How hard is it to physically quit opiates

From what I know of opiates and the druggies I’ve known online, the consensus was that opiates are not extremely hard to quit physically, it is more the mental addiction that is hard to quit. So how hard is it to quit an opiate addiction that is purely physical? Is is just tapering off or switching to methadone, or is everyone’s biochemistry too varied to really make a comparison? I remember one guy saying it was no worse than a bad flu when he quit, I’d assume with a tapering onto something like methadone it’d be even easier.

If anyone here has struggled with opiate addiction, did you ever consider or try ibogaine for opiate addiction?

The withdrawal process from opiates can be, er, impressive. It all depends on the level of addiction: I’ve treated people who looked like they’ve had a bad cold. I’ve also treated people who could go through a box of Kleenex in 10 minutes from all the mucus they were producing.

On a scale of zero to six, opiate withdrawal is a five (it’s an old chart that I use for teaching - and unfortunately, I don’t have the cite handy. Nor do I know what is at the top of the scale).

While there are impressive physical withdrawal symptoms from opiates, it is not just a physical addiction. Opiates (actually any drug of abuse) screws with the reward system of the brain. Further, it also screws with the brain in general - there are some nice PET scans that show how the brain isn’t working at full speed for months to years after the last dose.

So, you take people who are addicted and “detox” them and let them go without any other treatment. Their brains (especially judgment and thinking centers) are not working clearly to make “good choices” if they can even suss out what those are. They’re having to deal with life on life’s terms (some for the first time in decades), without having normal coping skills except to use. Their reward systems are messed up, so nothing seems enjoyable. And, because of the wonderful process of conditioning, almost everything in their environments is a trigger to make them think about opiate use.

I’ve heard ibogaine mentioned before, but I don’t know if it’s marketed in the US. My suspicion (based on having heard the “it’s the best thing since sliced bread” promises about medications before) is that while it may be of some benefit, it’s not coping skills in a pill or a magic insight producer.

BTW, maintenance on methadone is one thing. Tapering off methadone is theoretically easier, but difficult to accomplish (low grade withdrawal symptoms are not well tolerated).

Hope this helps …

My withdrawals from 2 years of opiate abuse (from a prescription I was given for an injury) took a drug called Suboxone - it’s a bit lesser-known than methadone, I think, but for me, it was exactly what I needed. I was in an outpatient rehab program, with counseling, and I honestly don’t know if I ever could have done it otherwise. I know some people have had issues cutting out the Sub completely, but my doctor did a short-term (10 week) tapering program, and coming off of that wasn’t anywhere near what coming off of my addiction was.

The physical part of trying to go cold turkey was nearly impossible by myself - cold sweats, tremors, electric-shock-feelings in my head, sleeplessness, etc. I tried MANY times to quit on my own, and always went back because I felt so terrible.

I’ve been off the opiates for over a year now, and I do feel like I’m even past the mental stuff. I have a great support system, so I lean on them, and a baby on the way, so even thinking about wanting to take something isn’t an option for me.

Quitting opiates was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I never, EVER want to go through that again.


Note: in this post I’m referring to opiates other than heroin (prescription meds). If you’re desperate enough to get on heroin, I imagine the situation might be worse.

Anyway, it’s about as hard to quit as it is to run out of a prescription/source, which is not very hard.

During my drug days I loved opiates, but they’re pretty tough to come by, so I was automatically limited. I mean, unless you get really desperate or somehow have a very steady source, you just run out and you don’t get a choice. I would be sad to see them go, but I would move on (and usually just go back to weed or some other drug).

That was my experience, exactly. The physical part is really hard, so you go back on the drugs for relief or stay on the drugs to avoid it altogether.

While the physical part of recovery is temporary, the psychological part is ongoing. When I got pregnant and had back pain, I had cravings. It’s a tough thing to fight. Even with a baby on the way, I entertained the thought for a second. The addicted brain just doesn’t function like a “normal” person’s. And I ended up looking forward to the pain medicine after the birth. It was hard only being on pain meds for a few days and then having to stop.

Is Vicodin an opiate? My dad has been taking Vicodin for over a year now for a back problem (it’s all prescription) and I am pretty sure he’s addicted by now. His doctor said he’ll be working him off the Vicodin in 2 months.

Is he going to have the sort of withdrawl problems you guys are talking about? :frowning:

Yeah - I don’t want to say that I’ve never entertained the thought, but it’s been a lot easier to stop the thoughs, you know? (I suspect the same as your experience). One reason I want a med-free birth is because of my addiction - I’m worried that anything will trigger it. I don’t tell people that, of course, but it’s a huge reason. I’m certainly hoping not to have a C-section, but if I do, ElzaHub will be given my medication and will be in charge of doling it out to me because I just don’t want to give myself the opportunity to take too much.


