Pain Killers Withdrawal and Detox

Painkillers are very useful for pain relief and management, but can also be quite addictive – even when taken under the supervision of a doctor. Also known as opioids, painkillers interact with the pain receptors in the brain. Subsequently, this reduces pain and induces a feeling of euphoria, which is often the attraction. Of course, painkillers don’t take the pain away, but mask it temporarily, which is why there is a seemingly constant need to take more.

Other than health effects such as liver damage, kidney damage and heart problems, painkiller abuse also causes strained relationships, depression and legal issues, such as driving whilst impaired. It could also affect your job, because higher doses can affect your ability to concentrate and be focused.

In the last couple of years, prescriptions for painkillers have increased, as have the number of people addicted to them. Frequent use of opioids affects the chemical workings of the brain and creates a physical and psychological dependency.

Addiction to painkillers is often evident when they are only effective in higher doses than prescribed by a doctor or when you ‘doctor shop’ to source more prescriptions when your supply runs out. Another sign of painkiller abuse is when you need the drugs on a regular basis to feel normal or if you’re regularly thinking about your next dose.

What is Painkillers Withdrawal?

When you stop taking painkillers, your body goes into withdrawal. During withdrawal, your body tries to regain the state it was in before dependency took hold. This can be a very painful process and you’ll start to experience physical and psychological symptoms. Physical symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Loss of energy / Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Decline in appetite
  • Cramping and aching of muscles
  • Nausea
  • Cold flashes
  • Muscle pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Shakiness
  • Joint ache
  • Profuse sweating

Psychological symptoms that can surface during painkiller withdrawal include:

  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • High irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • High levels of anxiety
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Causes of Painkillers Withdrawal

When you use painkillers to the point of dependency or addiction, it can prove impossible to stop taking them without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Overuse of painkillers disrupts some of the chemical processes in the brain. GABA receptors (which function to reduce nerve cell activities) are usually affected by opioids, antidepressants, and stimulants.

Your body adjusts to functioning with painkillers. When you stop using them, your body reacts by trying to readjust to its former state.

Phases of Painkillers Withdrawal

There are three phases of painkiller withdrawal:

  • Phase 1 is known as acute withdrawal. Symptoms usually begin six to 12 hours after the last opioid dose. These symptoms last for about five days, peaking on day three. They include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, depression and insomnia.
  • Phase 2 is known as post acute withdrawal, with symptoms including goose bumps, chills, leg cramps and dilated pupils. During this phase, the body is already working to remove toxins and this lasts for about two weeks.
  • Phase 3 is more psychological than physical and lasts longer (from one week to about two months). Symptoms in this stage include insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Painkillers Withdrawal Symptoms: What to Expect

These symptoms are physical or psychological reactions your body gives off. They differ in severity, based on the frequency and dosage used, as well as other factors like age, gender and pre-existing ailments. They include anxiety, insomnia, headache, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting.

Withdrawal symptoms for different individuals will depend on:

  • How long the addiction has been present: If you’ve used painkillers regularly over a long period of time, your body would have developed a higher tolerance to them, paving the way for more intense symptoms. If you’ve used painkillers for a shorter time however, withdrawal will be a faster process.
  • The prescribed or used dosage: The higher the dosage used, the more severe the symptoms. Addiction often occurs as people stop following the prescribed dosage when trying to experience enhanced effects from the drug in question.
  • If you already have existing mental or physical disorders like depression or anxiety, the symptoms are most likely to be even more severe. It’s important to let your doctor know about any such pre-existing condition before commencing a detox programme.
  • The action time of the drug: If the drug in question is fast-acting, you will experience withdrawal symptoms faster than you would for a slow-acting substance.

Withdrawal symptoms can last for several days, even though the psychological symptoms may last longer and require further treatment.

Timeline of Painkillers Withdrawal

There are early and late stages involved with painkillers withdrawal. Symptoms usually begin six to 12 hours after the last dose. These early symptoms can include insomnia, sweating, anxiety, muscle aches and agitation. As the withdrawal process progresses, more uncomfortable and severe symptoms like abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea can begin to manifest.

