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Anyone who uses opiates for some time — whether under medical supervision or not — may have withdrawal symptoms when they stop using them. Some home treatments can support medical therapies in relieving these symptoms.

Opiates are a type of opioid drug. They act on opioid receptors in the body. Doctors may prescribe them to treat severe pain, for example, after surgery or in the later stages of cancer.

Heroin is one example of an opioid, but there are many prescription opioids, such as morphine, oxycodone (Oxycontin), codeine, methadone, and hydromorphone. However, opioid use can lead to dependence, which can severely affect a person’s ability to function in their daily life.

Research suggests that daily opioid use can lead to physical dependence within days or weeks, depending on the individual. Some experts advise that withdrawal symptoms can occur after regularly using them for 2 weeks.

Stopping opioid use can result in opioid withdrawal syndrome. This can involve severe and potentially life threatening withdrawal symptoms.

A person will need medical support when they stop using these drugs, but some home remedies may also help.

This article looks at some common symptoms of opiate withdrawal and how some home remedies and natural treatments may support medical treatment.

What is the difference between opioids and opiates?

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According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), opioid withdrawal can lead to:

  • watery discharge from the eyes or nose
  • goose flesh, or goose bumps
  • pain
  • diarrhea
  • nausea, vomiting, or both
  • dilated pupils
  • sensitivity to light
  • insomnia
  • rapid breathing
  • rapid heart rate
  • heightened reflexes
  • high blood pressure
  • high body temperature
  • sweating
  • yawning

A person may also experience long-term symptoms, such as:

  • anxiety
  • sleep problems
  • persistent fatigue
  • a general feeling of being unwell
  • craving for drugs

Most of these can last for several months, but a craving for drugs can last for years.

A person with a history of opioid dependency will continue to be at risk of an overdose if they use similar drugs in the future. If opioid use is necessary, a doctor should prescribe the smallest effective dose.

What can a person expect during codeine withdrawal?

Discontinuing the use of opioids can cause symptoms that are similar to having the flu, including chills and sweating.

Here are some tips for managing these symptoms:

  • using over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • wearing loose, comfortable clothing made of absorbent materials, such as cotton, to manage sweating
  • wearing layers of clothing that a person can remove one at a time
  • using cool compresses — such as washcloths dipped in cool water or cloth-covered ice packs — or bathing in cool water
  • drink at least 2–3 liters of water per day to replace water lost through sweating and to prevent dehydration

When a person stops using opioids, they may experience shivering and tremors.

It may help to remember that the tremors will subside with time.

St. John’s wort

A 2013 study on rodents proposed that the herb Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s wort) may help manage shaking and diarrhea related to opioid withdrawal.

St. John’s wort is an herb that people use for many purposes, but it may not be safe for everyone. Ask a doctor before using this herb to ensure it is safe and will not interact with any other treatments.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor herbal remedies for quality or purity.

Avoid caffeine

Caffeinated drinks — such as coffee or soda — may worsen a person’s shaking or stimulate tremors. Drinking decaffeinated alternatives may help reduce this risk.

Use distraction techniques

Mentally focusing on reducing tremors can sometimes make them feel more pronounced. Instead, a person could try a distraction technique, such as:

  • holding a heavy object
  • watching a movie
  • listening to music
  • drawing or doodling

Nausea and diarrhea can affect a person, even with mild withdrawal symptoms.

Experts advise drinking at least 2–3 liters of water per day to make up for fluids lost through diarrhea and vomiting.

Nausea home remedy tips

Tips for reducing nausea include:

  • eating bland foods, such as bananas, rice, apples, toast, or crackers
  • eating several small meals throughout the day instead of large ones
  • drinking small sips of water to stay hydrated
  • drinking electrolyte replacement beverages, but note that sweetened sports drinks can worsen diarrhea
  • avoiding foods that are high in fat

A person withdrawing from opioids may experience strong cravings and a desire to return to the drug they are quitting.

Here are some tips that may help them overcome these cravings:

  • Write a list of reasons for discontinuing the drug. This can help a person focus on the benefits. Pinning the list up on a wall can serve as a reminder.
  • Change negative thoughts, such as “I can’t do it” to “I’ve come this far, I can do it.”
  • Do an activity for distraction, such as going for a walk, watching a movie, or listening to music.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends motivational incentives to help manage withdrawal from heroin or prescription opioids. Therapists and recovery experts can recommend other tips and techniques to help someone overcome their cravings in the long term.

Withdrawals from opioids can make a person feel sleepy, but they may also have difficulty getting good quality sleep.

Here are some tips for managing sleep:

  • Establish and maintain a consistent sleep schedule to help regulate the internal body clock.
  • Ensure the bedroom is dark and of a comfortable temperature.
  • Consider using noise-blocking devices, such as earplugs or white noise machines to enhance sleep.
  • To help relax before sleep, try a warm bath or listen to soothing music while avoiding screen use too close to the target sleeping time.
  • Get some exercise during the day.
  • Avoid caffeine and large meals before bedtime.

