There is a lot of talk about the dangers of opioids, but for some people the use of these painkillers is all that is standing between them and debilitating pain. Opioids work by reducing the pain signals that are sent through the nervous system to the brain which causes the body not to experience the intensity of the pain. The controversies over opioids result from the highly addictive nature of the substance. Because the medication changes signals to the brain, it can be habit forming and become easily abused. That’s why we actively work to get patients off opioids. However, if you stop using these medications, the withdrawal symptoms from opioids can be excruciating.
What are common withdrawal symptoms from opioids?
When prescribed thoughtfully and monitored carefully, opiates can be a helpful part of a pain management plan for severe episodic or chronic pain. But what happens when the line is crossed from pain management to opiate dependence?
Opiates work on the brain by affecting the brain’s ability to sense pain. When a person takes opiate painkillers for an extended period of time (several weeks or more), the brain feels that it needs more of the drug to block the pain and patients may become physiologically dependent. Stopping or drastically reducing the dosage suddenly can result in opiate withdrawal.
Not all people who take opioids will become dependent. The time it takes for a person to become dependent varies based on age, gender, and dosage. However, the symptoms of opiate withdrawal are the same. They are divided into early and late stages of withdrawal and may consist of the following symptoms.
Early withdrawal symptoms from opioids
Withdrawal symptoms from opioids can last anywhere from a week to a few months. In the first 24 hours after you stop using these drugs, you may start experiencing symptoms. Early withdrawal symptoms from opioids include:
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
Late withdrawal symptoms from opioids
Late withdrawal symptoms from opioids can include the following:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
These later symptoms typically begin after the first day of stopping the use of the drug. For most people, these symptoms will improve within 72 hours. Within a week, many patients will feel back to normal.
Are you suffering from withdrawal symptoms from opioids?
If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms and have just recently stopped using opioids, you could be suffering from withdrawal.
Sometimes hospital patients in an extended stay can suffer from withdrawal and not know it. If they have been given opioids for pain and weren’t made aware of it, they may have the symptoms above and believe it to be flu or a severe cold. Opiate withdrawal can be very uncomfortable but is not usually life-threatening. Symptoms of withdrawal usually begin 12 hours after the last dose and last for approximately 30 hours, but times may vary, depending on the patient.
The best way to prevent opiate dependence and withdrawal is to work carefully with your doctor on a pain management strategy. This should include not only prescription medication if needed but also changes in diet and an investigation of holistic strategies.
The following video talks more about opioid withdrawal, and discusses symptoms with a patient.
How to reduce your risk of opioid withdrawal
If you’re trying to reduce the amount of opioids you use, or stop use entirely, there are way to reduce your withdrawal symptoms.
First, always talk to your doctor about a safe and effective plan for stopping your opioid use. They’ll advise you on other pain management options you have, so you don’t suffer in pain.
Next, gradually decrease how much you’re taking. You should never stop opioid use cold turkey if you can help it. Make a plan with your doctor to slowly wean yourself off the drugs. With complementary therapies, they’ll help reduce the pain you’re feeling and can provide help for any withdrawal symptoms you have.
Why it’s important
So, why is it so important to decrease or even stop taking opioids all together? It is worth the risk of withdrawal symptoms from opioids? Unfortunately, the research into these drugs show over and over again that they’re largely ineffective for long-term chronic pain and carry risks of abuse and dependence. Here’s what the research says.
Recent studies on opioids
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recently reported on the impact of the use of opioids on orthopedic care in the United States. While the U.S. makes up only a small percentage of the global population it consumes almost 80% of the global opioid supply, according to the study. It accounts for 99% of the consumption of hydrocodone, which is the most commonly prescribed opioid medication in the world.
These numbers are astounding and obviously a cause for concern. This may come down to the trust factor between patients and their physicians. Thankfully, many comprehensive pain specialists are working on ways to manage pain that doesn’t come down to medication.
Rates of abuse and misuse
The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain included a report regarding the percentage of medications that are prescribed and misused. By their calculations between 20-30% of the opioid drugs prescribed as pain therapy are used inappropriately by patients and 10% of these prescriptions lead to addiction.
They also believe that these rates of misuse are unique to the United States. This seems to support the findings of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. They also question whether or not benefits of opioid prescriptions outweigh the risks.
Risks for teenagers
Unfortunately, far too much of the research into opioids are due to the negative impact of their misuse. This study into the use of opioid medications among young people was published by the American Marketing Association.
The authors of the article point out that the Centers for Disease Control have labeled the misused of prescription opioids as an epidemic in this county. Some of the most vulnerable victims are teenagers. In the study, the teenagers surveyed were asked not only about their use of drugs and alcohol but also about:
- Their anxiety levels
- Their desire to fit in
- Other psychological issues most commonly experienced by people their age
The results showed that the use of prescription drugs increased in proportion to the anxiety levels these teenagers were feeling in their lives.
Opioids and chronic pain
Finally, the University of Connecticut released a study showing there is a concerning lack of data regarding opioids and chronic pain. The report was based on a white paper published by the National Institutes of Health that indicated that the findings typically cited to justify the use opioid medications for chronic pain patients have very little backing evidence to support them.
While there is very little evidence to demonstrate that opioid drugs have very little long-term efficacy for chronic pain, the rates of prescriptions are continuing to increase. Where the results of this study get confusing is that there are pain conditions that are responsive to opioids but others that do not respond to them at all. Doctors, however, often prescribe these medications across the board.
How to reduce your risk of opioid misuse
If you have found success with opioid medications, it is extremely important that you have access to the tools that can mitigate your risk of developing a dependence or addiction. Here are some ways for you to keep in mind.
Work with your doctor
Far too many people misuse opioid medications. The body is able to build a tolerance to these drugs so some people will try to take more to compensate for the lack of pain relief. Instead, it is extremely important to talk to your doctor about the changes in your symptoms and how the drug is working.
The following video explains PainDoctor.com’s stance on opioids.
Recognize withdrawal symptoms from opioids and overdose
Immediate medical attention is important if you’ve taken too much of these medications. Let your friend and family know some of the signs that they should look for and be able to contact medical help immediately. Here is a comprehensive view on opioid overdoses to keep on file.
Use apps to help you monitor your use
What’s the point of living in the 21st century if you can’t make use of today’s technology? There are multiple apps available for all smart phone platforms. These can help you monitor your use of medications and give you reminders of when to take them and how much.
Combine your treatment with alternatives
Some patients have a lot of success reducing the levels of their chronic pain by combining medical treatments with lifestyle changes. These include:
- Mindful meditation
- Herbal supplements
- Diet alterations
- Weight loss
All of these can have a positive effect on your overall health which then can reduce your dependence on these medications.
Monitor who has access to your medicine cabinet
Sometimes the bigger concern than your own dependence on opioids is the risk of unintentionally providing access to others in your household. If you have teenagers who might be struggling with anxiety make sure you keep your medications in a secure place and talk to your kids about their experiences. Find them the appropriate treatment.
While there are plenty of concerns with opioid medications, there are right and wrong ways to utilize the drug for your treatment program. Work with your doctor, form a plan, and monitor your use. By doing this, you may be able to successfully use opioids to reduce your chronic pain while avoiding risks of their use. To find a doctor near you who is committed to the safe use of opioids, click the button below. PainDoctor.com-certified doctors are committed to helping patients treat their pain, while limiting their use of opioid medications.