It’s not really possible to place an exact time frame on the painkiller withdrawal process, because it’s different for everyone. It could take a week, or it could take more.

Symptoms might surface a few hours after the last dose, or as much as 48 hours later. There is usually a peak period, which could be three to five days or more after the symptoms begin to surface. After this period (which is characterised by severe symptoms), physical symptoms begin to lessen in severity.

This doesn’t stop psychological symptoms and many people start to experience anxiety or depression, which can be treated with therapy. Withdrawal symptoms occur and are followed later by vomiting and diarrhoea when the body tries to rid itself of accumulated toxins.

What is Painkillers Detoxification?

If you have a dependency on painkillers and choose to quit, you’ll need to undergo a detox process. This is the process of managing withdrawal symptoms whilst your body expunges all drug toxins.

When you begin detox, your body works to remove the toxins left by the drugs you’ve previously consumed. In this case, there are three types of painkiller detox: rapid detox, home detox, and medically supervised detox (medical detox).

Rapid detox is a fast detoxification process in which the individual is heavily sedated and medications are administered intravenously, speeding up the elimination process. It usually takes about three to four hours and requires the individual to be monitored for a few more days. Rapid detox is considered very risky, as there is a higher chance of relapse and other complications attached to it.

Home detox is undertaken by the individual with little or no help from a medical expert. It is also quite dangerous and most health practitioners would advise against it.

Medical detox (considered the best type of detox) is a completely controlled process and ensures all necessary boxes are ticked. Medical detox takes into consideration the physical – as well as psychological – symptoms that will arise during and after treatment.

Painkillers Detox Process

Before undergoing painkiller detox, it’s important to understand what is involved to allow for an easier and less painful process. An evaluation is first carried out by professionals with regards your medical history, withdrawal symptoms, degree of addiction, as well as the drugs prescribed and used. This evaluation will help them devise a detox plan that will be effective and less painful for you. It’s vital that you are honest about these details so that health practitioners can use them to formulate an effective treatment plan for you.

Even if you decide on home detox, you’ll need a lot of information and assistance as to how to go about it. You can talk to professionals to determine the risks and be better prepared.

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Home Detox

Home detox is a route some people prefer to take. While it is possible, you should be aware of and understand all the risks attached to it.

Some people who opt for home detox use the ‘cold turkey’ method, which is abruptly discontinuing their use of painkillers. This method has a high degree of risk attached to it, because your body would not be prepared for the sudden change in routine and may react out of shock, bringing about very severe symptoms. This reaction could subsequently cause you to relapse.

The logic behind this is the same as when you first became addicted; that is, you most likely started with regular doses and increased them over time as your tolerance level kept building.

Others use a tapering method, which involves gradually reducing (or tapering) the dosage of the drug used over a period of time. This method allows the body to gradually remove the toxins accumulated in it. The body also has time to become used to functioning in the absence of the drug. This would mean less severe withdrawal symptoms, which would be easier to manage.

Clearly, the tapering method is safer and more likely to be effective than the ‘cold turkey’ approach. The latter certainly provides a higher likelihood of a relapse. Whatever detox process you choose, it’s best to get professional advice and recommendations.

Why Detoxification at Home can be Harmful

When trying to stop a painkiller dependency yourself by abruptly quitting, your body could be overwhelmed by the sudden change, causing severe symptoms like extreme mood swings, fatigue, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, anxiety and depression. Even when applying the tapering method, there are still severe reactions and dosage plans that need to be effectively implemented.

Choosing to detoxify at home is not always a good idea, as the discomfort brought about by the related symptoms could be so severe, they cause you to relapse just to be rid of the pain. This risk factor is further increased if you don’t have a detox friendly environment, as there could be ‘triggers’ at every given turn. You can find out what these triggers and risk factors are and try to remove them before you start a home detox process.

Medically Supervised Painkillers Withdrawal Detox

Detox under supervision (otherwise known as medical detox) is considered the most effective kind of detox, because medical professionals are on hand to guide the process and ensure your safety by monitoring and managing your vital signs and psychological progress.

