Concerned mother comforting grown daughter facing opiate withdrawal

Opiate Withdrawal and Detox: Parent\’s Guide

Opiate addiction, opiate withdrawal and misuse have been at an all-time high in the last decade. For varying reasons, opiates flooded the black market as the number of prescribed users rose. In turn, deaths due to opioid overdose continue to increase. At this point in the epidemic, we perhaps all know someone who has lost their life to the drug or known someone touched by the destruction addiction often leaves in its wake.

Some key facts about the epidemic:

More parents than ever are losing their children to opiate overdose.

As a parent of a young adult in these times with the looming threat of addiction and eventual overdose, it makes sense why you may worry about the challenges facing your children. While they may need to face the withdrawal symptoms that go hand-in-hand with detoxification alone, the recovery process will be much less successful without your continued support. 

Keep reading for our full parent’s guide to opiate withdrawal and detox.


The Family Impact

Watching the downward spiral of substance misuse and addiction from your child is one of the hardest things to witness. Both as you grapple with its effects on your own life and watch the ripples affect others you love. Many individuals in this young adult age group have children of their own. This can further complicate the reality of their addiction and the complicated nature of your role in their recovery. You may suddenly find yourself stepping in as the guardian for your grandchildren. While you may still be cautious, knowing there’s hope when they make the decision to stop using is like a second chance at life for them. 

No matter the role you played in your child’s decision to choose sobriety over opiates, now is the time to be supportive. The path forward will not be easy for them. They will need a strong support team to ensure their long-term sobriety. 

 Being a parent, especially of someone addicted to opioids, isn’t easy. Despite the hope it offers, the withdrawal and detoxification phase will still be a trying time. It is crucial you remain self-aware throughout the recovery process to ensure your fullest support of your child’s sobriety and make sure that you take care of yourself along the way. Knowing what to expect can go a long way to help you deal with these challenges in stride. 


The Opiate Withdrawal Process

Opioid tolerance, dependence and addiction are all consequences of brain changes resulting from chronic opioid abuse. Prolonged use of opiates produces even more long-lasting changes in the brain; however, abruptly stopping can result in acute opioid withdrawal. This initial stage in recovery is mainly consumed by a struggle to overcome the effects of these brain changes. 

As expected, the detox process can be very painful to both the mind and body. The withdrawal process itself can increase and even create risks to your loved one’s health, which is why choosing medically supervised detoxification is necessary for your loved one’s safety. In acute opioid addiction, in particular, the health risks are significantly increased.

Beyond just being uncomfortable, withdrawal symptoms can also be unsafe. Patients who abuse opioids are at a higher risk for severe infections and other conditions that would require acute-care treatment in a hospitalized setting. The discomfort of withdrawals can even cause a relapse if not handled properly. Sometimes even mild symptoms, like fever or insomnia, can prevent someone from quitting and even worsen the addiction. For this reason, anyone looking to detox from opioids should do so under direct medical supervision with a treatment plan in place.


Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawals generally begin within just a short time after the last substance consumption. But it could take up to 24 hours to present. Depending on the average dosage and how long it has been used, withdrawals can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The detoxification process is just as hard, sometimes even more so, on mental stability as it is on the body. Being aware of the potential reactions the body may go through helps one prepare. Especially as a witness to someone else’s detox.

To identify the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, it can be helpful to think about the opposite of the effects of the substance. Opioids are depressants by nature. They slow you down mentally, and each part of your body will experience the physical suppression of blood and oxygen flow. Conversely, when you withdraw from opioids, you will experience excess energy and liquids attempting to exit the body. For example, racing thoughts, restless legs and increased heart rate are paired with a runny nose, nausea, diarrhea and excess sweating.

Some of the foremost commonly experienced withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An intense craving for the drug
  • Depression or anxiety
  • An increased or irregular heart rate
  • Increased irritability
  • Confused thinking or difficulty with concentration
  • Sleeping problems (such as insomnia)
  • Muscle soreness or stiffness
  • Headaches, sweating or fever

Acute opioid users will experience challenging and often severe withdrawal symptoms. Especially when they abruptly discontinue or reduce their opioid intake drastically and dramatically. 

Even when it is not particularly life-threatening to the person experiencing it, detoxing can look very scary. For this reason alone, it’s important to seek medical supervision to ensure that the detoxification process is both safe and effective. Medically supervised detox often includes ease of access to additional support staff, like medical care, group therapy sessions and case management and access to emergency response if needed. This is crucial, especially in extreme cases where co-occurring substance addictions exist.

Despite significant advances in some realms of treatment, withdrawal scales are still currently the primary method of assessing opioid withdrawal symptom intensity. The clinical opiate withdrawal scale (COWS) is a clinician-administered pen and paper instrument that rates eleven common opiate withdrawal signs or symptoms. The COWS is one of many commonly used scales that clinicians use to evaluate the withdrawal symptoms of those going through opiate detox. Over the years, several more of these withdrawal scales have been developed by clinicians to complement patient observation and to aid in assessing opioid withdrawal in outpatient cases.


Medication-Assisted Treatment

With the increased success of opioid maintenance treatment, utilizing a MAT program offers another solution to opioid addiction. This process involves the administration of medication in a controlled and medically supervised environment. This reduces the lifestyle risks associated with opiate addiction. This type of treatment is designed to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms that occur when people stop using opioids by supplying them with another controlled substance like methadone or suboxone. 

Washburn House fully supports medication-assisted treatment and encourages clients to access these life-changing resources while taking additional steps towards recovery with us. We can help coordinate care with nearby clinics that offer MAT and discuss long-term options for your son or daughter. 


Making the Choice

The opportunity to completely detox to sobriety ought not to be taken lightly. The act of not continuing use is the first step, but it is just the beginning of the recovery process. The decision is theirs, but you will have important choices to make too. Namely, how will you respond to your son or daughter, and what support will you be able to offer them?

No matter the age of your child in recovery, you are still their parent, and your instincts will reflect this. Tendencies for parents of those in recovery to flip between the role of supportive friend to authoritarian adult can be triggered and intensified by the recovery process. It is important to be highly aware of when they need you to be the boundary-setting tough parent and when they need you just to hold them while they cry it out. They will need you to know the difference. They may not be able to verbalize what they need from you just yet. Some of these roles may be different from the way you were a parent in the past. But as your child steps into a new life and new relationship with themselves, you will need to do the same. 

As you watch them move through the process, you will be tested. Witnessing your child in the throes of pain as they withdraw will not be easy. They may want to give up. But you must remain strong. Remind them and yourself that it will get easier the further from active addiction you make it. 


Healing and Support at Washburn House

Opioid dependence and addiction are most appropriately understood as chronic medical disorders and often require a lifelong commitment to recovery. It is essential to validate your child’s choice to commit to getting sober. And recognize that your role in their recovery is ongoing. 

Early recovery is a challenging time for all those involved and affected directly by the addiction. Walking the path of recovery with your loved one may be the greatest challenge you face together. 

To stay on the path of long-term sobriety, your child needs to maintain a consistent treatment plan. At Washburn House, we have seen opioid addiction affect many families in many ways. We have also seen how recovery can bring families back together and even strengthen the bonds between parents and children. That healing can give those who have suffered from addiction a safe and healthy life for the long term.

No matter the age of the person seeking detox from opiates—the path ahead will be difficult but the most rewarding, life-saving journey ever. To learn about our inpatient rehab, day program or intensive outpatient program for substance abuse treatment, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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