Most of the folks in my email group for the treatment program I was in were addicted to Vicodin. I can’t be sure if it’s an opiate since I’ve only ever taken it once or twice (it didn’t do a thing for me), but if it is, it grabs those receptors and has the same effects as the drug I was on (which was Ultram - which is a drug that’s been touted as being ‘non-addictive’…yeah, that’s why drug treatment programs now have Ultram withdrawal programs… :rolleyes: ).

IANAD, so I can’t speak for your dad’s experience, but I can just say that after a year on my medication, I was very much addicted to it, and it was also a prescription medication from my doctor. Hopefully, his doctor will have a good game plan worked out for him.


Vicodin is an opiate, ultram is opiate-like, darvon (propoxyphene) is an opiate, as is nubain, stadol, demerol, and heroin and methadone.

All of the above have been touted at one time as non-addictive alternatives to morphine. And all the above have ended up being the monkey on the back of more than one person.

Opiate withdrawal sucks big-time (and boy do I know). Later I may add more, if I have time and the inclination.

I ended up with a C-section and my husband always knew how many pills I had left. I only had a few days worth.

After an accident, while in the hospital, I had morphine for what seemed like a week, then demerol. After I was a little more awake I told my doctor no more demerol, I was terrified of being adicted. The withdrawl was the most horrible experience of my life. It took 2 days. I have never had an urge since. Never being one to try drugs recreationally my experience might be different than what you are seeking.

However, if the withdrawl can be withstood, then, for me, it was a simple matter of never deciding to try them again. Sounds like i did not have any of the triggers that were spoken of earlier.

Even months after getting off of opiates a lot of addicts still get the craving for them. It’s like smelling melting chocolate and not getting to eat any and it just makes you ache for it. Hunger is the closest feeling to it, but you can always eat something. The craving goes down a lot deeper.

And frankly, a lot of opiate addicts don’t really want to stop. Once they are off of them for a while they realize that they actually would prefer to be on drugs. It just feels better. No 12-step program can help someone who feels like that.

My father is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. He says that he, even after almost ten years of being clean, still gets the urge to go out and snort, shoot up, pop some pills, get drunk. It’s not a matter of weakness, so to speak, but the fact that once a drug addict, always a drug addict, physically and mentally. That’s why once you start going to NA or AA, you’re not supposed to stop.

I’ve seen him, at a very young age, mind you, go through withdrawals for many different kinds of drugs (we were lucky in that he wouldn’t sell our shit to get his fix, so there were times when he’d run out and go through the DTs in our living room). Heroin was the worst, we actually called the ambulance for that, but methadone wasn’t much better (it is, after all, pretty much synthetic heroin).

Unfortunately, my dad has chronic pain throughout his body and is on a long-term hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Vicodin) therapy, which means he has something other than cigarettes to be addicted to. Even more unfortunately, he has to have high dosages of it to even affect his pain because of all of his years of drug abuse. And the clincher: he gets bitchy if he’s run out of his pain meds cuz he’s going through the beginning stages of the DT’s, and if he’s actually on the Vikes, well, he turns into a jerk in general. sigh Oh, yeah, morphine withdrawal was ugly, too.

The point I’m making is, I’ve dealt with a lot of drug addicts; part of my fathers program was helping other people get clean, so a lot of people have crashed on our couch, and I volunteered a lot at the local Alano club. And while I can safely say that a lot of addiction is mental, quite a bit of it is physical, except for marijuana, which has been proven to be non physically addictive, but the worst kind of mentally addictive. So while a pill could help you get clean, it ain’t gonna help you stay clean.


Slight hijack (no direct experience with opiate addiction) but if you do have a c-section, you can hopefully get by mostly without narcotics. I had one with my second child and had precisely one Percocet; the rest of the time I got by OK with prescription-strength naproxen. They did put a dose of morphine in the epidural just after the surgery which provided good pain relief - no clue as to how that would affect the brain of someone who had a history of dependence, but I’m guessing it would be better for you than taking it via IV or pill form.

I had a vaginal delivery with my first child and tore badly enough that I was on narcotic pain relief for most of a week, so c-section can actually be better in that regard.

I’ve been thru prolonged opiate withdrawal not once, not twice, but three times. The first was tempered with a methadone taper, and not so bad. The second I just got some clonidine to blunt the worst of it, and I was pretty miserable. The third, they said “what the hell, withdrawal won’t kill you” and I did it without meds, and that was what we call a real opportunity for personal growth. In the same way that having a week of severe influenza combined with vomiting, diarrhea, a migraine, constant sensations of impending doom, anxious depression, constant cravings, and profound self-loathing is an opportunity for growth.

Fortunately that last time was 16 years ago, and I’ve been clean and sober since.