Inpatient medical detox involves staying in the rehabilitation facility and being closely monitored throughout the process. This environment is structured and geared towards a fast and firm recovery process. There would also be round-the-clock care available. Holistic therapies such as meditation and yoga could also be provided to ensure a more comprehensive recovery.

Meanwhile, outpatient medical detox comprises regular appointments with a doctor.  The whole process is guided via these appointments, which you will be required to keep, as well as report everything you experience.

When picking a detox centre, it’s advisable to choose one that has an aftercare plan to help you
post-treatment. These environments are clean and structured to help you become used to living without drugs again, with no distractions or triggers present.

Medications Used During Painkillers Detox

During detox, medications may be administered to help you with drug cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. The following three medications are commonly used for this purpose:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone

Methadone has a half-life of 24 hours, which means it can be taken once a day, removing the need for frequent or higher doses. It is used to control withdrawal symptoms.

Buprenorphine is an opioid agonist that helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms and blocks the effects of opioids. Buprenorphine has a property known as a ‘ceiling effect’, as after a certain amount has been used, it nullifies any side effects, removing the euphoric attraction that could cause addiction.

Naltrexone is often used because it helps to prevent relapse by stopping opioid receptors from being stimulated by any opioid drugs. However, it is only recommended for long-term painkiller addiction treatment and for people who’ve stopped using opioids for up to a week. Taking it too soon can induce severe withdrawal symptoms.

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Treatment for Withdrawal

There are treatment options for withdrawal symptoms. Some are natural and intended to replace lost energy and nutrients or ease pain. Others are medications applied to treat some of the symptoms of withdrawal individually.

Withdrawing from Painkillers: Treatment, Methods and Options

Besides detox, other treatments and therapies that provide relief include:

  • Nutritional support: dependency on opioids can cause nutritional deficiencies in your body. A healthy diet inclusive of vitamins can help replenish the body and ease withdrawal symptoms.
  • Regular hydration: diarrhoea and sweating are often accompanied by dehydration. Drinking plenty of fluids will help you reduce and control the discomfort that dehydration can cause.
  • Hydrotherapy: hot baths can be a great relief aid for aching joints, headache and back pains.

Drug treatment for withdrawal

Over the counter medications are sometimes recommended for painkiller withdrawal. You should only use such options when recommended and supervised by a doctor, as there are always risks attached when these medications are administered incorrectly. You should also keep in mind that certain drugs interact with other substances, which is another reason you need a doctor’s advice before using over the counter medication.

Some of these medications could also painkillers and may possess addictive qualities. Always talk to your physician to avoid further complications.

Nonprescription drugs that may be used to ease painkiller withdrawal include:

  • Diarrhoea medication like loperamide is not an uncommon prescription to curb diarrhoea during painkiller withdrawal.
  • Topical analgesics like Tiger balm can help with muscle and joint aches.
  • Anti-nausea medications such as Pepto-Bismol can offer relief
  • Replacement medication that could be other long-acting painkillers may be prescribed during tapering or weaning to help control dependence and cravings.
  • Sleep supplements such as valerian roots and lettuce can help curb insomnia.

Guided Painkillers therapy

Detox and medications are the first steps towards recovery. After the physical symptoms and conditions are addressed via detox and other treatment forms, therapy is necessary to handle the emotional and psychological aspects of addiction.

Therapy is an interactive option you can take towards painkiller addiction recovery. Therapy works best when undertaken in addition to detox. Individual therapy takes place between you and a counsellor and can be very helpful in finding and dealing with any underlying problems.

Group therapy is also guided by counsellors and allows you to interact with other people. Group therapy provides support and encouragement from focused interaction.

Facts and Statistics of PainKillers Withdrawal and Detox

The following are some facts about painkiller withdrawal and detox:

  • The abuse of paracetamol can damage the liver, while an overdose could prove fatal.
  • Many people start to take painkillers for genuine purposes, but continue using them after the prescribed period, which leads to addiction.
  • Strong painkillers provide a feeling of euphoria, similar to some illegal drugs.
  • A lot of painkillers are available at drug stores over the counter.
  • Some over the counter painkillers do not require a prescription to be sold.


