Opioid Detox: Supporting Someone Through Opioid Withdrawal

May 19, 2021

An opioid detox is the process of detoxifying the body from the effects of drugs, which is the first step to recovery. 

If you have a loved one who has become addicted to opioids, you may be feeling confused, worried, and even scared. Remember that the loved one you are supporting is likely feeling all of these emotions and more, and that together you can work through the detox process and the accompanying withdrawals on the way to complete recovery. 

Opioids and the Brain

Opioids can have differing effects on those who take them. You might feel a rush of pleasure and euphoria, pain relief, and relaxation. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, these effects occur because the opioids link to opioid receptor cells in the brain, spinal cord, and other bodily organs. They have particular impact on pleasure-linked organs. This causes pain signals to be blocked and a rush of dopamine in the body. This positive reinforcement leads to addiction, because it leaves the user wanting to experience the high from opioids over and over again. 

There are sometimes negative side effects of opioids, in addition to the high users often experience. Some of these side effects include:

  • Drowsiness and confusion
  • Slowed breathing, which can lead to coma-inducing hypoxia
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Impaired judgement
  • Heightened risk of overdose

Symptoms of Withdrawal

When your friend or family member begins an opioid detox, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary in severity depending on the extent of their addiction. Those who have used opioids for a longer period of time, or who have used a large amount at each use, are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. Here’s what your loved one will experience during their detox:

  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Fever and chills
  • Racing heart
  • Diarrhea

You should expect the person you are supporting to have extreme mood swings. They might become angry, depressed, and even aggressive at times. It’s important to keep yourself and those around you safe while supporting your loved one, and it’s ok to ask for outside help if you feel like you need it. You can expect these symptoms to last 7-14 days, depending on the individual situation. 

Tips for Supporting Someone Through Opioid Detox

Supporting someone through detoxification can be challenging, but your support is key to your loved one’s ultimate success. It’s important to remain calm and positive, and make your home (or wherever the detox is happening) a safe space for everyone involved in the process. Before you begin, make sure you’ve consulted with a recovery center or medical professional for advice. Sometimes detoxing at home is unsafe, especially if the person undergoing detox has been a heavy user or has used multiple drugs at the same time. 

If you determine that it’s safe to proceed with an at-home detox, you may need to take some time off of work. You should also arrange for care of young children or elderly individuals in your home. Be prepared to call 911 if the person you are supporting experiences hallucinations, chest pain, seizures, or becomes unconscious.

Here are some specific things you can do during the detox period to help:

  • Know that the withdrawal symptoms will get worse before they get better
  • Understand that the initial detox is not a cure
  • Be patient, kind, and non-argumentative
  • Help manage pain and discomfort
  • Encourage drinking plenty of water and eating small amounts of food
  • Use relaxation techniques
  • Provide distractions from cravings
  • Do gentle exercises with them

Steps Recovery Centers Can Help

At Steps Recovery Centers, we understand how difficult opioid detox can be on you and your loved one. We are here to help. We offer a holistic detox center as a safe place to start the journey to becoming free from addiction. We have centers located across the state of Utah, from St. George to Salt Lake City. Contact us today for more information.

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