The opioid crisis has devastated millions of families around the world. The unexpected reliance on medications once thought to be safe has brought new attention to the process of treatment. There are different demands of the drug rehab process because of opioid withdrawal and the need for so many to taper down their dosages to escape their opioid addictions.
It does not matter if you started taking opioids with a legitimate prescription following an injury or surgery or if you have been using heroin. When it comes to opioids, it is medically imperative to taper your dosage down slowly when coming off the drug. Withdrawal from opioids can occur suddenly when someone stops or reduces usage. Symptoms of withdrawal can be uncomfortable and painful. Sometimes, the withdrawals can even become life-threatening.
If you or a loved one who may have started taking opioids for legitimate medical reasons begins to look for larger dosages, runs out of pills before the prescription is due to be refilled, or acts like more sedated than he or she should be, you need to seek help from trained addiction specialists. Many will look for their own paths to stop taking opioids. They need to realize that there is only one safe way of coming off the drug, and that is through tapering down.
What Are Opioids Used For?
Despite their high risk of dependency and addiction, opioids are still the best option for managing severe pain. The category of drugs known opioids includes legally prescribed Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, Morphine, Dilaudid and fentanyl, and the illegal drug heroin.
Even if you take opioids as legally prescribed by your physician or surgeon, there is a risk that you may become physically dependent on them. When using opioids in the treatment of severe pain, your body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug in your system. When the time comes where you no longer need to be medicated for pain, you might experience the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. In patients who have been dependent on heroin or other opioids for a long period of time, the withdrawal symptoms can even become life-threatening.
How Fast Can One Become Dependent on Opioids?
For some individuals, signs of addiction can happen quickly, even within a matter of a few days. Others may become dependent after a few weeks of use. When they stop taking the drug, they will quickly show signs of withdrawal. If the urges are strong enough, the individual might be developing opioid use disorder.
When Opioid Use Becomes Addiction
If you take opioids for longer than a few weeks, there is a high possibility that you will become dependent on them. There are, of course, many situations, such as cancer and chronic pain conditions, that demand opioid therapy for longer than a few weeks. If the reason that you were prescribed opioid pain medication is for a condition that only requires a few weeks of pain treatment and healing, you may want to talk to a doctor about reducing your current dosage as well as about taking steps to make a plan to taper off the medication completely.
When Is the Right Time to Taper?
If the opioids were initially prescribed for acute pain, which is pain that is expected to go away in a short period of time, you should be ready to wean off your pain medication within one to four weeks following your injury or surgery.
In the case of chronic pain conditions, where pain lasts longer than three months, opioid therapy is prescribed for more than just pain. It is also focused on improving the quality of life and enabling the patient to function better through pain. These cases require special considerations before tapering down.
Other reasons to taper off opioids include:
- Side effects from the opioids that are severe, such as constipation, fatigue and nausea, and vomiting
- If you cannot comply with your prescribed treatment plan and find yourself taking more than the prescribed dosage
- Other health issues that increase your risk for addiction should you remain on opioids, such as sleep apnea or kidney disease
- If you see signs of addiction or are exhibiting abnormal behavior
How to Safely Taper Off Opioids
Tapering off opioids needs to be done gradually. Under no circumstances should quitting cold turkey be considered. Planning your taper schedule with your doctor will ensure that all of your medical needs are met. The length of time your opioid taper will take is contingent on the length of time that you have been dependent on opioids and your medical needs that are still in need of treatment.
It is imperative that you take time to taper down. The longer you have been dependent on opioids will help your doctor determine the amount of time you need to taper down. Chronic pain patients who have been on opioid medication for years might even take a full year to taper down safely.
Throughout your scheduled opioid taper, your doctor will need to:
- Monitor your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse regularly
- Request regular blood and urine samples to monitor the type and amount of medication and other substances, both legal and illicit, that you have in your system
- Request your authorization to communicate with your other health care providers, pharmacist, and family members in an effort to obtain information that might help your opioid taper go smoothly
- Recommend other pain therapies as necessary
- Prescribe medication to help you manage any withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, depression, sleep disturbances, and appetite
Symptoms of Withdrawal
The symptoms of opioid withdrawal can start to occur quickly once a dependent patient misses as little as one dose. The longer the addiction or dependence has been going on, the stronger the withdrawal symptoms will be. It is important that you remember to never attempt to quit opioids cold turkey.
Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Runny nose, watery eyes, and yawning
- Irritability and mood swings
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Increased pain levels
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Feeling like you are feverish, going from chills to sweats
- Muscle cramps and joint pain
- Increased heart rate
- Blood pressure changes
- Suicidal thoughts
What Happens When a Tapering Plan Fails?
If your opioid tapering plan fails, you will need to consider going into an inpatient detox program. In this environment, you will be guided through your opioid taper under close medical supervision. You will be given medications to keep you more comfortable through all the stages of withdrawal. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency. Following a successful detox program, you should consider taking the next step and entering either an inpatient or an intensive outpatient program.
Risk of Overdose
Those with an opioid disorder run a high risk of overdose. Many will increase the dosage to attempt to get to the high that they cannot easily get after using for a while. The risk of overdose is higher with heroin and fentanyl; however, those who have legal prescriptions run this risk as well.
Another factor that may lead to overdose is if the patient is mixing opioids with other substances. For intravenous users, a mixture of heroin and cocaine, which is also known as a speedball, is frequently responsible for overdose cases. Mixing pills with alcohol also carries a serious danger of overdose or even death. In case of an overdose, call 911, and get your family member immediate medical attention.
Granite Recovery Centers
The Granite Recovery Centers treatment program is customized to every patient. For the past 10 years, Granite has offered state-of-the-art recovery centers designed with your recovery in mind. Granite’s founders bring their own recovery experiences as a basis for their extensive network of facilities. Each facility is located in a tranquil setting, creating the right atmosphere to begin their journeys to sobriety.
Counselors will sit down with you to set up your treatment plan. Following detox, you will transition into one of our inpatient treatment facilities, where you will follow our highly successful evidence-based treatment program, which will teach you how to replace your addictive behaviors with healthy activities. Each facility is staffed with highly trained medical, support, and psychiatric professionals. The program is based upon the tried and true 12-step model.
Your days will be filled with group therapy, classes, counseling, and exercise programs as you learn healthier behaviors. At Granite, we believe that each individual has different needs and that you should take as much time as you need to get started on your new life. We recognize that while a 28-day program serves some people, others need more time, and you have the ability to spend as much time in our programs and with our team as you need. Many people find that transitioning from inpatient to an intensive outpatient program for further therapy while living at home gives them the additional support and treatment that they need.
If you are in the northeastern United States, consider Granite’s relaxing environment as the perfect place to begin your sober journey.