Your body is equipped with opioid receptors that are tuned to work with small and occasional use. If abused receptors demand larger doses leading to addiction.
Opiate dependence develops when the neurons adapt to the repeated drug exposure and only function normally in the presence of the drug. Opiate addiction is when the addict is unable to stop using drugs on their own accord. When you abruptly stop taking opioids, the central nervous system goes haywire and the fight or flight response is ignited. The result is opioid withdrawal syndrome which is characterized by restlessness, anxiety, muscle aches, runny nose, sweats, chills, insomnia, yawning, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and high blood pressure.
People who use opiates regularly, develop a tolerance and increased amounts are needed to achieve the same effects. Immediate cessation can lead to withdrawal symptoms which typically start within 6 hours of the last dose and continue for up to 7 days. In 2015, there were over 15,000 overdose deaths from heroin and other opiates in the United States. Opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
• Increased sweating, tears, runny nose
• Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting
• Muscle spasms leading to headaches or backaches
• Goose flesh, pupillary dilation, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat
• Anxiety, irritability, dysphoria, disturbed sleep, increased cravings
There are individual differences to tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal. The importance of knowing how your body reacts to lowered doses of opiates is important in order to prevent protracted withdrawal. Drugs such as suboxone and methadone were invented to ease the discomfort of opiate withdrawal. Taken too soon after the last dose of an opiate can send the body into withdrawal, when the actual goal of the drugs are to minimize symptoms and discomfort.
If you are uncertain how to detox from opiate addiction or find that you are unable to titrate yourself off the drugs on your own, which is common, seek the help of a medical professional! Some people are able to work with outpatient detox doctors who work with you while you go through the detox process and it won’t interrupt your work or school schedule. Others may find they need to take time off and go into an inpatient medical detox facility as their drug cravings are too strong or they are unable to slowly decrease and ultimately terminate their use. Know yourself and your body and know when you need to ask for help.