One of the uncomfortable aspects of addiction is the withdrawal symptoms that happen during an addict’s recovery. For some, these symptoms are mild and uncomfortable, but for others, they can be intense, with some dangerous effects.

When a person who is addicted to opiates starts the process of getting clean, they are often prescribed medications like Suboxone to help them through the process. When this is introduced, the medication initiates the precipitated withdrawal. Let’s take a closer look at what this means and what can be done to prevent it.

What is a Precipitated Withdrawal?

A precipitated withdrawal is when rapid and intense withdrawal symptoms are initiated by medication. Suboxone is often used with some recovery centers in the hopes to help the person in recovery get through their withdrawals. The patient needs to be in a state of withdrawal before starting suboxone. Typically, they will experience body aches, fatigue, and anxiety, amongst other symptoms. The important thing to understand is that although some individuals utilize this medication when detoxing off a drug, the issue is that suboxone can create a cycle of dependence on drugs for the user. This is typically not a recommended route of action, as true, lasting and fulfilling sobriety is often found without the use of medications like suboxone that can perpetuate the cycle of addiction. As such, oftentimes the premier rehab facilities will not offer this type of service, instead relying on methods that are shown to be the most effective treatment modalities that set the individual up for lifelong recovery instead. Unfortunately, medications like suboxone are not shown to be the most effective way to ensure long-term sobriety, because, like just mentioned, it can keep the individual stuck in the cycle of addiction. 

When a person that is addicted to opioids goes through the withdrawal process, it is generally a gradual process, happening over the course of a few days or weeks, depending on their drug of choice. When a precipitated withdrawal happens, these withdrawal symptoms are brought on at a dangerously fast rate, which can cause extreme pain, increasing the likelihood that the person recovering will relapse.

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There are several drugs that work on the mu-opioid receptors and can trigger the precipitated withdrawal, the most common being buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is the active ingredient in Suboxone and Subutex, this is one of the most common active ingredients in drugs for opioid addiction. It is taken after withdrawal begins and is meant to help control cravings, but when taken too early will trigger a precipitated withdrawal.

Some other medications that can cause precipitated withdrawals are:

  • Alvimopan
  • Butorphanol
  • Methylnaltrexone
  • Nalbuphine
  • Naltrexone
  • Naloxegol
  • Naldemedine

In addition to these drugs, there are other medications that can cause the body to clear the opioids quickly, resulting in precipitated withdrawal. These medications are:

  • Rifampin
  • Phenytoin
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Phenobarbital
  • Carbamazepine

Side-Effects of a Precipitated Withdrawal

Severe withdrawals are quite difficult and painful, so preventing them is ideal. If a patient does not detox safely, serious problems can arise.

The symptoms of acute withdrawal and precipitated withdrawal are very similar. However, the onset of a precipitated withdrawal is rapid and sudden, giving the patient very intense side effects. Symptoms can include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Big pupils
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Goosebumps
  • Diarrhea
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Sweat
  • Tear production
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems sleeping

While most of the symptoms are not too bad, some of them can become quite severe and can cause the patient to need medical attention. These severe withdrawals can include:

  • High fever
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Severe sweating
  • Excessive diarrhea
  • Intense muscle aches

When a patient goes through the detoxification process, they can often get through their side effects at home. Unfortunately, those that experience a precipitated withdrawal are often hospitalized. One of the biggest risks with the side effects of withdrawal is dehydration due to the vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating that occurs.

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How to Safely Detox Off Drugs and Avoid a Precipitated Withdrawal

Unfortunately, there is not a specific treatment that can reverse the symptoms of precipitated withdrawals. However, there are some methods that can lessen the severity of the symptoms. How long the precipitated withdrawals last will vary from person to person, but can be determined by a few factors.

Your doctor will be able to give you an idea of what to expect and the length of time based on the following:

  • What type of opioid you use, how long you have been using, and the amount you take
  • How much of the opioid you took
  • If the drugs were short-acting or long-acting

If the precipitated withdrawal has started, it’s important to call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away, as your symptoms can be managed. It can feel like you are never going to get through this tough time, but a doctor will be able to guide you.

Your doctor can come up with a treatment plan for you based on a few factors:

  • What drug you took
  • How many opioids you took
  • Amount of time that you’ve been using
  • Which drug caused the precipitated withdrawal
  • How much it took to cause the precipitated withdrawal

Overall, the best way to avoid a precipitated withdrawal is to ensure that you are honest and transparent with your medical team and pharmacist about the drugs and prescriptions you are taking. Quite often, precipitated withdrawals happen to those with an opioid dependency that their doctors were unaware of.

Keeping this information from your doctor does not allow them the opportunity to prescribe medications to the best of their knowledge that won’t cause you harm. If you are taking opioids and you are prescribed one of the many prescriptions that impact your opioid receptors, you are likely to experience precipitated withdrawals. Ensure your doctor is informed of usage. You should also use the same pharmacy for all of your medications.

If you or a loved one are addicted to opioids, there is hope. Getting clean is possible with a good support system and a trusted rehab facility. Reach out for help today.