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Tapering Off Pain Medications

Tapering involves gradually lowering the person’s dosage over a period of time. Withdrawal symptoms are to be expected, especially if the person has been taking opioids for a long time, but these can be managed by healthcare professionals during detox.

Navigation: Why Are Opioids Addictive?, When to Stop Using Opioid Medications, How to Taper Off Pain Meds, How to Ensure Safe Tapering From Opioid Pain Medication, Opioid Withdrawal: What Withdrawal Symptoms Can You Expect?, The Role of Social Support in the Tapering Process, Can You Still Use Opioids After Tapering Off of Your Pain Meds?, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Opioids are known as powerful painkillers that are prescribed for patients who are struggling with severe pain after surgery or a traumatic injury. These medications also play an important role in treating cancer-related pain.

Despite their medical applications, they are also associated with high rates of abuse, addiction, and even overdose. This is why people need to be careful with their prescriptions. There’s a misconception that because opioids are given by doctors, they are perfectly safe. Opioids are very potent, so there’s a very real risk of misuse or drug abuse. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and report any side effects that you may encounter.

For those who have only taken opioids for less than two weeks, it may be possible to just stop these medications as soon as your pills run out and you’ve followed your doctor’s prescription to the letter. If you’re unsure about whether or not you can stop your medications, call your doctor.

On the other hand, for those who have taken opioids for over two weeks, you may have to stop taking it as soon as possible to avoid some serious consequences. If you are already experiencing side effects, or if you feel like you are getting reduced pain relief from your medications even though you are taking the same dose, it may be time to stop your opioid intake. Just make sure to tell your doctor before quitting the prescription.

Here are some examples of opioid medications that are commonly available in today’s market: hydrocodone, hydrocodone-acetaminophen, fentanyl, oxycodone, and oxycodone-acetaminophen.

While it can be difficult to stop taking opioids, especially if you have already developed tolerance or dependence, it is possible. Work with your doctor so you can go through a proper tapering process. Do not attempt to go cold turkey on your own. In some cases, opioid withdrawal can be dangerous and may produce severe symptoms, so proper detox is necessary.

Here we will talk about how to properly taper off opioid pain medications to avoid putting your health at risk. The tapering process may take weeks or months depending on what opioid you have been taking and how long you’ve been taking it. Let’s take a closer look.


Why Are Opioids Addictive?

It’s not necessarily bad to take pain medicine if you need it. However, some people do abuse their opioid pain medicines and end up getting addicted or becoming dependent. Therefore it’s important to talk about why opioids are so addictive.

Opioids are a class of drugs that act on the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body. While they are primarily used for pain relief, they can also produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation, which is what makes them so addictive.

Opioids include both prescription medications, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. They can be taken orally, injected, or inhaled nasally.

When opioids bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, they reduce the perception of pain and also trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This release of dopamine reinforces the pleasurable effects of opioids, making the user desire to repeat the experience. This effect on the brain’s reward system encourages the person to keep taking larger doses of opioids.

With continued use, the brain can adapt to the presence of opioids by reducing its own production of dopamine and altering the sensitivity of the opioid receptors. As a result, people may develop tolerance, needing higher doses of opioids to achieve the desired effects.

This tolerance can also lead to physical dependence, where the body becomes reliant on the presence of opioids to function normally. When a person becomes addicted to opioids, this is called an opioid use disorder.

Opioid use disorder is a type of substance use disorder. Just like other forms of addiction, it is characterized by the compulsive intake of a certain substance even when the person is already suffering from its physical and mental health consequences.

If a drug dependent person abruptly stops or significantly reduces their opioid dose, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be highly unpleasant and include anxiety, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and insomnia.

Overall, addiction is a complex condition involving both physical and psychological factors. Tapering opioids is an important part of substance abuse treatment because it can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and keep the person safe.


When to Stop Using Opioid Medications

Before you taper off opioids, you have to determine whether it is necessary to stop. Remember that this always needs to be done in consultation with a healthcare professional, particularly the prescribing physician who has been monitoring your condition and prescribing the medication.

