Opiate painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, are very effective for the treatment of pain conditions. However, they carry the risk of addiction. People frequently enter treatment programs to get off Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, and other opiate medications. If not professionally supervised, persons attempting to get off these medications can experience significant uncomfortable and oftentimes painful withdrawal symptoms.
The first step in successfully getting off opiate medications is to develop a plan with your medical providers. Addiction is a biological brain condition that requires input from a spectrum of disciplines. This team may consist of the medical doctor writing these medications for you, a physical therapist, and other providers that have experience in treating pain like acupuncturists and chiropractors. Addiction counselors can be helpful in making changes in your life that can reduce risk of relapse. Ideally, you would want an opinion from Board Certified Addictionologist or Addictionist to develop a plan for detox and aftercare.
Opiate withdrawal mainly consists of a spectrum of symptoms that mimic a very bad flu. Body pain, nausea, vomiting, chills, insomnia, muscle spasms, diarrhea, are the most common withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are very uncomfortable and sometimes painful, however, usually not life threatening. Treatment is focused with making these symptoms more tolerable.
Although there are non-medical approaches to opiate withdrawal mainly to keep patients comfortable, there are new medical advancements that focus on specifically treating opiate withdrawal and its addiction. Traditionally, a blood pressure medication called clonidine, non-narcotic muscle spasm medications, and meds to treat nausea and diarrhea have been an accepted and effective recipe for opiate detox.
Most recently, new medications such as buprenorphine and Suboxone, have been developed for persons in opiate withdrawal. One also has to understand that meds that contain buprenorphine, even though considered to be highly effective in this situation, can also produce addiction and may also require detox.
Once detoxed, another option can be naltrexone, which comes in a monthly injection called Vivitrol. This blocks all opiate receptors in the body which protects someone from overdose if there is a relapse. Vivitrol can only be used after a person has been detoxed. Medications containing naltrexone are non-narcotic and non-addicting.
Detox during the withdrawal period can be achieved rather quickly and painlessly if under the care of specialists. Because of brain changes that occur during chronic opiate use, one must have a plan to reduce and eliminate risk of relapse. This is very important concept because many overdoses and death from these medications can occur after brief time of sobriety. This may require non-narcotic management of persistent pain conditions, involvement of counseling, and the role of FDA approved medications that can block effects of opiates such as naltrexone or Vivitrol.
Some people are genetically programmed to have addiction run in their family, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. That’s why not everyone who has drank alcohol or tried to smoke cigarettes became addicted to them. We now know that our genes can determine whether using a drug will cause a very euphoric feeling that can lead to addiction. We also know that changes in the brain occur with constant exposure of an illicit drug and may need to be addressed when someone requires detox. For example, someone using heroin for several years will have more opiate receptors growing in the brain (up regulation), and will have a harder time quitting cold turkey as compared to someone who has just started using heroin.
Many feel embarrassed to ask for help, especially when it comes to an addiction. One may find out quickly that without medical intervention the painful withdrawal symptoms may keep the cycling of addiction going. Not only should one get medical and psychological opinions on withdrawal and treatment, involving your family or friends can help assist with feeling more comfortable and confident in attacking this situation.
Detox alone does not represent treatment. It’s only the first step. Involve the specialists that helped you during detox. Keeping sober from addicting substances requires input from a spectrum of resources.
A road to a healthy life is to form healthy habits. Sleep, exercise and diet are essential for non-medical approaches to improvement in mood. Sleep hygiene is an important to help the brain respond in a predictable fashion. Exercise can lift and regulate mood by stimulating natural endorphin release. A good healthy diet is crucial to helping the body and brain heal itself.
The field of Pain Management has also seen an upswing of promise. New non-narcotic medications have been developed. Compounded non-opiate pain creams can be helpful in some pain conditions. Physical therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists can all effectively manage a spectrum of pain conditions. New medical devices such as neuro-stimulators and deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulators have been researched for chronic pain conditions and show future promise.
Becoming dependent to opiate pain medications can lead one to feel hopeless. One may experience taking more pills than prescribed without added pain relief. Cycles of withdrawals and relapse can intensify the feelings of addiction. With recent advancements in the field of Addiction Medicine, detox can be achieved rather quickly and painlessly. There are also new monthly medications and techniques that promote long lasting sobriety.
An addiction to Vicodin and other common opiate painkillers can be a difficult things to cope with. But ensuring that you seek the help from your team of medical professionals, including psychiatrists, therapists, pain management specialists, and your primary care physician will help to make detox and stopping the medication easier on you and your loved ones. Getting off painkillers is not impossible, but it can be challenging. Be sure to seek the support of your family and friends as well.
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