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Quitting Opioids

Opioids are a class of prescription medications and illicit drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Some opioids are naturally occurring, and others are man-made (synthetic).1, 2 When used as prescribed, prescription opioids can be effective at relaxing a person’s body and relieving moderate to severe pain. 1 Some opioids are also used to treat diarrhea and coughing.1

People who use opioids illicitly, or for non-medical uses are often seeking a euphoric “high” or relaxing effect.1 However, misusing opioids can be dangerous due to the potential for addiction and overdose, or even death, and people may try quitting opioids.1 Over 74% of all overdose deaths in the United States in 2020 involved opioids.3

This article will help you learn about quitting opioids safely and addiction treatment options.

Can I Quit Opioids Cold Turkey?

It is not advisable to quit opioids “cold turkey” or without medical supervision.7 Quitting opioids “cold turkey” means that a person would stop using the substance immediately, without assistance and guidance from medical professionals. Stopping opioid use abruptly can have adverse health effects, making supervised detox and withdrawal an important part of quitting opioids.7

If a person stops using opioids “cold turkey,” they may be more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, or pain.7 Without supervision, a person may be more likely to seek out opioids to help relieve their withdrawal symptoms, also known as relapse.7

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include the following:5

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, which can cause dehydration
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased heart rate

Receiving clinical and medication support during detox can help ease these symptoms, reduce cravings, and may decrease the likelihood of withdrawal.7

What Are the Benefits of Quitting Opioids?

The benefits of quitting opioids with support from a medical team may include the following:9

  • Less pain and discomfort.
  • Improved sleep.
  • Behavioral health support.
  • Access to aftercare services.
  • Support for co-occurring conditions.
  • Nutritional support.
  • Decreased risk of overdose.
  • Individuals can play an active role in their treatment plan.
  • Individuals can involve family and friends in treatment decisions if they want.

Quitting Opioids Safely

Stopping the misuse of opioids with medical supervision can help create a safe environment that may produce positive health outcomes.11 Supervised detox can provide a person more access to resources they may not otherwise have on their own.11

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Evidence-based practices have been implemented successfully in treating opioid use disorder.13 As mentioned above, people can benefit from having a personalized treatment plan to work through treatment more effectively.

Common treatment methods for opioid use disorder include the following:13

  • Detoxification helps a person during the withdrawal process.
  • Inpatient services support a person through treatment in a residential or hospital setting.
  • Outpatient services support a person recovering from substance misuse on a regular basis through various treatment modalities.
  • Aftercare services to help prevent relapse and maintain abstinence.
  • Medication management to support detox and withdrawal process, and treatment for co-occurring disorders.
  • Behavioral therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy to help understand triggers to use and create healthy behavior patterns.

Detox From Opioids

In order to understand withdrawal and detox, it is important to understand the concept of dependence. Dependence is a physiological adaptation of the body to a substance, wherein the body becomes so used to the drug being present in the system that when the individual cuts back on their use or quits, withdrawal symptoms emerge. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to compulsively drink or use drugs to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms.8, 14

Opioid detox is defined as supervised withdrawal from opioid use to help a person eliminate opioids from their body while treating withdrawal symptoms.10 There are 3 main components to the treatment detox phase: evaluation, stabilization, and preparation.11

During the evaluation phase, doctors will test for the presence of the substance in the individual’s system.11 The doctor will also gather information about the individual’s health and psychological history to understand a person’s needs.11

Stabilization involves a person’s treatment team working together to successfully manage withdrawal symptoms to attain medical stabilization.11

The preparation stage involves preparing the person for substance use treatment after detox.11 This stage is very important, as detox is typically just the first stage of treatment.13

During detoxification, the treatment team may use medication to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and improve a person’s level of comfort during withdrawal.

Medications used in opioid withdrawal treatment include:9, 12

  • Methadone, which is an opioid receptor agonist that blocks withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Buprenorphine, which is an opioid receptor partial agonist that eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Lofexidine, which is an adrenergic receptor agonist that helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid Addiction

Addiction, also medically referred to as a substance use disorder, is the compulsive, uncontrollable use of a substance despite the harm that it causes.15 Addiction may entail not only physiological changes (such as tolerance and dependence) but several harmful behavioral changes, which can negatively impact a person’s life.8

Addiction development is accompanied by functional changes within the brain that can impact an individual’s drive, motivation, thought processes, and behaviors so much that drug use becomes prioritized over all else. The development of addiction is influenced not only by repeated substance use itself, but also by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors.8

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), 5th Edition, opioid use disorder is diagnosed with the presence of at least 2 of the following in a 12-month period. Remember, only a medical professional can diagnose and treat opioid and substance use disorders:6

  • Opioids are taken in larger amounts or over a more extended period than intended.
  • Unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use
  • Excessive time and effort are spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from opioids
  • Craving or urge to use opioids
  • Recurrent opioid use that prevents the person from fulfilling roles or obligations at work, school, or home
  • Continued opioid use even though it has caused or exacerbated social or interpersonal problems
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced due to opioid use
  • Recurrent opioid use in situations that are physically hazardous
  • Continued opioid use despite knowing or having a recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance
  • Exhibits tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, reach out to American Addiction Centers (AAC) at to learn more about finding the right addiction treatment program for you. The caring admissions team can answer questions and check your insurance coverage for AAC facilities.

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