The decision to discontinue opioid medications depends on various factors, including the nature and severity of your medical condition, your pain levels, your overall health, and your response to the medication.

Your healthcare provider will assess your condition and determine if there have been improvements or changes in your medical condition that may allow for tapering off or discontinuation of opioids. They will consider factors such as the underlying cause of pain, other treatment options, and any risks associated with long-term opioid use.

If necessary, your healthcare provider may explore alternative pain management strategies that could be effective for your condition. These can include non-opioid medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, or other interventions. These options aim to minimize pain without the risk of substance abuse.

If it is determined that you can discontinue opioid medications, it is generally recommended to gradually taper the dosage under medical supervision. Abruptly stopping opioids can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

It’s important to have open and honest communication with your healthcare provider throughout the process. Together, you can discuss the potential benefits, risks, and challenges of discontinuing opioids and make an informed decision based on your unique circumstances.

Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It is crucial to work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized plan that prioritizes your well-being and pain management needs.

How to Taper Off Pain Meds

With all that in mind, here are some general steps that you can take when tapering off pain medications. These are just what you can expect when going through this process. Again, the exact steps may vary from person to person. Your doctor or pain management specialist can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation.

Speak with your healthcare provider about your desire to taper off your pain medication. They can assess your current condition, review your medical history, and determine if tapering off is appropriate for you.

They will create a personalized tapering plan based on your specific needs. This plan will depend on various factors, such as the type of pain medication you’re taking, the dosage, the duration of use, and your overall health condition.

There is a proper treatment for opioid dependence called medical detox or detoxification and it is basically what tapering is. Tapering involves gradually lowering the person’s dosage over a period of time. Withdrawal symptoms are to be expected, especially if the person has been taking opioids for a long time, but these can be managed by healthcare professionals during detox.

Stick to the tapering plan provided by your doctor. It’s important not to rush the process to avoid a recurrence of pain.

Pay close attention to your pain levels and any other symptoms during the tapering process. If you experience significant discomfort or increased pain, inform your doctor so they can adjust the tapering plan.

If you’re tapering off pain medications because your underlying condition has improved or changed, work with your healthcare provider to explore alternative pain management strategies or address any lingering issues.

How to Ensure Safe Tapering From Opioid Pain Medication

The correct length of an opioid taper varies from one person to another. Your doctor will determine the right length of opioid tapering so as to minimize your health risks. The tapering plan should be realistic and take into account factors such as the type and dosage of the opioid, your particular circumstances, and any underlying medical conditions.

Slowly decreasing the dosage helps minimize withdrawal symptoms and allows your body to adjust to lower levels of opioids.

During your opioid taper, your doctor may monitor your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure regularly. Don’t be surprised if they ask for blood or urine samples just to check the amount of medication or substances in your system.

As needed, your healthcare provider may also introduce other pain therapies to help you manage your symptoms.

Their job is to follow your withdrawal plan carefully so that you can reach your goal of sobriety while giving your body enough time to readjust to the absence of opioids. A step-by-step dosage reduction can make this process go smoothly. Your doctor may even teach you new skills to manage pain without the need for opioids.

Regularly communicate with your healthcare professional during the tapering process. They can assess your progress, monitor any withdrawal symptoms or side effects, and make necessary adjustments to the tapering plan.

They will also manage withdrawal symptoms or cravings that you may experience while tapering. Common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and muscle aches—but there are plenty of other withdrawal symptoms that are possible depending on the type of opioid you took.

Your healthcare professional can provide strategies to manage these symptoms, such as medication options or non-pharmacological approaches like exercise, relaxation techniques, and hot baths.

Keep in mind that tapering off opioids is just one aspect of recovery. You still have to address any underlying issues that may have contributed to your opioid use, such as mental health disorders, chronic pain, or social factors.

Ideally, people in recovery go through a comprehensive treatment process that addresses all these issues. It’s not enough to get sober, you also need to learn how to maintain your sobriety for the long term.

Just stay committed and patient. Tapering off opioids can be challenging, but it’s important to stick to the process. It may take time to completely taper off opioids, and setbacks can occur. Be patient with yourself and trust the guidance of your doctor.

