outlet for opiate withdrawal while offering not only professional monitoring and supervision, but also necessary medical care and support.
Medical detox for opiate drugs often uses medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. Methadone and buprenorphine products are both approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid dependence, as published by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). These medications can stall the negative reaction that comes from stopping an opiate suddenly. Both are longer-acting drugs than most opiates, staying in the body for longer and therefore keeping withdrawal at bay with fewer doses. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it doesn’t fully activate the opiate receptors in the brain and therefore shouldn’t produce the same “high” as other full agonists do. This makes it useful during detox to manage withdrawal without the highs and lows of opiate abuse.
Other prescription-strength medications can be useful in treating certain symptoms of opiate withdrawal. For example, clonidine is a blood pressure medication that has shown promise in helping to soothe overactive central nervous system and autonomic bodily functions. It is often used off-label to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. The journal Supplement to Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy (JMCP) reports on clonidine as being safe and effective as a nonnarcotic pharmaceutical option during opiate detox.
During opiate withdrawal, emotional and mental health support is also essential as individuals may experience violent and erratic mood swings and potentially be prone to self-harming behaviors. Any underlying medical or co-occurring mental health disorders can be properly addressed and treated during medical detox as well. Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders may require specialized care during detox to ensure a person’s emotional well-being and safety. Mental health professionals can work in tandem with medical health providers and substance abuse treatment professionals to simultaneously treat both mental health concerns and opiate dependence, helping to minimize symptoms and side effects of both issues.
Medical detox can help individuals to reach levels of physical stability safely, so they may continue on with a complete substance abuse treatment program that can address their behavioral, emotional, and individual needs with therapeutic, supportive, and pharmaceutical methods. While the idea of home remedies for opiate withdrawal may be tempting, at-home attempts are rarely successful and can be risky. Seek professional help for the best chances at long-term recovery.
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