Treatment for Opioid Painkiller Addiction

Detoxification and Withdrawal

Opioid painkiller addiction leads to real changes in certain areas of the brain. Prescription drug addiction alters the circuits responsible for mood and “reward” behaviors. In addition, long-term prescription drug abuse affects virtually all the systems in the body. Cutting off the supply abruptly leads to opioid withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Craving for drugs
  • Diarrhea
  • Large pupils
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Agitation/mood swings

Someone with an established opioid addiction may take extreme actions to try to avoid the intensely unpleasant process of withdrawal, which is a major reason for relapse and continued abuse.

Opioid withdrawal can last hours, days or weeks, depending on how long and how much a person has used the drug of choice. After the intense initial symptoms subside, some physical and mental discomfort may persist for weeks.

Medications for Opioid Withdrawal

There are medications that are used to prevent symptoms of opioid withdrawal during detox, easing the person out of physical dependence.

For example, Buprenorphine and Naloxone (Suboxone) is a newer combination drug that may help for detox from prescription opioid addiction. Buprenorphine activates opioid receptors, reducing drug craving and preventing withdrawal. Naloxone helps prevent misuse of the medication.

Ask your physician if medication to overcome addiction is appropriate for you.

Counseling and 12-Step Programs

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is an international network of community-based meetings for those recovering from drug addiction. Modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), NA is a 12-step program with a defined process for overcoming narcotic addiction.

NA is an abstinence-based program. In principle, NA is opposed to the use of maintenance therapy. Methadone Anonymous is a 12-step program that acknowledges a role for methadone or Suboxone in recovery from narcotic addiction.

Most experts and treatment centers recommend participation in a 12-step program or other form of counseling. Therapy can take place as an outpatient, or in a residential facility. Alternatives to 12-step programs include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Family and couples therapy