Withdrawal symptoms can occur because of physical or psychological dependence, which can take as little as 1 month to develop. So when an opioid dose is lowered, you may experience a ‘withdrawal’, and your mind and body can respond negatively.
Therefore it is important that you reduce your opioid use slowly so that you don't get withdrawal symptoms or they are minimal.
Withdrawal symptoms vary for each person. They are usually quite different to how you feel when taking an opioid, eg, opioids can cause constipation, while withdrawal symptoms can include diarrhoea.
Symptoms may include:
- nausea (feeling sick)
- tummy pain/cramping
- diarrhoea (runny poo)
- trouble sleeping
- muscle aches
- fast heartbeat
- runny nose
Withdrawal symptoms during tapering can last for 4–10 days. They feel unpleasant, but they're not dangerous.
How to manage withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms are best managed together with your doctor, who may prescribe medicines to treat symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. It’s important to have a responsible adult with you if you are having withdrawal symptoms to check that your medicines are taken correctly.
Unless advised otherwise by a doctor, there are also strategies that may help with symptoms of opioid withdrawal. General strategies may include:
- relaxation and breathing techniques
- listening to music
- using distraction, such as talking to someone with a positive outlook
- being more active and stretching
- drinking plenty of water to replace any fluids lost through sweating and diarrhoea – people on restricted fluids should check with a doctor about fluid intake.
Strategies and medicines for specific symptoms
These strategies may be helpful, and you can also ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice: