Opiate and opioid drugs are narcotics used to relieve pain. This class of medications can be powerfully addictive, which can make it very difficult to stop using them.
Abruptly stopping the use of the opiates morphine and codeine, or any of the opioid drugs, can trigger withdrawal symptoms ranging from mildly uncomfortable to severe, which is why many users relapse. But clonidine, a medication used for several other health conditions, relieves the symptoms of opiate withdrawal during detox and makes it easier to focus on recovery.
Opiates or Opioids –What’s the Difference?
Opiate and opioid drugs belong to the same family, usually called opioids, but they aren’t exactly the same. Opiates are drugs that are naturally derived from opium, a natural substance derived from certain poppy flowers. There are really only two true opiate drugs – morphine and codeine.
Opioid drugs are a group of medications that are completely or partially synthesized through chemical processes. These drugs work like opiates to relieve pain and promote relaxation. This group includes heroin and prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin), hydromethone (Dilaudid), and meperidine (Demerol). Both opiates and opioids are now grouped under the umbrella term opioid.
All the opioids act on pathways in the brain and the central nervous system to block pain messages from the body and promote a feeling of relaxation. With repeated use, though, the brain and body adapt to the drugs, so that users have to take more, and more often, to get the same feeling.
When a person suddenly stops taking an opiate, the body is thrown into shock, which causes a long list of physical and emotional symptoms collectively labeled withdrawal syndrome.
Detox: Supervised Withdrawal
Detox is the process of clearing the body of an addictive substance. Though it’s possible to detox on your own, addiction specialists say that “cold turkey” detox at home doesn’t usually work, and may not be safe. Medical detox is the best way to safely clear your system of drugs.
Medically supervised detox can take place on an outpatient basis, at a dedicated detox center, or as part of an inpatient rehab program. But in all these situations, a person who has decided to stop using opiates will have the help of trained professionals as well as medications to cope with the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. These symptoms can include:
- Muscle pain
- Restless leg syndrome
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
Emotional symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and paranoia can also be a part of withdrawal.
Clonidine: A Way to Make Withdrawal Easier
A variety of medications can help ease the symptoms of withdrawal and make it easier to continue toward recovery. Of those medications, clonidine (Catapres), a drug usually prescribed for high blood pressure, anxiety and ADHD, has shown the best results for reducing many of the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
Clonidine can be delivered in tablet form or as a transdermal patch, worn on the skin. Taken as prescribed, clonidine can help people in withdrawal to:
- Sleep better
- Feel less anxious and irritable
- Have fewer chills and “goosebumps”
- Avoid restless leg syndrome
Clonidine’s Side Effects
Clonidine belongs to a group of drugs called sympatholytics, drugs that depress activity in the central nervous system. These drugs are usually used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD and hypertension, so complications can include irregular heartbeat, cold hands and feet, or breathing problems. Clonidine has the potential to be addictive, too, especially when used by people who use other kinds of addictive substances. Under supervision in a reputable detox, though, it’s largely safe and can make withdrawal more manageable.
Clonidine is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for opiate withdrawal symptoms. Though it’s most typically used during detox, it can also be taken as a long-term maintenance medication, like methadone, so that users can take the next steps toward recovery without struggling with physical symptoms of withdrawal.
Are you or someone you know struggling with an addiction to opiate painklllers? We’re here to help. Contact us at 800-442-6158 Who Answers? to talk with caring and experienced professionals who have the answers you need now.