Does Clonidine Help with Opioid Withdrawal?

Opioid drugs are associated with significant physiological dependence. Once dependence develops, withdrawal from opioids can be extremely unpleasant. For many, this can present a considerable hurdle to early recovery. Medically supervised detox is an option that enables someone to take the vital step of getting opioids out of their system safely and more comfortably.1

Medication plays an important role in opioid detoxification. Though opioid agonist agents such as methadone and buprenorphine are the standard of care for opioid withdrawal management, in some instances, clonidine may be used for the “off-label” purpose of helping ease symptoms of opioid withdrawal.1

What is Clonidine Used For?

Clonidine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating hypertension. A branded formulation known as Kapvay is also approved for treating ADHD. Other indications, including several off-label uses, include the management of:2, 3, 4

  • ADHD-related insomnia.
  • Tourette’s syndrome.
  • Nicotine addiction.
  • Menopausal flushing.
  • Pre-procedural sedation for children.
  • Post-operative pain in children.
  • Adjunct therapy for cancer pain.
  • Pediatric anxiety disorders.

Clonidine is not currently FDA-approved for opioid withdrawal. However, it may be effective at treating many of the symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal syndrome in an off-label capacity.1

How Does Clonidine Help with Opioid Withdrawal?

Clonidine works by slowing a patient’s heart rate and loosening blood vessels allowing blood to flow more freely throughout the body.5 It also has a sedative effect on some patients.6

Clonidine helps relieve the following opioid withdrawal symptoms:7

  • Excessive perspiration.
  • Insomia.
  • Chills.
  • Anxiety.
  • Stomachache.
  • Shaking.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.

However, there are also some disadvantages associated with using clonidine instead of methadone or buprenorphine. Patients generally prefer opioid replacement medications over the use of clonidine, which may explain why the completion rate for opioid detoxification using clonidine is relatively low (between 20 and 40%). Clonidine is less effective than opioid replacement medications in treating muscle aches, insomnia, and drug cravings.1

Most of these patients studied that were able to complete detox with clonidine had:1

  • Misused prescription opioids (as opposed to heroin).
  • Private health insurance.
  • Reported relatively mild subjective withdrawal effects.

What are the Side Effects of Using Clonidine for Opioid Withdrawal?

There are some possible side effects associated with clonidine. Side effects include:5

  • Dry mouth.
  • Feebleness.
  • Headache.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Nervousness.
  • Constipation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Emergency medical treatment is required if one experiences severe reactions, which include:5

  • Rash.
  • Hives.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Swelling of the orofacial region, throat, feet, ankles, or lower legs.
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing.

Side effects can be worsened if a person consumes alcohol while taking clonidine.5

Other Medications that can Help with Opioid Withdrawal

Other medications used to relieve opioid withdrawal include the opioid agonist drugs buprenorphine and methadone. Using either of these drugs allows doctors to safely administer a stabilizing dose of a pharmaceutical product in controlled conditions. Both methadone and buprenorphine can also be prescribed as long-term maintenance treatment for opioid dependency.1

Chemically similar to clonidine, lofexidine is a relatively recently FDA-approved medication used for managing opioid withdrawal symptoms. Both clonidine and lofexidine have demonstrated similar levels of effectiveness in controlling signs and symptoms of acute opioid withdrawal and reducing the amount of methadone needed for stabilizing doses.8

Get Help with Opioid Addiction

There are many reasons why people benefit from receiving professional treatment for opioid addiction. For one, medical detox allows patients experiencing withdrawal to do so safely and more comfortably under the supervision of medical professionals.1

Overcoming physical dependence, however, is only a small part of addiction treatment.9 Rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol also involves learning coping mechanisms, becoming inspired and motivated to remain sober, recognizing and overcoming triggers, and forming a supportive network conducive to sobriety.10 Effective treatment centers meet these criteria through:9, 11

If you or a loved is struggling with addiction, consider reaching out to one of our Admissions Navigators at . Admissions Navigators can answer questions about River Oaks and help you explore a variety of treatment options.