When we think of opiate withdrawal, we are often reminded of somewhat cartoonish depictions in movies and television. The vivid heroin withdrawal scene in the classic movie “Trainspotting” involves a string of hallucinations, including a dead baby crawling on the ceiling, and an imaginary game show host speaking to the protagonist, who is lying in a pile of sweat under his bedroom sheets.


While many of these images on television and movies are powerful, they are often not accurate. One ex heroin addict exclaimed, “I would gladly have sawn off a limb to lay in bed screaming while a baby doll crawled against the ceiling. The closest I’ve ever described (withdrawals) to a friend is this: You know when you’re underwater, and you need to come up for breath? And it’s taking too long to get to the surface? That feeling, of having no oxygen left, your whole body feeling like salty, fire and aching with the desperate need to breathe? That’s it, only not exactly, because it’s worse.”


Regardless of whether you are detoxing from heroin or a less potent opiate such as hydrocodone, there’s no complete way around the pain, anxiety, and stress that will be put on your body. However, unlike alcohol and benzodiazapenes, opiate withdrawal is not dangerous, according to the medical community. If you have decided to get sober, the best thing to do is to enter a detox facility or rehab center, such as Footprints Behavioral Health, where withdrawal can be monitored and relapse prevented. If there is no choice but to go through withdrawal on your own, then here are some tips for getting through the worst of it.

1.Know exactly what to expect. Understanding what to expect can make the process easier and less frightening. If you are relatively new to withdrawals, then you need to understand what your body will go through. The initial symptoms will include anxiety, muscle pain, body aches, tiredness, insomnia, and sweating. Later on during the peak of withdrawal, symptoms will include chills, stomachache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Withdrawal lasts about a week, but symptoms may persist to a lesser degree for the next 30 days, depending on how long one used drugs and what kind of drugs were used.

2.Depending on the type of drug, medicine may be necessary. Heroin is a different type of beast than a low dose of hydrocodone used for back pain, for example. If the chances of relapse are higher for certain types of addictions and drugs than others, it may be necessary to see a doctor to ensure a smooth transition. Medications such as clonodine, naltrexone, suboxone, and certain benzodiazepines can be helpful for withdrawal symptoms. However, we stress very strongly that it is critical to be careful about addiction transference. Many drugs used to treat withdrawals are addictive themselves, and can provide additional problems in the future. It is up to you and your doctor whether or not you want to use medications to ease the transition.

3.Get the support you need. Addicts tend to isolate, and are often embarrassed of their addiction. In many cases, drug addicts are well-functioning members of society who would do anything to avoid explaining what they are going through in their addiction. It is important for addicts to reach out to a trusted group of people and have phone numbers on hand to call people when feeling desperate. If you don’t feel comfortable telling a friend or family member about your situation, reach out to your local AA chapter and find someone you can talk with. You would be surprised at how much a connection with someone else can help during the withdrawal time period. A support system can also help keep you accountable. The more people who know about your addiction, the better chance you have for your recovery.

4.Take hot baths and short walks. Though the last thing you want to do during withdrawal is any sort of movement, you would be surprised at how helpful a bath can be. The reasons for this are unknown, but there are theories that the hot water can help monitor the often-unpredictable body temperatures that happen as a result of the withdrawal process. Though physical exercise is probably impossible during withdrawals, short walks or short bouts of exercise can be tremendously helpful. Exercise or movement helps release anxiety, and produces endorphins. Though it is more helpful during the Post Acute Withdrawal period, it is still a good idea to partake in during the early stages.

5.Use over the counter medications to help ease the transition. There are several legal, non-prescription required medications that can be helpful during withdrawals. One of these is Imodium, which can prove to be useful in treating both the diarrhea and restless leg syndrome that accompanies withdrawals. Valerian root, melatonin, and St. Johns Wort can be useful in treating the anxiety and insomnia associated with withdrawals, although probably more so for lower grade opiate related symptoms, such as prescription medication withdrawal. Finally, though food and water will probably be the last thing on your mind, it is vital that you continue to drink water or sports drinks, and try to eat something during withdrawals.

It will get better. During withdrawals, the world looks dark and dismal. Opiate receptors, which are typically filled by prescription medications, are suddenly vacant. You are going to feel anxious. You are going to feel depressed. You are going to feel paranoid, and hopeless, and miserable. There is no way to get around it. Your brain is rewiring itself and learning how to think normally again. It will take time for sobriety to feel natural. However, the immense trauma and pain that you feel during withdrawals is temporary. It will pass, in an actually brief amount of time. It’s important to use these tips and tricks in order to ensure that you get through withdrawal and focus on the positives that await you in sobriety and recovery.

Do you want to detox from drugs and alcohol, but aren’t sure where to turn? Are you suffering from a chronic addiction and are looking to achieve long-term sobriety? If so, call Linda Rose at Footprints Behavioral Health. Contact her today at 949-558-4723 and start your roadmap towards recovery.