Narcotic Drug Withdrawal 

What is narcotic drug withdrawal? 

Narcotic drug addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on a specific class of drugs. Narcotics are drugs that produce a change in response to sensations. Narcotics also produce mood changes, unconsciousness, or deep sleep. Examples of narcotics are heroin, codeine, morphine, and methadone. 

A person addicted to a drug may have to withdraw from it because of shortage of supply, lack of money, or confinement in a controlled environment, such as jail, hospital, or other institution, in which the drug is not available. The person may also decide to stop taking the drug to break his or her drug habit. 

How does it occur? 

A narcotic addict is someone who has a history of frequent or chronic use of narcotics over an extended period. The person who is addicted will have signs of withdrawal after the drug is stopped. Withdrawal from narcotics usually causes discomfort but not death. 

What are the symptoms? 

The grades of narcotic drug withdrawal and their characteristic symptoms include: 
  • Grade 0: intense desire for the drug and anxiety; 
  • Grade 1: watery eyes, watery discharge from the nose, and yawning 
  • Grade 2: in addition to the above symptoms, dilated (enlarged) pupils of the eyes, loss of appetite, tremors, hot and cold flashes, and aching of the whole body 
  • Grades 3 and 4: heightened intensity of the above symptoms in addition to increased temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate. 
Additional symptoms of withdrawal from severe addiction may include: 
  • vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss 
  • spontaneous ejaculation or orgasm. 

How is it treated? 

Successful narcotic drug withdrawal is based on the principle that it is best to provide the person with enough drugs to get rid of withdrawal signs without causing mental clouding or a "high." 

Methadone Treatment:

The doctor will begin treating the addict by giving methadone at the first signs of withdrawal. Methadone is a long-acting, man-made drug used during withdrawal treatment for morphine and heroin addicts. Methadone is given orally every 4 to 6 hours until the symptoms have disappeared. The doctor will then slowly lower the methadone dosage. 

Moderately addicted people can usually withdraw over a period of between 5 and 10 days. The person is under medical observation during this treatment. 

More heavily addicted users will need to be enrolled in a methadone withdrawal program that may extend over several months. Although methadone is itself an addictive narcotic, some people gain benefit by exchanging a heroin addiction and drug-seeking behavior for an addiction to methadone, which is easier to control. 

Alternative Drug Treatment:

As an alternative treatment the doctor may give clonidine, a drug that seems to help addiction to smoking as well as narcotics. Clonidine is generally given three times a day for 10 to 14 days. No dosage reduction is necessary with this treatment. 

Psychological Treatment:

The doctor or counselor will help the person to acknowledge that he or she has a drug problem. In addition, the health care provider will help the addict identify the stresses in his or her life and develop strategies to cope effectively with stress and anxiety. 

The doctor or health care provider will recommend community self-help groups, usually led by former addicts, as well as individual counseling for the addicted person. Parents, family, and friends should attend counseling sessions to form a support group. These sessions will encourage the person to speak about feelings and may also provide information about nutrition, exercise, relaxation, and deep breathing techniques. 

How long will the effects last? 

The effects of narcotics vary, depending on the type of narcotic used but generally last from 4 to 6 hours. Withdrawal periods vary from person to person but the acute phase usually lasts 7 to 10 days. 

How can I take care of myself? 

Follow these guidelines: 
  • Take the full course of treatment prescribed by your doctor. 
  • Do not use narcotic drugs again. 
  • Take only medications prescribed by your doctor. 
  • Be aware of the side effects of the medicines you take and interactions with other medicines. 
  • Stay away from people who use street drugs and from places you previously obtained or used drugs. 
  • Seek counseling for yourself or anyone you feel might be addicted to drugs. 
  • Stay with a support group that can help you through hard times. 
  • Start an exercise program. 
  • Take it one day at a time. Remember that you are always recovering and are never truly free from your addiction. 

What can be done to help prevent narcotic drug use? 

Stay away from drugs except when your doctor prescribes them for a medical problem and monitors their use.