A range of prescription and OTC medications can help a person manage their withdrawal symptoms from opioid medications.

Clonidine is a prescription medication known as an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist. It can help relieve diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, as well as other symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Lofexidine comes as a pill that a person can use as needed. It helps alleviate symptoms of withdrawal.

Loperamide (Imodium) is available over the counter and can help reduce diarrhea symptoms.

Doctors can prescribe medications to reduce the effects of opiate withdrawal, such as methadone and buprenorphine. These drugs can help reduce cravings without giving the “high” that opiates can.

Naltrexone has approval from the FDA for treating opioid use disorder. It is not an opioid, and there is no risk of dependency. It blocks opioid receptors, prevents the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids, and suppresses cravings. However, it will not reduce withdrawal symptoms and may make them worse for a while.

Withdrawal from opioids can be challenging. In some cases, it can be life threatening.

Anyone seeking to discontinue opioid use, including heroin, should seek medical advice. The unwanted use of any substance — whether legal or not — is a medical condition, and a person has the right to seek medical help.

Specialist healthcare professionals can help manage the withdrawal process.

A doctor can also prescribe drugs to manage symptoms, such as diarrhea and pain.

For more information or treatment referrals, a person can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This hotline is available 24 hours a day, year-round for anyone who wants help managing a dependency.

What to know about opioid withdrawal.

Here are some other tips to help a person discontinue the use of opioids.

  • Speak with a doctor first and make a plan.
  • Share the plan with a trusted friend or family member and ask them for a commitment of support through the process.
  • Prepare in advance and make sure food, medication, options for distraction, and a list of telephone numbers are available to help a person through the first few days.

When a person takes opioids consistently and for a period of more than a few weeks, their body either reduces some of its natural ability to make room for the opioids, revs up certain functions to overpower the opioids, or both.

One example of this relates to fluid production. Our bodies work to regulate things like saliva, eye moisture, sweating, etc. When opioids enter the body, they decrease sweat production, saliva, lubrication in our eyes, and other fluids. Because of this, they are known to be “drying” the body. In turn, the body increases the production of fluids in these areas to maintain its balance.

However, when a person stops using opioids suddenly, the body does not immediately recognize this change, so it continues to overproduce fluids for a short period. This is why a person may have runny eyes, a runny nose, and excessive sweating during opioid withdrawal because there is an imbalance in this bodily system.

Once the body readjusts to the absence of opioids, it reduces the amount of fluid production back to its usual levels, which is why the withdrawal symptoms subside after a few days.

This is just one example of how the body reacts to the presence and subsequent discontinuation of opioids, but the story is similar for all symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Here are some questions people often ask about stopping opioids and heroin.

Are there any home remedies for heroin withdrawal?

Discontinuing opioids, including heroin, can be life threatening and requires medical intervention. During the withdrawal process, a person may experience symptoms of opioid withdrawal syndrome, such as sweating, chills, cravings, and anxiety.

Wearing layers of clothing can help manage changes between feeling hot and cold. Distraction techniques, such as listening to music or exercising, may help overcome cravings, and OTC remedies may help with pain and gastrointestinal disturbances.

It is essential to follow a doctor’s advice and follow the treatment plan they recommend. Home remedies alone are unlikely to enable a person to stop using heroin or other opioids.

What are the most severe symptoms when withdrawing from opioid use?

There are no specific severe symptoms, but common symptoms — such as a rapid heart rate and breathing, gastrointestinal symptoms, and shivering — can range from mild to severe. Opioid withdrawal does not lead to changes in mental status, fever, or seizures.

How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

How long withdrawal symptoms last is different between individuals. It depends on the type of substance they have used, how much they were taking and for how long, and how their body metabolizes the substance.

Heroin has a shorter half-life than methadone, for example. Heroin is a short-acting opioid, and its action peaks and wanes quickly. Its withdrawal symptoms can begin 4–6 hours after the last dose, peak at 24–48 hours, and last 7–14 days.

Methadone is a long-acting opioid. Symptoms will begin 12–48 hours after the last use. They can last 10–20 days and persist for several months.

A person may feel generally unwell and continue to crave opioids for up to 6 months or more.

Opioid withdrawal syndrome can cause a range of symptoms when a person who has been using opioids discontinues their use. These range from prescription opioids — such as codeine or Oxycontin — to heroin. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, shivering, and cravings for opioids.

Anyone who wishes to stop taking opioids should seek help from a specialist doctor. They can provide medications to support a person through the withdrawal process. At the same time, people can use some home and natural remedies to manage their symptoms, such as staying hydrated, meditation, and distraction techniques.