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What You Should Know About Quitting Opiates

How to Stop Using Opiates

Opiates are naturally occurring plant alkaloids found in the opium poppy. They are the source from which many opioid drugs are synthesized, and include morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from morphine. Opiates are prescribed for pain, but they have a high potential for abuse, addiction, and overdose.

Quitting opiates is a big step for many people. But it can be done with the right treatment and support. This article focuses on how to quit using opiates.

Benefits of Quitting Opiates

  • Reduced risk of overdose and death. 1
  • Reduced risk of medical complications, such as infections, abscesses, and diseases such as hepatitis or HIV. 1
  • Improvement in mental health issues associated with addiction, such as higher motivation, stable mood, and better judgment.
  • Improved functioning, such as better relationships with family members and loved ones, as well as increased productivity in work and in school.
  • Avoiding consequences from illegal activities, such as stealing, using illegal drugs, or driving under the influence.
  • Improvements in finances from no longer spending a majority of your money on drugs.

Opiate Addiction Treatment Center and Recovery Program Options

Quitting opiates on your own can be extremely difficult. Treatment programs provide support from professionals and peers. They also help you develop and use effective relapse prevention techniques.

Many different options are available for treatment, based on a person’s needs. Inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, group counseling, individual counseling, and 12-step programs are popular treatment options for quitting opiates.

  • Inpatient treatment can occur in a hospital or non-hospital (or residential) setting, generally lasts about 28 days to 90 days based on individual needs, and typically involves individual counseling, group counseling, addiction education, skill development, and self-help meetings.
  • Outpatient treatment is a less restrictive environment than inpatient. It involves treatment provided in both group and individual settings, with schedules tailored to the needs and availability of the person.
  • Group counseling normalizes the experience of addiction by providing a number of peers in various stages of recovery. It also offers accountability and feedback on different issues related to addiction.
  • Individual counseling allows you to work with a therapist in a one-on-one setting on quitting opiates, maintaining sobriety, preventing relapse, and focusing on areas of functioning that may have been affected by substance use, such as work, school, family relationships, and socialization. A therapist can also assist in resolving legal issues.
  • 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide a basis to develop a sober support network, as well as a 12-step plan to address the underlying issues that led to the addiction. Twelve-step programs can be extremely effective and work well when paired with formal treatment. 4

An integral part of any recovery program is the development of sober support systems to assist with sobriety, including peers or professionals. Often, those entering recovery do not have strong sober support networks.


Aftercare is often recommended upon completion of treatment. It allows the person to transition from a higher level of care to a more independent setting.

Aftercare can include:

  • Sober housing. Sober houses provide a safe, drug-free environment where support is provided on a 24-hour basis.
  • Involvement with a 12-step fellowship.Twelve-step fellowships are based on three basic principles – acceptance, surrender, and active involvement with meetings and related 12-step activities. 5
  • Outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment is often strongly recommended after completion of a detox or inpatient program. It offers additional support when returning to a less restrictive setting.
  • Individual counseling. Individual counseling with a therapist is another good option for aftercare. It offers a private setting where you can address any issues related to living in recovery.
  • Support groups. Support groups provide a safe space to discuss issues in recovery with peers who are in similar situations.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms and Side Effects

Opiate withdrawal includes both physical and mental symptoms, including:
  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Tearing eyes.
  • Runny nose.
  • Sleep difficulties.
  • Yawning.
  • Sweating.
  • Chills or goose bumps.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea. 6, 7

Factors That Affect Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms can vary in type and intensity. They can be influenced by:

  • Which type of opiate the person used.
  • The amount used on a regular basis.
  • Frequency of use.
  • Whether the substance was short-acting or long-acting.
  • How long the person was using.
  • Whether the person was abusing other drugs.
  • The person’s health and personality. 3
  • The person’s age.

