It’s never easy to watch a loved one go through something painful. But this is something that millions of people every year experience when friends or family are addicted to opiates. The only thing that makes that pain rewarding is knowing that your loved one could be free and sober on the other side. If someone you love is addicted to opiates and is about to start detoxing at home, nothing is more helpful than someone at home with them who knows how to make it easier.
Opioid and opiate withdrawals are extremely difficult for the patient. Like all withdrawals, the combination of pain and discomfort often drive a person back to their drugs to “get well”. A loving person there to provide care, soothing, and a locked door can make all the difference. But how do you prepare? No one automatically knows how to tackle a withdrawal, but we can help.
Stock Your Pantry and Medicine Cabinet
Hydration is Key
The single most dangerous aspect of opioid withdrawal is dehydration. This process will cause your loved one’s body to shed water like there’s no tomorrow. Think of it like a bad flu, as many of the symptoms are the same. There will be sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Every way a person can lose water quickly, they will.
They will also have no appetite and often have trouble consuming or keeping anything down. So stock up on a variety of hydrating substances. Anything you can pour down your friend to keep them alive. Keep drinks in the fridge, cold will help.
- Pedialyte was formulated for sick toddlers, and is exactly what you need. But does not taste great. Try the flavored stuff or mix the unflavored stuff with apple juice, which cuts the weird aftertaste and sweetens the drink.
- Sports Drinks
- Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are also packed with hydrating electrolytes and a few extra calories that will help when your loved one is vomiting all solids (and most liquids).
- Fruit Juices
- Cold fruit juices can be essential, especially if your friend has a few favorites. Keep them cold. Have apple juice, because it’s mild, and something citrus.
- Brothy and Cream Soups
- Finally, you’re going to need to feed your patient, but they won’t be able to eat solids comfortably. So stock up on soups. Focus on mild broths and cream soups that have very few or no solids. Serve hot or cold, whatever your friend can choke down.
Over the Counter Medicines
OTC medications can also be helpful, as long as you follow the dosage instructions strictly. The following three medicines are the most likely to be helpful to you and your uncomfortable detoxing friend.
- Opiate withdrawals come with extreme skin discomfort and any extra irritants certainly aren’t helping. Minimize the amount of itching, runny nose, and skin-crawling your friend experiences with antihistamines to at least cut allergies out of the equation.
- Mild NSAID painkillers like Ibuprofin can help ease some of the aches and pains without triggering an addiction response. Be carefully about dosage with any painkillers, even mild ones.
- Diarrhea is one of the most dangerous symptoms of opiate and opioid withdrawal, but it can be treated as an individual symptom. Pick up some imodium and a few other remedies at the pharmacy when you’re stocking up. It can help.
Clean Linens, Towels, and Loose Clothing
As your friend gets rid of the opiates in their body, they will literally sweat it out. Your detoxing loved one will sweat, shake, shiver, and alternate between hot and cold. They will feel itchy, skin-crawling discomfort and rolling aches and pains. What this comes down to for you, the withdrawal babysitter, is clean linens.
Your loved one will sweat through clothes, sheets, and blankets. They won’t mean to, and worse, they’ll need a dry blanket in a few minutes. So get those laundry machines rolling and start with a completely clean stock of linens.
You can also help by stocking up on clean towels (there will be lots of baths and showers) and a closet of old, soft, and oversized (loose) clothing for your friend to change into. Anything constricting will be intolerable.
And, of course, keep your laundry machines ready to run so you can refresh your towels along the way.
Research Full-Body Light Massage
One of the worst symptoms of opioid withdrawal is the full-body discomfort. In addition to skin-scrawling, patients also experience aches and pains that are extremely unpleasant. Sometimes they may be tense or writhing with discomfort. One thing you can do is offer light or medium-intensity massage. By massaging the muscles that ache for lack of opioids (opioids interfere with pain receptors), you can ease that phantom-pain and distract your friend from the sensations.
Being able to give light massage over your friend’s entire body, especially the long limbs, neck, and shoulders, is more helpful than we can express. And, it’s worth noting, anyone can do it. You don’t need to take a class, just look up a few techniques online through guides or video. Even if you’re not trained, you can often help simply by gently kneading the aching or spasming muscles of your loved one.