And I’ve had opiates since, for medical procedures, and it was fine. the medication was not controlled by me, it was used only for legitimate medical need, then it was over. I beefed up my recovery program to ensure I didn’t get “stinkin’ thinkin’” and it was not a problem.

However, I no longer expect opiates like codeine or vicodin for mild to moderate pain. I get by with ice, ibuprofen, tylenol, relaxation, distraction therapy, etc. Opiates are for moderate to severe acute pain, or malignant pain. At least for me.

This testimonial is going to seem pretty lightweight, but I had a somewhat dark experience with hydrocodone in my early teens. I had badly impacted wisdom teeth early on, and the extraction left me looking like a nut-hoarding chipmunk in anaphylactic shock. Far worse than eating yoghurt through a straw for two weeks was the astonishingly acute pain, which would have been all-but impossible to sleep through without that wonderful, wonderful Vicodin the good oral surgeon prescribed for me. My instructions were basically “take for pain”, and did I ever. I took just two simultaneously once for a particularly bad afternoon, and, according to my mom, I babbled like an idiot at her for half-an-hour before collapsing on the couch and sleeping in near post-coital bliss well past dinner.

My face deflated steadily, but I was still popping a Vicodin at the slightest twinge until the last bottle ran out. I remember it like yesterday: I felt an ache in my mouth, went to the medicine chest, pulled out the bottle, and it was…empty.


EMPTY??? Oh NO! Really? Empty? Was there another bottle? If I look behind this door will I find one I forgot or something? No? This is…this is awful!

Not many times in my life has such a wave of panic and depression hit my like that, and I’ve had a couple pretty shitty things happen to me that far more warranted an angst-ridden response than not being able to pop a stupid pill. I was despondant for the rest of the day, and on several occasions afterward I felt this drive to go get a Vicodin. Scared the crap out of me. I never had any unpleasant physical symptoms of withdrawl, but the emotional attachment I’d apparently formed to even this brief and low-dose episode of opiated joy stands out as one of the more unnerving episodes of my life.

That’s actually normal. Hydrocodone is EXTREMELY addictive. I can’t even take the stuff, myself (it makes me see things…do you think it’s psychological or I’m allergic to it?) and I’m really glad I can’t. My dad does that sometimes, when he runs out of pain pills - starts tearing the room up, swearing he had two more somewhere.

Sure, your story is “tame” in comparison to some of the others out there, but it’s every bit as valid and even more scary to me - after ONE BOTTLE you were having addiction problems. Imagine what would happen if you’d continued taking it for years?


Have there ever been any studies for those who are going off of major addiction (whatever it is) and using Complementary/Alternative meds to help with withdrawl?
i realize that junkies are not the most reasonable humans and probably not prone to following directions that are complicated other than " Take pill every day."

My thinking, as a non addictive personality - so bear with me - and I’ve shared my thoughts with my homies ( coffee addicts, mostly. We are hardcore, to say the least.) is that because of the Pharmaceutical Industry, Movies and Word of Mouth, we are conditioned that Withdrawl With Suck. Yes, I know parts of it will suck to a very high level of shittiness that I will never comprehend, but maybe there are other ways out there to help.

What if when you decide to go cold turkey, to have a battalion of multi-vitamins, juice drinks ( not exactly energy drinks, those are an addiction themselves and many contain Benzene. Google it.) but say, Wheat grass and the entire granola hippie goodness stuff ( It isn’t as bad as you think.) and whole grainy good ness in bread to just flood your body with nutrients. Maybe a couple of days worth of laxatives to really jump start the purging and a hot as you can take it bath with an entire box of epsom salts and baking soda to help detox yourself moreso via sweat. (and some apirin, tylenol or other OTC headache remedy.)

That way it confuses your body from " Where in the hell is the dope!!!" to " What the hell is this? Vitamin A? Vitamin C? Oh dear…I know where these go. Wooooo…Let’s get crackin’!"

I would think that it would be a welcome thing for the body, to do something like this after all the neglect. Really, for say, a month of this, just a month, it couldn’t hurt. ( As too much of specific vitamins will cause liver damage.) Really , the body needs all of it to function at a decent operating level.
In theory this works in my head and when I’ve gone cold turkey from coffee fear me., I just do an aspirin and two multivitamins in the AM and suffer zero. (except pretty colored pee.)
I am really curious.


As a ‘junkie’, I found this sentence a bit insulting. I can assure you that many of us are more than capable of following complex instructions. If you’ve never taken pills that have a severe physical and emotional grip on your body, it has nothing to do with being able to follow instructions, it has to do with not feeling like you want to die.

As far as the rest of it, I did up my vitamin intake and ate as naturally as possible for awhile while my body was adjusting without the pills, but I don’t think it would have had much effect to use that as my only defense. It’s still not going to combat the effects of the physical withdrawals.


Gosh, thanks so much. :rolleyes: