How Do I Get Off of Opioids?

Opioids, also known as Opiates, are pain-relieving, mood-altering chemicals that can be either prescribed by a physician for pain management, or used illicitly, such as Heroin. Opioids target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with a neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, cognition, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. When someone uses opioids, there is an overstimulation of these systems due to the overflow of dopamine. The reaction produces the euphoric effects sought by individuals who misuse or abuse opioids. This increases the risk of an opioid use disorder developing. Fortunately, there are many tips to help you get off opioids if you have developed an addiction.

1. Reach Out for Help

An important tip when making the attempt to get off opioids is to contact a substance abuse professional for help. Upon completing a thorough assessment, the clinician will be able to determine the severity of your opioid use disorder (OUD) and recommend appropriate options for treatment based on your needs. It is important to be as honest as possible in order to receive the help you need. For some individuals, treatment is not necessary, however, this is best determined by a substance abuse professional.

2. Seek Support While You Detox

Detox, which is short for detoxification, is an important part of the recovery process from Opioid Use Disorders. During detox, the body cleanses itself of all traces of opioids. Detox from opioids is known to be very discomforting as the person’s body has become adjusted to their presence. When opioids are removed from the system, it results in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The process is a natural occurrence that one will experience due to the body and brain slowly returning back to normal over time. As one’s brain chemicals begin to regulate, their withdrawal symptoms will fluctuate as the individual’s brain attempts to seek a healthy equilibrium.

Detox is an important step in getting off of opioids as the brain needs time to correct chemical imbalances that it suffered from during active addiction. Individuals who attempt to detox on their own, or cold turkey, are at significantly increased risk of relapse due to the discomforting withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, body aches and pains, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues. When entering a medically supervised detox, one can receive medications, such as Buprenorphine (Subutex or Suboxone) to relieve symptoms of withdrawal, to help the individual successfully complete detox and move forward in their road to recovery.

3. Attend Support Groups

Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Heroin Anonymous (HA), offer ongoing support for individuals who want to stay clean from drugs, including opioids. It is common for members of NA to read a book similar to AA’s “Big Book,” called “The Basic Text” as a guide for recovery. Support groups such as NA and HA also offer support, fellowship, the ability to hear and share like-minded experiences, and advice from other members in the group. It is also common for members to develop a relationship with a “sponsor.” A sponsor is someone who has longer periods of time being clean and has successfully worked all of the twelve steps in the program. Their role is to take newly recovering addicts through the twelve steps, as well as be a guide and support for them. The only requirement for attending NA or HA is the desire to quit using. When trying to get off Opioids, attending support groups is highly recommended.

4. Make Some Changes

If you are trying to stay clean from Opioids for the long-term, it is important that you get away from old routines, habits, and hangouts. Oftentimes, making changes, even small changes, can make a drastic impact on your ability to remain clean from opioids. In order to live an Opioid-free lifestyle, some important changes include:

  • Not hanging around the people you used opioids with
  • Not associating with the people you bought drugs from
  • Obtaining a new physician if your doctor was prescribing you opioids
  • Telling your new physician that you have an opioid addiction
  • Changing your phone number
  • Hanging out at new places and taking different routes driving home
  • Spending more time with family and friends who are drug-free

5. Develop a Healthy Lifestyle

Developing healthy living habits can make a profound impact on your decision and ability to remain off of opioids. Most importantly, be good to yourself; mentally, physically, and spiritually. Take time to focus on yourself while practicing healthy self-care practices, such as exercise, healthy meals, meditation, proper hygiene, establishing positive and supportive relationships, and expressing your emotions and feelings to a trusted family member, friend, or therapist.

When in active addiction, self-care is often put on the back burner, making self-care vital while in recovery, as recovery is the opposite behavior as active addiction.  Having a healthy lifestyle helps prevent falling back into situations where you would normally be using opioids. Additionally, improving your overall health can help you feel better in general and improve your overall health, which will further reduce any post-acute withdrawal symptoms and increase self-esteem.

6. Develop a Structured Schedule

Having a disorganized or chaotic lifestyle can also hinder your recovery. Developing a structured daily and weekly schedule can help you achieve important goals in your life. When we lack structure and routine, we are more prone to falling backwards into old habits. Having structure can also help you identify short-and-long term goals with the ability to implement steps toward achieving them. Developing a structured schedule will further help prevent boredom, which is a common trigger for relapse.

7. Get Physically Active

It is common for individuals who struggle with addiction to neglect exercise. Chances are, you may not be in the best physical shape. Exercise and recreational activities reduce stress, which can be a major trigger for relapse. Exercise further reduces other common triggers, such as boredom, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Becoming physically active can restore a sense of balance in your life and benefit you emotionally, mentally and physically. Being physically active further reduces any post-acute withdrawal symptoms you may experience, such as insomnia, irritability, mood-swings or anxiety.

8. Get a Job

When actively using opioids, many individuals struggle with meeting work-related responsibilities, maintaining employment, and managing money. If you were active in your addiction to opioids for a period of time, there is an increased likelihood that you have already experienced financial difficulties. Having financial problems and difficulty finding or keeping stable employment can be major triggers for relapse. Returning to work itself can also be stressful; however, it is important that you return to the workforce so that you can take advantage of the structure and ability to maintain and achieve new goals, as well as get your finances in order. Most people do not get out of financial trouble overnight; however, if you take it one step at a time, you can improve your financial situation. Creating a budget is very helpful for getting financially stable and working toward paying off debt. Having a job also introduces you to new friends that do not use opioids, which reduces the risk of returning to hanging out with old drug using friends.

9. Find Balance in Your Life

One common mistake that individuals in early recovery from opioids make is substituting one addiction or addictive behavior for another, also known as addiction transference. When in early recovery, you may find yourself naturally becoming compulsive in your behaviors, such as over-working, becoming excessive about a new exercise program, or even with over-attending support groups. Having balance is important in order to prevent compulsive behaviors or substituting one addiction for another. Be aware of your behaviors and find balance in your life to prevent cross-addiction.

10. Learn Your Triggers

Gaining an understanding of what your triggers are for using opioids can help prevent you from relapsing. Triggers can come be internal, such as in emotions, thoughts, and feelings, or external, such as people, places, and things. Making a list of your triggers and preventive strategies for overcoming them can make a tremendous impact on your ability to remain clean from opioids. The more we understand our addiction, the better we become at preventing a relapse from occurring.

Help Is Available

Getting off opioids can be difficult; however, recovery is possible. The ability to quit using opioids and experience long-term recovery depends greatly on your own personal willpower and dedication to getting clean. If you have any doubts about your willpower to stop using on your own, don’t take the risk. Ask a family member or close friend for help with entering a structured treatment setting for additional support. Remember, you don’t need to get off opioids alone. Contact a dedicated treatment provider today to learn more about the resources available for getting off of opioids successfully.

Author: Theresa Parisi – Last Edited: March 31, 2021