Those of us who’ve experienced withdrawal at any point in our lives know the toll it takes on our mental and physical wellbeing. Many of us kept using despite every urge and desire to quit, just to avoid the pains of withdrawal. Some of us were lucky enough to detox in a facility, closely monitored by physicians with medications administered to alleviate symptoms. Others have had to detox at home, alone, or perhaps (and hopefully) with a trusted support system. I see the question asked many times: how can I find relief for opiate withdrawal–or how can I help my friend/boyfriend/wife/coworker feel better during opioid detox?
I’ve compiled a (short) list of some things which have helped me, and many others. This is not an exhaustive list. Nor will everything on this list suit everyone. We each recover (and detox) in our own way and in our own time. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest.
DisclaimerThis entry is not intended to substitute or replace legitimate medical advice and intervention. I am not a medical doctor and have no medical training; I am only an addict in recovery who has had to detox a few too many times. Please, before deciding to detox or helping a loved one through the process–speak to a licensed medical professional about the process, and whether these options may be safe and effective for you or your loved one.
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Detox and withdrawal is a painstaking process, and not all of us are well enough to do it without medical intervention. If you choose to go the route of self-detox, or if you’re helping someone through the process–if you’ve been cleared by your medical professional to do so–here are some things that may help you through the process, from the perspective of someone who has been there, many times.
1. HyrdrationDetox is a messy process that often results in expelling all of our bodily fluids. We sweat, we vomit, we have diarrhea. Through this process of losing fluids, we need to make sure we’re taking in more than we’re losing. Gatorade and other electrolyte-replacement sports drinks don’t get nearly enough credit in the detox world. Many symptoms of dehydration can mimic those of withdrawal. Fatigue, abdominal and muscle cramping, nausea–these are common symptoms caused by both dehydration and detox. Often, the very worst stages of detox can be remedied with proper hydration.
2. Chocolate!When I entered my second outpatient treatment program I called one of the counselors and asked her WHAT could I do for the withdrawal and cravings because I just could not take it. “Eat some chocolate.” That’s all she had to say. (Okay, maybe not “all” she had to say–but that’s all I remember). It’s no news within scientific and medical communities that chocolate has a range of benefits. Specifically, dark chocolate–though any chocolate may help–releases endorphins and is believed to activate opiate receptors in our brains, which can decrease cravings and elevate mood.
3. Supplements & OTCUsing proper medications to treat addiction and withdrawal symptoms can be tricky. Before you use any medications or supplements for opiate withdrawal relief, even over-the-counter remedies, you should always consult a trusted physician to ensure that they will be effective and that they won’t cause additional harm. As each of us is different, with our own ailments, brain chemistry, and medical histories, it’s never a good idea to take these decisions into our own hands. But, there are a few OTC medications and supplements that can help alleviate both the physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal. Take a list to your doctor and see what they have to say.
pain relievers. Some doctors may prescribe a muscle relaxer, or other medications to treat pain associated with detox. But many doctors won’t. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Mortrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and naproxen (Aleve) can provide great relief for muscle pain. Muscle rubs can help, too.
supplements. 5-HTP is a medication that’s recently gained traction in holistic addiction treatment communities. It works by boosting serotonin in the brain and has been shown in limited studies to treat muscle spasms often associated with withdrawal..
Anxiety can also be a huge burden during detox. Scientists indicate in recent limited studies that Passion Flower, used in conjunction with Clonidine (a prescription medication often prescribed to aide in self-detox), can help treat the sometimes crippling anxiety associated with detox.
Similarly, Valerian Root is another powerful supplement with documented success in treating both anxiety and sleeplessness/insomnia.
Finally, a newer and perhaps more controversial approach to treating withdrawal, CBD oil has proven, for some, to be instrumental in alleviating pain, insomnia, and cravings. CBD is the non-psychoactive chemical in marijuana and will not produce a high, but contains tons of healing properties and provides countless health benefits. I personally used CTFO CBD oil when I was newly sober, had just come off of all of my psych meds, and was suicidal and delusional. I truly believe it saved my life and kept me from relapse. Click Here to Shop CTFO CBD.
other OTC remedies. Benedryl should be used with caution. For some, it can be a wonderful sleep aide; for others, it can exacerbate withdrawal symptoms causing restless legs and sleeplessness. Immodium treats diarrhea associated with withdrawal, and Pepto Bismal can help treat nausea and vomiting.
