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Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can be unexpectedly brutal. Opiates like Heroin, Morphine, Oxycontin, Oxycodone  and others can be miracle drugs, but they can also be very difficult to stop once dependence or addiction takes place. They take unbearable pain and make it bearable. But just as they have miracle qualities, these drugs also have devilish and evil consequences when misused, abused, or when an opiate dependent person wants to stop taking the drug.

The withdrawal symptoms of opiates are just the opposite of the pleasurable effects.

  • Euphoria turns to dysphoric feelings.
  • Pain relief turns to pain in the joints and general aches.
  • Smooth muscle relaxation turns into muscle cramping
  • A general warm feeling turns into goosebumps (piloerection) and chills.
  • A calm body turns into agitation and restless legs.
  • Additional symptoms include lacrimation or tearing, a runny nose, and diarrhea.
  • Most opiate dependent persons that have tried to withdraw on their own agree that the overall feeling is like having the worst flu they have ever had and multiply it by ten!

My experience with opiate withdrawal symptoms is there are one or two symptoms that take precedence for each client. A young female, Judy, had severe goosebumps. She couldn’t stand the goosebumps and chills. Another client, Sandra, had to constantly kick her legs. Goosebumps give the term “Cold Turkey” because your skin looks like a turkey plucked. Restless legs or kicking the legs gives us the term “kicking it”.

Other clients have had the dominant symptom be the pain/ or aches. This can make the withdrawal intolerable. A symptom that isn’t talked about much, but that may have dire consequences is the smooth muscle contractions or cramping as this can cause diarrhea and also cause the person in withdrawal to forgo food and fluids. The person can then become severely dehydrated. There have been deaths reported due to this severe dehydration.

The syndrome of having one or two dominant opiate withdrawal symptoms can actually help the clinician that takes care of the client. Once the withdrawal has begun and an adequate COWS scale score has been achieved, we can focus on that symptom and provide withdrawal medication based on that symptoms severity. The chances of a successful medical detox of any substance goes up if a degree of comfort can be achieved. The focus on the dominant symptom can assist in making the client as comfortable as possible.

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