Opioid Withdrawal: What Withdrawal Symptoms Can You Expect?e

Withdrawal symptoms from opioids can vary in severity and duration. That said, here are some common withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal:

Flu-like symptoms: These may include muscle aches, joint pain, sweating, chills, and a runny nose.

Gastrointestinal issues: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps are common during opioid withdrawal.

Psychological symptoms: Anxiety, irritability, restlessness, agitation, insomnia, and mood swings are frequently experienced.

Increased sensitivity to pain: Opioid withdrawal can cause heightened pain sensitivity, making existing pain more pronounced.

Dilated pupils: Pupils may appear larger than usual, a condition known as mydriasis.

Yawning and tearing: Excessive yawning and tearing of the eyes can occur during withdrawal.

Goosebumps and chills: The skin may develop goosebumps, and individuals may experience cold flashes or shivering.

Elevated heart rate and blood pressure: Withdrawal can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Cravings: Strong cravings for opioids are a typical symptom of withdrawal and can be intense and persistent.

Withdrawal from any opioid medication can be highly uncomfortable, but the good news is that it is rarely life-threatening. There are still some cases of severe withdrawal that may require medical intervention. If you or someone you know is experiencing opioid withdrawal, it is advisable to seek medical assistance for appropriate support and management.

Unless you are instructed otherwise, you may find that the following tips may also be helpful when managing withdrawal symptoms. First, take care of your health. That means eating nutritious meals regularly, drinking more water, exercising in moderation, and using deep-breathing exercises. Do something that relaxes you or helps distract you from your symptoms. Finally, make sure you encourage yourself to keep pursuing sobriety using positive self-talk. Remember that this difficult stage of recovery is only temporary.

The Role of Social Support in the Tapering Process

Social support plays a crucial role in the tapering process. As you already know, tapering is not an easy thing to go through. It is a challenging and complex journey, so having a strong support system can greatly increase your chances of detoxing successfully.

Having a strong social support system can help you when the tapering process is becoming too overwhelming or emotionally draining. Social support provides a safe space to express your emotions, struggles, and frustrations. Your friends and family can provide empathy and encouragement. This can help you feel less alone during this difficult period.

The tapering process can be isolating, as individuals may feel ashamed or stigmatized by their dependency. Social support networks provide a sense of belonging and reduce the feelings of isolation. Connecting with others who understand the challenges and struggles can foster a sense of community, friendship, and shared goals, which can be crucial for maintaining motivation and resilience.

Not only that, but they can also provide you with a sense of accountability. Knowing that others are invested in your recovery, you may feel a greater sense of responsibility and commitment to your tapering plan.

Supportive friends, family members, or sponsors can hold you accountable for your progress, provide reminders, and offer motivation to stay on track.

Social support can also involve practical assistance that addresses certain logistical challenges during tapering. For example, they can help with transportation to medical appointments, childcare, or taking care of daily responsibilities to alleviate some of the stressors and free up time for self-care.

Ultimately, a strong and reliable social support network can significantly enhance a person’s chances of successful tapering and sustained recovery.

@rehabnearme Treatment of Opioid Overdose. Treating an opioid overdose can actually be very simple once you understand what's going on inside the body. Join us as we talk about how opioids work, how antagonists work, and how to safely and effectively treat a patient with an opioid overdose. #addiction #rehabnearme #rehabcenter #addictionrecovery #addictiontreatment #addictiontreatmentcenter #opioid #opioidawareness #rehabilitation #fyp ♬ original sound - RehabNear.Me

Can You Still Use Opioids After Tapering Off of Your Pain Meds?

After tapering off pain medications, such as opioids, it’s generally advisable to discontinue their use and explore alternative methods of pain management.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where you still require pain management after tapering off opioids, it’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider. They can evaluate your specific circumstances, assess the risks and benefits, and determine the most appropriate course of action.

They may suggest non-opioid medications, physical therapy, alternative treatments, or other strategies tailored to your needs.

Remember that tapering is only the first stage of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan. Look for a rehab near you today if you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction. Get started on the road to recovery and lasting sobriety today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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