Some of My Recommendations for Opiate Withdrawal Relief:
4. ExerciseI know first-hand that the very last thing anyone wants to do when they feel like death is exercise. But I also know how much it helps. Even light exercise releases endorphins, which elevate our mood and provide pain relief–all the things that many of us used opioids for in the first place, and all the things we need most during detox.
Stretching and yoga are perhaps some of the most beneficial forms of exercise during detox, allowing the muscles to heal and strengthen, providing enormous relief. And a simple walk or even a jog around the block can do wonders for our mood. I personally know several women who used exercise as a primary tool for their recovery. I urge you to get up and get moving, no matter how bad you feel–that feeling will melt away in minutes and you’ll be feeling normal in no time.
5. Stay BusyThis goes along with exercise, but encompasses more than physical activity. It’s also important to keep our hands and our minds busy and active. Play games, take up a craft or hobby, spend time with friends and family who aren’t using. Watch TV and movies. Anything to keep your mind occupied and distract you from the physical and mental turmoil.
And believe it or not–there’s an app for that! SoberTool is an android app that has games, motivational quotes and activities, a journal, rewards, and of course a sobriety date counter. Sobriety Counter is another app that contains a memory game, rewards & badges, and stats to keep track of mental and physical health improvement and money saved, among other things. And there are hundreds more like them. Some of them simply count your clean time, others offer inspiration, some show you daily Big Book readings–the options are endless. Download a few of them and let me know what your favorites are in the comments so I can recommend them!
6. JournalJournaling is one of those things that most of us groan over–but we know the benefits, too. Writing out our feelings can help us process them more easily. It gives us a chance to reflect on the things that have happened, the things that are happening, and the things we feel from one moment to the next.
We can make gratitude lists, lists of reasons we chose to stay sober, lists of things that will happen if we decide to use or drink. We can write letters to ourselves, to those who have harmed us, and to those we have harmed. Truth Journaling is an incredibly effective tool for confronting and eliminating toxic thought processes. I personally am a fan of truth journaling and Bible journaling when I’m at my worst and need a release, or when I need to take an inward look and analyze a thought or event.
7. SupportSome of us, at a certain point in our addiction, may not have much left in the form of a support system. We’ve caused too much pain to those we love the most and have left a wake of destruction that can take years of active recovery to repair–in some cases, all of it may not even be repairable. But there is always support available when we need it. In the age of technology, we’re only a cell phone, a tablet, or a computer away from a friendly – er – eyeball? I don’t know. My point is–there is always someone willing to listen. Someone who’s been there. Someone who wants to help.
I run a Facebook group for support and I’d love for it to be more active. You can click here to join. There’s also Recovery from Addiction and Alcoholism and . And for family members and loved ones, Loving an Addict 2 is a fantastic support group for those who need to recover from their addicts. It isn’t just Facebook, though.
Twitter has an amazing support community using the hashtag #recoveryposse. Hundreds, if not thousands of people share their daily challenges, their wins, their losses, their struggles, and their support. And if nothing else, you can find help at SAMHSA – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Additionally, I hope that all of you know that you can always, always, always contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or filling out the form on our About page.
8. PrayerIf you’re anything like me, you may have intentionally turned your back on God and on your faith through the course of your active addiction. You may have cursed him, denied him, and pushed him away. Perhaps you’ve never found faith or religion or God at all. Maybe you once believed, but you don’t anymore. At our lowest point–we need to believe in something. It doesn’t really matter what it looks like or how it behaves, or what it means for us. But we need SOMETHING to hold onto. Anything, really. Anything that isn’t another person–because people are fallible.
During the grueling, tormenting process of detox–it might be a good time to reach out and see what you grab onto. Prayer looks different for everyone. You don’t have to be on your knees, or in a church–you don’t have to pray for anything specific, or even to anyone specific. Just pray. Announce your feelings to the universe. Speak your truth aloud. Yell, scream, cry, punch (don’t do any physical damage to yourself, or anyone else, or preferably any property). Do what you need to do. Just get it out. You may be surprised to receive an answer. Pay attention. Listen. Meditate. Write it down. Pick up a Bible, a Quran, The Dao De Jing, a Book of Shadows. Find what’s out there for you.
