OxyContin Detox: Withdrawal Symptoms & When to Seek Help
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
More than 2 million people in the United States have a prescription painkiller substance use disorder (SUD). If you’re one of them and you misuse OxyContin, withdrawal symptoms might be very familiar.
As you continue to use OxyContin, your cells depend on the drug. Wait too long between doses, and you’ll start to feel ill. Keep resisting, and you’re likely to get hit with flu-like symptoms that last for days.
While OxyContin withdrawal symptoms are rarely life-threatening, plenty of people die from trying a cold-turkey, get-clean approach. And many others struggle so much that they become convinced that they just can’t get sober. Your failed attempt could set back your recovery by decades.
Keep reading to find out what OxyContin withdrawal looks like, how it’s treated, and when you should get help.
What Is Opioid Withdrawal?
Your body adjusts to the constant presence of OxyContin by modifying brain chemistry levels. You will feel like you function best when you’re using the drug.
Stop using abruptly, and your brain and body need time to recalibrate. This period of recovery is withdrawal.
Even people using OxyContin per a doctor’s orders can experience withdrawal. For example, doctors say people using opioids in a hospital can experience symptoms if they stop after just five days of constant use.
OxyContin withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Excessive sweating
- Hot flashes
- Muscle cramps
- Watery eyes and nose
Your OxyContin withdrawal timeline may vary, but most people move through three distinct phases:
- Early withdrawal: Symptoms start within about 6 to 12 hours of your last dose.
- Peak withdrawal: You’ll feel your worst within about 72 hours of your last dose.
- Late withdrawal: You’ll experience gradual improvements for several days as symptoms dissipate.
Throughout your withdrawal period, you will feel a deep craving for drugs. If you have substances nearby, you will be very tempted to take them. Relapse is common during opioid withdrawal since the symptoms are so intense.
Is OxyContin Withdrawal Dangerous?
Your body must process OxyContin and learn to live without it for you to combat your addiction. The discomfort you feel is a critical part of the healing process. But without help, you could be very sick while you go through withdrawal, potentially making mistakes that cost you your life.
In a treatment program, doctors use an 11-item scale to assess just how their patients are coping with the process. You could use this same scale at home. Very high scores indicate that you’re not progressing properly and need help.
Assess the following:
- Digestive symptoms
- Pupil size
- Runny nose
Keep track of your scores and get help right away if you’re getting worse hour by hour and don’t think you’re capable of getting sober.
Get help before you return to OxyContin use. Even a few hours or days spent in withdrawal can allow your body to adjust. Go back to the doses you once took, and you’ll immediately overwhelm your body. You could overdose.
Experts say going through withdrawal without help increases your chances of an overdose. If you think you can’t handle it, get help.
Your discomfort could also come from sources we haven’t mentioned. For example, in one study, almost half of all participants returned to painkiller abuse when they felt deep pain from old injuries during withdrawal.
Each person’s body is different, and your withdrawal experience is likely to be as unique as you are. Don’t wait to get help with this very difficult process.
Medications for OxyContin Withdrawal
In a detox program, you’re removed from temptation. You won’t have access to OxyContin, so relapse is much less likely. Your team can also provide medications to help you recover.
Detox medications come in two classes.
Medications can help to remove existing OxyContin molecules from their receptors while reducing symptoms like craving and nausea. These medications include:
- Other opioids
Your doctor gives medications in tapering doses, so you get a little less each day. Your cells have time to adjust to a life without regular OxyContin.
Medications for Symptom Management
Easing your discomfort means you’re less likely to relapse and more likely to finish the process. Your team can use the following:
- Benzodiazepines for insomnia and anxiety
- NSAIDs for pain
- Digestive therapies for nausea and diarrhea
- Alpha-2 agonists to help your nervous system
Is Detox Addiction Treatment?
You must allow your body to process and remove all remaining OxyContin particles. And you must let your brain cells recalibrate. At the end of detox, you will be sober, but your work isn’t done.
About 1 in 20 people who get medical detox help and are discharged die within a year. The majority of them die due to overdoses. Detox alone can help you get sober the first time, but you will still need help to stay sober.
People who move through a medical detox and then get follow-up addiction care (such as medication management and therapy) have drastically reduced death rates when compared to people who get no treatment at all.
Whether you withdraw on your own or go into a structured detox program, remember to follow up your care with addiction treatment.
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Acute Opioid Withdrawal: Identification and Treatment Strategies. (November 2016). U.S. Pharmacist.
Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. (2009). World Health Organization.
Opioid Withdrawal Support. Indian Health Service.
Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale. (June 2003). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
Managing Opioid Withdrawal in the Emergency Department with Buprenorphine. (January 2019). Annals of Emergency Medicine.