Treatment for Withdrawal

Withdrawal can be an uncomfortable and painful process. However, in most cases it is not life-threatening. 6, 7

While withdrawal can be done without medical support, there are some possible serious medical complications and risks, such as:

  • Overdose from relapsing after a period of abstinence and with a decreased tolerance.
  • Aspiration, or breathing vomit into the lungs, which can cause lung infection.
  • Imbalances in electrolytes and dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. 7

The detox process can be easier and safer when a physician or a detox facility is involved in treatment. Advances in detoxification have made the withdrawal process much less painful, and a physician can ease the symptoms of withdrawal by providing medication-assisted treatment.

Physicians who are trained in addiction medicine can prescribe tapering doses of medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or buprenorphine and naloxone (Suboxone) to wean users off opiates. These medications help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings and allow recovering users to participate in treatment and adjust to life without drugs.

Tips for Quitting

  • Get professional help. Seeking support from a rehab facility or a professional with experience in treating addiction can make the process easier by providing education, techniques to prevent relapse and manage cravings, support, and medication-assisted treatment to ease cravings, reduce the likelihood of relapse, and treat underlying mental health issues if necessary.
  • Build a sober support system. People in recovery are more likely to relapse if they don’t have other people who can support them and listen to them when they’re struggling with sobriety.
  • Address the reasons for addiction. Addiction is usually a symptom of a larger problem. Simply detoxing from opiates doesn’t address the psychological, social, and behavioral issues that, if resolved, can produce the lasting changes needed for sobriety. 2, 6, 8
  • Identify and avoid your triggers. Work with a therapist, family member, or friend on recognizing the people, places, and things that make you want to use. Then figure out ways either to avoid triggers or to deal with them if you cannot avoid them.
  • Be patient and don’t give up. Addiction is a chronic disease and may require multiple treatment episodes.

How to Help an Addict Quit

If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, you may be angry or upset. You are probably willing to try anything to get the person into treatment, including staging an intervention. But behaving in a confrontational, angry, or threatening manner may escalate the situation into an argument or even a violent confrontation. 4

Instead, it may be more helpful to:

  • Approach your loved one from a place of concern. Offering genuine support and assistance, along with your unconditional love, may encourage your loved one to quit using opiates. Acknowledge the brave and difficult step they are taking to seek help.
  • Tell the person how his or her addiction affects you. Point to recent incidents that have led to your concern.
  • Offer treatment options.Research local inpatient, outpatient, and 12-step programs and be prepared to present these to the person if he or she seems interested in getting help. Rather than making threats, you can also develop incentives to have the person speak to a professional, such as a doctor or a therapist.
  • Approach the person when he or she is sober. If the person is going through withdrawal or has recently suffered a negative consequence of using, he or she may be more receptive to getting help. Never approach the person when he or she is intoxicated. The person will likely not remember the conversation.

Take Care of Yourself

Addiction doesn’t just affect the person who is using – it can affect families and loved ones as well.

You may still be dealing with anger, frustration, or resentment. Consider attending therapy or self-help groups for loved ones of addicts, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. You can learn how to set firm boundaries with your loved one and to help them stay sober.

Can I Quit Cold Turkey? Is It Dangerous?

Quitting cold turkey can be done. But it is not recommended for several reasons:

  • Risk of relapse. The painful withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings can lead to relapse, which can be frustrating, discouraging, and even fatal. Opiate use also creates changes in the brain that make relapse more likely. 8
  • Medical problems. As mentioned above, there can be dangerous complications associated with unsupervised withdrawal, such as aspiration and electrolyte imbalance. The painful withdrawal experience can be eased with medically assisted detoxification by medical professionals, and medical treatment can also make it easier for a person to begin to participate in treatment.
  • Mental health problems. Abruptly stopping the use of opiates can also lead to feelings of depression, 1 which can be effectively managed with supportive treatment.

Find a Rehab Center for Opiates

If you or a loved one is dealing with opiate addiction and would like to learn more about finding a rehab center, please call our helpline at .

[1]. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Types of treatment programs.

[3]. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2015). Drugs of abuse.

[4]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What to do if your adult friend or loved one has a problem with drugs.

[5]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). 12-step facilitation therapy (alcohol, stimulants, opiates).

[6]. Harvard Health Publications. (2009). Treating opiate addiction, part I: detoxification and maintenance.

[7]. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2013). Opiate withdrawal.

[8]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research-based guide (3rd edition).