9. ReadReading can take us away to another place. And unlike TV shows and movies, we have almost complete control over the destination. We can use our imaginations to travel the world, or at the very least to leave the torture we’re feeling behind and go some place else–any place else, really.
Or, maybe you prefer something nonfiction, something you can relate to. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and The Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous can be great places to start. There are books written by recovering addicts and alcoholics, books written by world renowned recovery experts, books written by celebrities. Some of them may be triggering, so tread carefully. But you may just learn something new about yourself that you never knew before. You may find a connection that you didn’t know was there. You may just find the strength and the motivation and the will to keep moving forward, just when you were almost ready to throw in the towel.
These are Some of my Recommendations:
10. LaughI’m sure by now you’ve noticed a trend in some of these recommendations. The importance of boosting serotonin and endorphins cannot be overstated. Our brains crave them, and we’ve built an unusually massive tolerance throughout our active addiction. Now, without those substances, we have to replace them. I once had a doctor–the first doctor I saw when I requested antidepressants–who wrote me a prescription to laugh at least six times a day. I’ll be honest and say that at first, I was utterly disgusted and annoyed. But laughing releases–you guessed it–endorphins, and endorphins make us feel happy. And when you’re detoxing, you need all the happy you can get. (Trust me, I’ve been there). Pick out some of your favorite hilarious movies, call up a non-using friend, even look at internet memes. Anything to get you rolling on the laughing floor.
DELETE. YOUR. CONNECTIONS. I cannot stress this enough. Delete your connections. NOW. Right now. If you’re not the person detoxing–if you’re a support person–please, convince your loved one to take this crucial step. Preferably before withdrawal symptoms kick in, otherwise he or she may be tempted to opt out. Detox is half the battle. When you successfully make it through the very worst of the detox process, your addict brain can come back full force to convince you that now you’re all better, and you can successfully use again. And it may not be right away. It may be days, weeks, even years down the road. But it’s bound to happen. The longer you’ve been clean, the higher your chances for overdose.
If you still have your buddy-with-the-solid-connect’s phone number or Facebook, you have everything you need to seal your fate. Delete your dealer. Delete your middle man. Your using buddy. That guy from high school who you never talked to much but you know he had the good connects–because if and when the time comes that number buried deep in your phone that you didn’t even think to consider because you never used it, will resurface and you’ll go looking for it.
Get rid of it. Delete their Facebook accounts. Block them. Delete them off Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit (just delete Reddit altogether–trust me), whatever apps you have that you could possibly use to contact someone. And DEFINITELY delete their cashapp. Don’t give yourself a fallback. If you’re going to fall back, it’s better to not even stop. You are at greater risk for overdose death if you get clean and then relapse. Please, please, please don’t do it.
12. Seek Medical Assistance. I’m adding this again for emphasis. Many of us can’t do it on our own. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help, and so many of us are working so hard to put an end to the stigma associated with addiction and a recovery to make it easier to reach out. Don’t give up on yourself. There is help. Inpatient, outpatient, detox, long-term rehab; there are even programs available for moms that will allow your children to come with you. I know someone who entered one of these programs earlier this year, just a couple months ago!
These are just some of the things that have helped me personally, and others that I know who have detoxed at home. I’ve detoxed on my own, with the help of friends and family, with the help of medication on an outpatient basis (Suboxone and Methadone), in jail, and in an inpatient detox facility. My experiences are an open-book, please feel free to reach out and ask me anything you wish and I’m happy to share them with you. Don’t ever give up. As long as there is breath in your lungs and a beat in your heart, there’s still hope. If you slip today, start again. And keep starting again, as many times as it takes, until you get it.
Did I miss something? Leave a comment below to share your experiences. What helped you? Or your loved ones? What would you add to the list? I’ll revisit this post and update it as new information and ideas become available.
 Drug Detox and Dehydration
 Chocolate Works Like Morphine on the Brain
 Treating Opioid-Induced Muscle Spasms with 5-HTP
 Passionflower in the Treatment of Opiates Withdrawal
 Valerian for Sleep