Rides and Calls to the Doctor
Many people choose to go through their detox and withdrawal at home with loved ones, but it’s also important to keep medical professionals in the loop. Take your relative to the doctor at the beginning of the withdrawal and have a few numbers you can call if you are worried that an emergency is occurring. Withdrawal is often safe to conduct at home, but health complications or extreme symptoms can become dangerous.
If your loved one has medical conditions that might weaken their constitution during withdrawal or if you’re just worried, take your loved one to the doctor. Then ask the doctor who you can call while taking care of your loved one at home. They will be able to give you a list of names and numbers, including numbers you can call on weekends and after-hours for immediate help whenever you and your detoxing friend might need it.
Brace Yourself for Drama
No matter what you go through, at home, with a doctor, or in a clinic: There’s going to be drama. Opioid detox feels terrible, and worse, opioids have already lowered their emotional defenses so that everything feels like death or tragedy. Your friend may become convinced that they’re going to die, even if their symptoms are moderate. They will cry, they may beg you to get them drugs or to keep them from drugs. They may ask for people, good or bad for them.
Your loved one will likely go through the whole gamut of toddler tantrums and existential crises. They may become afraid, angry, melodramatic, agitated, and even accusatory or nasty. Prepare yourself to weather the storm. Like a friend after a bad breakup, what they say during this time doesn’t reflect how they’ll feel when the physical and emotional agony have passed.
One of the most important things you can do is maintain your position of unconditional love. All that drama and body discomfort are certain to bring out a combination of insecurity and fear. And have no doubt, your patience will be tried. This is going to be an ordeal for both of you and love is often the glue that holds it all together.
We know it can be hard, and it’s okay if you get angry or frustrated. But hold onto that love and remember that this is a roller coaster that you and your friend can get through together. Hold them when they cry, massage when they ache, and hold your breath when they tantrum. There will be tantrums. And just like a parent (you might be their parent) who weathers a toddler tantrum, you can weather these.
Soon, it will be back to tears or vomiting, and you’ll be stroking your loved one’s hair with soothing words all over again. Unconditional love is often the best motivation to help you get through your half of this challenge while showing your loved one what waits for them on the other side. Love.
Seek Detox and Recovery Treatment
There are professional organizations that will help your loved one through the detox experience. A supportive environment combined with medical knowledge and resources can make your friend’s detoxing experience less unpleasant and far less of a health risk. Rather than building a fort in your bathroom, your loved one can receive compassionate, organized treatment during withdrawals that will lay the foundation for the next steps of their recovery.
Here at Fairwinds Treatment Center, we offer a comprehensive detox and treatment program that is custom-tailored to each patient’s addictions and recovery needs. Detox is not something easy to get through at home. If you are worried about your loved one or need help partway through the process, we can provide the structure, compassion, and medical oversight your friend truly needs in this difficult time.
Talk About the Future
Finally, when they’re ready, you’ll want to talk about the days ahead. Even after the detox and withdrawal is over, sobriety is an ongoing process. Commitment, support, friends, and life changes will all be needed to make this transformation stick. Your friend doesn’t need to join an “Anonymous” program if they don’t want to, but some kind of structured recovery program can help.
Talk about cleaning and rearranging your loved one’s home so it’s not the same as when they were addicted. Talk about getting a job or changing jobs, if stress from their occupation made the addiction worse. Talk about how your friend is going to keep themselves distracted, busy, and possibly away from dangerous people or situations in the days ahead.
You should also talk about physical health. Exercise, nutrition, and some continued treatments can really help your friend get back on their feet and reduce the cravings that often become triggers for relapse. The healthier and better-supplied their body, the less they will crave things to fill now-un-supplied receptors.
There is so much future ahead for the two of you, once they make it through detox and withdrawal. But it will take work and dedication.
Helping a loved one into recovery through the detox process can be challenging, and you don’t have to do it alone. Let us help you guide your friend through the physical challenges of withdrawing from their addiction and build the foundations for recovery. Contact us today for more information or to consult.