OxyContin Withdrawal

Definition

A person physically dependent on OxyContin will suffer withdrawal symptoms when the level of opioids drops below a certain level. Medical professionals recognize withdrawal symptoms as the predictable consequence of discontinuing a drug once the body has grown dependent upon it.

Withdrawal presents itself through a variety of overpowering physical and psychological symptoms. Physical withdrawal symptoms can last five or more days; psychological symptoms of withdrawal may last much longer.

Causes

The human body adjusts to the presence of certain substances in the body, including opioids such as OxyContin. It can grow tolerant of certain chemicals, which means it takes an ever-increasing amount of OxyContin to cause the intended euphoric or pain-relieving effect. With continuous use, the body becomes dependent on the chemical; this means the individual must maintain a certain level of OxyContin in his system for his body to feel normal. If the level of OxyContin drops rapidly, his body struggles to maintain its chemical balance. This struggle manifests itself through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Facts

Symptoms

OxyContin withdrawal causes physical symptoms similar to the flu, but withdrawal from this powerful painkiller also causes psychological symptoms whose demoralizing affects can be just as debilitating as the physical symptoms.

Physical

Physical signs of OxyContin withdrawal may begin as soon as 6 hours after the last dose and, without professional medical intervention, can last five or more days with the worst symptoms appearing on or about the fourth day. While withdrawal from OxyContin is not fatal, physical symptoms frequently drive the unassisted individual back to drug abuse.

Physical symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever, Runny Nose or Sneezing
  • Goose Bumps and Abnormal Skin Sensations
  • Hot Sweats and Cold Sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Low Energy Level
  • Muscle Aches or Pains
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Pain
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Rigid Muscles
  • Runny Nose
  • Shivering, Tremors
  • Teary Eyes
  • Yawning

Psychological

The psychological symptoms of withdrawal can be as painful as the physical aspect. Many individuals who are dependent on OxyContin feel demoralized, ashamed and anxious about their condition even before attempting detoxification; withdrawal often worsens these emotions. Psychological symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Restlessness
  • Social isolation

Possible Complications

Complications of withdrawal from OxyContin include vomiting and then breathing the stomach contents into the lungs, which may result in infection. Extreme vomiting and diarrhea may result in dehydration.

The primary complication associated with withdrawal is returning to OxyContin abuse. Many individuals relapse several times, especially those who try to quit OxyContin without medical assistance.

Treatment options

OxyContin abuse and physical dependence is a growing epidemic among American adults and youth, especially among individuals snort or use OxyContin intravenously. In 2010, more than 23 million people in the United States needed treatment for alcohol or substance abuse; only about 11 percent received treatment at a specialty facility. Just over 5 percent of admissions to publicly funded substance abuse programs were for treatment of opioid abuse. These treatment facilities assist individuals in overcoming physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms during detoxification and rehabilitation.

Some people try to quit OxyContin alone, without the help of medicine to reduce withdrawal symptoms or medical professionals to monitor their condition. This is called self-detoxification, or "going cold turkey," referring to the cold, clammy, pale and bumpy appearance the skin takes on during the withdrawal process. Uncomfortable physical withdrawal symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, cold sweats and muscle pain can last for several days to two weeks. Psychological symptoms can last much longer.

Other people reduce the withdrawal symptoms associated with self-detoxification by creating a homemade treatment plan including medicines to ease symptoms. Once such remedy is The Thomas Recipe, in which a person takes Xanax or some other medication to calm his nerves and help him sleep, along with anti-diarrhea medication, vitamins and supplements to ease muscle aches and fatigue

While this may reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, the individual may suffer dangerous complications. Furthermore, self-detoxification addresses only the physical dependency of opioid abuse; self-detox does not address the behavioral aspects that led to or were the result of OxyContin dependence, increasing the risk that the individual will relapse.

Relapse is the largest complication associated with quitting OxyContin or other opioids. Individuals who return to OxyContin abuse face a greater risk for overdose because detox reduces tolerance to opioids; a person who has just completed detox can overdose on a much smaller dose than she ordinarily took before starting detoxification.

OxyContin overdose requires emergency, sometimes lifesaving treatment. Doctors administer naloxone and other medications to reduce the level of OxyContin quickly. Once the patient is out of danger, she should participate in behavioral therapy as an inpatient or outpatient.

Some individuals participate in outpatient drug replacement therapy, or DRT, to bypass the withdrawal process and move directly to the rehabilitation phase. During DRT, physicians prescribe drugs such as methadone, Suboxone or buprenorphine to reduce withdrawal symptoms the individual might otherwise experience. These drugs bind to the same opioid receptors within the body as OxyContin does. The replacement drugs are longer lasting than opioids and do not produce the euphoric effects associated with OxyContin, allowing the individual to skip the hospital stay.

After the individual participates in therapy and changes the behaviors associated with addiction with the help of counselors, he weans himself from the replacement drug. Supporters of DRT recognize the flexibility of outpatient treatment while opponents say it is merely trading one addiction for another. Harvard Medical School cites estimates that 25 percent of methadone DRT patients eventually abstain, another 25 percent continues to take the drug and 50 percent go on and off methadone. Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, is any substance abuse treatment plan that includes pharmacological intervention to reduce the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSA, this type of medical intervention:

  • Improves Survival
  • Increase Retention in Treatment
  • Decreases Illicit Opiate Use
  • Decreases The Risk for Hepatitis and HIV
  • Decreases Criminal Activities
  • Increases Employment
  • Improves Birth Outcomes for Pregnant Women Battling Addiction

Inpatient MAT programs use medicine to cause the level of OxyContin to drop to safe levels, alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms and make the detoxification process less uncomfortable to improve a patient's chances of success. During detoxification, physicians administer medications such as naloxone to decrease the level of opioids and then prescribe other drugs that ease withdrawal symptoms. Highly trained personnel then observe the patient for dangerous complications, such as dehydration or aspiration, and respond appropriately.

While detox eases the physical aspects of addiction, it is still a demoralizing experience. Patients must still endure days of physical discomfort coupled with the shame and embarrassment of being dependent on OxyContin. The disheartening aspects of withdrawal are sometimes more difficult to overcome than even withdrawal symptoms, driving many individuals back to OxyContin.

Rapid detox is the most humane method of detoxification. During rapid detox, board-certified anesthesiologists administer standard detoxification and anti-withdrawal medications alongside anesthesia and sedatives so that the patient rests in a comfortable "twilight sleep." When the patient awakens, he will have no recollection of the grueling and demoralizing detoxification and withdrawal period and can move onto the rehabilitation process.

Although medical treatment and behavioral modification are independently useful in the treatment of OxyContin withdrawal, participating in detoxification and rehabilitation offer the best hope for recovery. Both MAT and behavioral modification technique work to restore normalcy to those brain functions and behaviors related to OxyContin dependence and withdrawal. Both treatments focus on improving employment rates, reducing relapse and lessening side effects.

Rehabilitation

After successful detoxification or drug replacement therapy, patients may participate in drug rehabilitation treatments offering behavior modification techniques designed to change the behaviors that caused physical dependence or improve the environmental factors that led to the initial dependence on drugs and reduce the risk for relapse. Behavioral therapy may take place at an inpatient or outpatient facility, offering programs that can be as short as 28 days or as long as 6 months or a year. To offer the best chance of success, it is important to match the type of rehabilitation facility to the individual's personal needs.

Long-term recovery from OxyContin dependence and withdrawal depends on success during both the detoxification and rehabilitation phases. Many people suffer multiple relapses, especially those who engage in self-detoxification or do not participate in rehabilitation.

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