  • Painkiller related deaths saw a 160% rise between 1994 and 2004.
  • People aged 18 to 25 have the highest rates of painkiller use and abuse.
  • Since 1999, the sale of painkillers has plummeted by 300%.
  • Painkiller overdoses are more common than cocaine and heroin overdoses combined.
  • 644 deaths involving paracetamol were reported in Scotland between 1994 and 2000.
  • A UK government report stated that the number of people in the UK who have suffered addictions to over the counter medications that contain codeine is 30,000.

Live a Drug-Free Life Again

Painkiller addiction is not a permanent condition that requires drugs and other medications to manage for a lifetime. There are many steps towards living a drug-free life and preventing relapse.

Preventing relapse

A relapse is a common occurrence in any recovery process and should be taken as just another step towards recovery should it occur. However, a relapse could mean going through the whole process all over again and should be avoided as much as possible. The following factors can trigger a relapse:

  • Symptoms from co-occurring ailments such as anxiety and depression.
  • Stress and trauma (especially from unusual or unexpected activities).
  • Isolation from others.
  • Pressure from others who are still taking drugs or don’t think that painkiller addiction is a real problem.
  • Being in situations similar to ones that led to abuse in the past or ‘trigger rich’ environments.

You can prevent a relapse in the following ways:

  • You should bear in mind that recovery is a lifelong process that requires a conscious effort and hard work. You have to pay attention to your body and environment, put an end to some old habits and acquire new ones, along with many other life style changes.
  • Try to surround yourself with people who understand your journey and can help you through it. If you have family members or friends who do not take your condition seriously, educate them and help them see why and how they should help you get through the process.
  • Find coping mechanisms and habits that work for you and stick to them. There are so many mechanisms you could use to train your mind, including distractions from activities, wagers and personal limits. You can talk to people on similar journeys and learn what works for them in order to help tailor yours.
  • Avoid people who may jeopardise your recovery process. Value your recovery for what it is; own it and protect it when you need to.
  • Stay in top form health wise through implementing a healthy diet and exercising.
  • Make sure you understand aftercare plan options and put one in place. Talk to professionals and ask questions if you are not clear.
  • Try to work out what your triggers are and avoid them.
  • Get help if you need it. When things become overwhelming, seek professional assistance or the help of others who are on the same journey as you.

Tips for Handling Cravings

  • Exercise: putting your body to work is a great stress reliever and can help curb cravings. Exercise will also help heal damage to your body caused by addiction.
  • A good diet: a healthy diet will boost your energy, help your immune system and keep you from relapsing due to hunger.
  • Acquire new hobbies: activities will help steer your mind from cravings and boost your morale. You can try reading, gardening, hiking, swimming and many other things.
  • Get enough sleep: sleep is a great source of replenishment that will make sure you’re not irritable, exhausted and needing a ‘high’.

Find a treatment centre

Treatment and rehabilitation centres are available all over the country, with hands-on services and all the information you need about treatment. If you’re not sure where to go or who to see, you can call a helpline to get all the information you need.

There are treatment centres that can meet your social and financial needs. If you need a treatment centre that will see to your needs for privacy, there are many with this particular option. There are also several luxury treatment centres available, as well as many that are very affordable and meet all necessary standards.


How Long Does Painkillers Withdrawal Last?

A number of factors affect how long painkillers withdrawal lasts, such as age, gender, weight, how long the drug has been taken, if it was taken alongside other drugs, the addiction history of the individual and the frequency of drug use.

Even when the physical withdrawal symptoms cease, psychological symptoms will still have to be addressed. All these are put into consideration when drawing up a treatment plan.

Are There any Home Remedies for Getting Clean Safely?

Though it’s advisable to avoid home detox, if you do choose this method, there are few remedies that can help you through it.

