“Dope Sick”: 3 Powerful Facts About Opioid Withdrawal

For family and friends, being exposed to the life of addiction is like discovering a new world with different rules, behaviors, and terms. A lot of the knowledge about drug addiction is passed down interpersonally, from addict to addict, only becoming general knowledge when the media popularizes it. Among the slang for opioid addiction is “dope sick,” a term to describe withdrawal experienced immediately after quitting opioids. These include heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl, and morphine, among others like Vicodin.

Opioid addiction is one of the most severe and life-threatening. Similarly, opioid withdrawal is legendary among addicts due to the intense psychological and physical suffering experienced by the person trying to get clean. Being dope sick is a deterrent to many who wish to get clean but fear facing the deep discomfort associated with detoxification from opioid abuse. Addicts understand that to successfully quit opioids and make it through the beginning stages of recovery, they can’t do it alone. Due to the anguish that being dope sick brings, addicts need support and monitoring, among other things.

At MAT Care Clinics, we are experts in opioid addiction and recovery. We’ve helped manage the recovery process for countless people through the help of medication-assisted treatment, which makes the burden of quitting opioids more manageable. This article will explain the term “dope sick,” what detoxification is like, and how you can help yourself and your loved one through that difficult time to ensure a successful path to sobriety.

1. The Term “Dope Sick”

In 2018, journalist Beth Macy published the non-fiction book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America, considered by many to be the definitive account of the opioid epidemic. The book’s story traces dealers, addicts, families, police, and doctors prescribing opioids up to Purdue and their owners, the Sackler family, who were instrumental in the proliferation of opioids and their overprescription.

The term gained recent popularity after Macy’s book was adapted into an award-winning Hulu series that relies on her work but fictionalizes and condenses characters. The concept of being “dope sick” is central to her material, as the profound desperation felt by opioid addicts trying to get clean is seldom understood and rarely discussed until recently.

Previous portrayals of dope sickness in the media have also been very memorable. For an artful yet powerful showing of the emotions behind dope sickness, the Academy-Award-nominated British film Trainspotting is famous for showing the main character struggling in a room, with the help of his family, to kick a heroin addiction that has derailed his life.

2. What does Opioid Withdrawal feel like?

When someone becomes physically dependent on opioids, such as prescription painkillers or heroin, their body adapts to the presence of these substances. Opioids hijack the brain’s reward system by flooding it with the feel-good chemical dopamine. Over time, an addict becomes reliant on opioids to feel happiness, find motivation to make money or get out of bed, and function. When drug use is abruptly halted or significantly reduced, the body enters a state of withdrawal, which triggers a wide range of distressing symptoms.

One of the most prominent symptoms of opioid withdrawal is intense cravings for the drug. The mind and body yearn for the substance. There is little that someone in withdrawal won’t do to use again, as their brain sends a variety of distress signals that something has changed. This craving can be so powerful that it drives individuals to extreme measures to obtain the drug, contributing to the cycle of addiction.

Physically, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be excruciating. They typically begin within a few hours to a day after the last dose of opioids and peak within the first few days. Physical symptoms often include:

  • Severe body aches
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • A feeling of restlessness and discomfort throughout the body

Individuals may experience excessive sweating, chills, and goosebumps, often described as “cold flashes” or “hot flashes.” Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common symptoms that dehydrate the body and are most viscerally associated with being “dope sick.”

Opioid withdrawal also wreaks havoc on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. Anxiety and agitation are prevalent, contributing to unease and irritability. Insomnia and sleep disturbances are common, making it challenging to find relief and exacerbating the overall distress. Depression and a feeling of hopelessness can set in.

The intensity and duration of these symptoms can vary depending on various factors, such as the type and dosage of opioids used, the duration of use, and individual differences in metabolism and overall health. Generally, the acute phase of opioid withdrawal lasts about a week, but some symptoms, like insomnia and mood disturbances, can persist for weeks or even months.

The withdrawal process also carries the risk of death. Addicts often have weakened or suppressed immune systems, and severe dehydration and electrolyte depletion during recovery can result in a tragic death. Additionally, self-medication with other drugs or overcompensating for the bad symptoms by re-using opioids carries a significant risk of overdose.

It is essential to recognize that the severity of withdrawal symptoms is not a measure of an individual’s strength or willpower. The physical and psychological grip of opioids can be overpowering, making it incredibly challenging to endure the withdrawal process without appropriate support and treatment.

3. What Should You Do if a Loved One is Dope Sick?

A common description of dope sickness symptoms is the feeling of having the flu virus that one can stop by using again. Because of this, addicts need to be supervised and attended to during the entire process, or they will begin abusing opioids again. This assistance often requires a strong support structure, someone watchful to ensure the addict doesn’t jump out of a window looking for drugs, and medication to make the process more manageable.

Something that can help ease the burden of opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment. Dope sickness is powerful because it is an involuntary reaction by a body that has become accustomed to existing in extreme circumstances and can no longer function normally. There are healthy ways to make withdrawal far less painful and more likely to lead to enduring sobriety. Prescription medications like Suboxone, Sublocade, Naltrexone, and Vivitrol can make recovery easier.

These medications are partial agonists and antagonists, meaning they replicate some of the effects of opioid addiction in the brain while blocking opioid receptors and reducing cravings. They are difficult to abuse as a medical professional prescribes them under a strict regimen, and some are pills administered only once a month on slow release, stopping any chance of misuse.

If your loved one is trying to quit addiction, it’s important to contact professionals who can help. The most successful recoveries include oversight by experts who can offer your loved one every possible tool to beat what is killing them.

MAT Care Clinics and Beating Dope Sickness

MAT Care Clinics doesn’t believe you should face recovery alone. We specialize in medically assisted treatment, a proven technique to give addicts a better chance of recovery while fighting the worse effects of going clean. Our medical staff has years of experience treating opioid withdrawal and is ready to give you the best option to ensure a shot at a happier, healthier life.

If you want to discuss your addiction and see how we can help, call (833) 622-0628 or contact us through our website.

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