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
Additional symptoms of withdrawal from severe addiction may 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.
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."
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.
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.