  • Do not opt for the ‘cold turkey’ method. The shock to your body could induce symptoms you might not be able to handle yourself, prompting a relapse. If you must detox at home, use the tapering method, whereby a doctor recommends reductions in the dosage over time.
  • Stay hydrated, especially when you experience vomiting and diarrhoea as symptoms. Many people end up in hospital during withdrawal because of dehydration. Your body will need any lost fluids replenishing, so drink plenty of hydrating fluids and electrolyte solutions if possible.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that may help reduce the symptoms and only take them at the prescribed dosage to avoid a new addiction problem or other complications that may arise from incorrect use.
  • Be comfortable and have everything you need within reach. If you’re alone, make sure to inform a family member or friend before attempting to detox. You’ll also need someone to check up on you from time to time.

How Long Does It Take to Detox from Painkillers?

The length of time it would take to detox from painkillers is dependent on a number of factors. These are centered around the fact that the detox process is different for every individual. They include:

  • Length of addiction: if you’ve used opioids for a long period of time, it would be harder for you to detox than if you’ve been taking them for a shorter period.
  • The type of opioid involved: painkillers are often categorised together, but they vary in different ways and these differences will affect the duration of detox.
  • Tolerance levels: your body’s tolerance to painkillers will also affect the detox duration. If you have been taking high doses of the drug, your detox process may be longer. This is because your body has experienced painkillers at high levels that can’t come crashing down in just a day.
  • Physical or psychological addiction: some people are only physically addicted to opioids, while others are psychologically affected as well. For the latter, after handling the physical symptoms, psychological symptoms would also have to be addressed.
  • The detox plan being used: ‘cold turkey’, tapering and replacement detox plans can also determine how long it would take to detox. For instance, tapering often involves periodically reducing the dosage until it is safe to completely stop.

Detox processes are mostly personalized, based on evaluation and treatment plans, making it hard to pinpoint an exact duration for the process. If you get an evaluation, the health professionals you work with may be able to give you an estimated length of time for your treatment and recovery.

Can You Die from Painkillers Withdrawal?

The risk of death from the symptoms of painkillers withdrawal is significantly low on its own. This risk is however increased when people attempt to take on the detox process by themselves. This is because the symptoms often appear mild to begin with, but increase in severity, raising the chances of a relapse, which in turn enhances the likelihood of an overdose.

This doesn’t mean that after starting detox, people attempt to take higher doses than they’re used to. It simply means that their tolerance levels will have been reduced and their ‘regular’ dose would in turn be too much.

Can Medications Help?

Medications can help only when prescribed and their administration is supervised by a medical professional. If you attempt to use medications by yourself, you’ll most likely worsen the situation, which may be life threatening.

Bear in mind that many drugs react with each other in a negative way. Also, remember that if you have another health condition, you will need professional advice on what sort of medications would be suitable for you.

What Is Painkillers Withdrawal?

Painkillers withdrawal is the process your body goes through when you stop taking an opioid upon which you’ve become dependent. Withdrawal and its accompanying symptoms mark the point in which the body tries to rid itself of accumulated drug toxins. These symptoms include chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and sweating profusely, amongst others.

Is Painkillers Withdrawal Dangerous?

Painkillers withdrawal can be very dangerous when not handled properly, which is why it’s advisable to avoid home detox. When undergoing detox, it’s helpful to have your vitals, emotional and physical wellbeing monitored and managed effectively.

Withdrawal symptoms can be so uncomfortable that you may relapse when trying to ease the pain. One attached risk is that when you start the detox process, your tolerance for the drug will be reduced significantly. If you do relapse and take your regular dose, you may overdose or even have to go through the whole process again.

Can I Find Help?

Yes, you can definitely find help. There are counsellors available throughout the country, who are ready to offer their services and advise you about how to get started with the recovery process.

You can reach out to social media support groups, community support centres and other support groups for painkiller withdrawal, as well as connect with several others. Such platforms are not only for support, but finding information, help centres, coping techniques and other peoples’ experiences.

12-step programmes such as Pills Anonymous fellowships and Narcotics Anonymous accept members for free and are very helpful in providing support and encouragement via interaction.

Are there ways to prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms?

Yes, there are ways to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Some over the counter drugs can be taken to relieve symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, and body pain.

Medical detox can also involve medications that help with symptoms and cravings. Whenever there are other medications involved in reducing symptoms, make sure they have been prescribed by a doctor and take them as instructed.


Substance abuse and mental health services administration.

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