How to Taper Off Opioids

How to Safely Wean Off Opioid Drugs

For most conditions, opioid pain relievers are only prescribed for a few weeks.  This is due to their highly addictive nature, and the unpleasant side effects that can accompany them.  You may require them after a surgery, to address acute pain, or to manage chronic pain associated with chemotherapy and cancer.  Typically you will receive a one time prescription and once that runs out, your pain should be effectively managed.  At that time it is appropriate to discontinue taking opioids, however, it is important to taper off them slowly and at the discretion of your prescribing physician.  Common examples of opioids include Hydrocodone, Hydrocodone-acetaminophen, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, and oxycodone-acetaminophen.  

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Why It’s Important to Slowly Taper Off Opioids

Slowly tapering off opioids is imperative due to the potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms you may experience.  If you feel you are ready to discontinue taking your opioids, inform your doctor and they will develop a plan to slowly discontinue use.  The length of the tapering process will vary depending on how long you’ve taken the medication and the dose you’ve been taking.  Working with your doctor to create a game plan to stop using opioids allows you greater success because they can help you learn different ways to manage pain and can monitor you for any issues that may arise.  

Slow Tapering in a Medical Detox

Tapering off opioids in a medical detox is arguably the safest way to discontinue use, particularly if you have a history of addiction or if you are still experiencing pain.  Licensed medical professionals will work with you to develop a taper plan and will regularly monitor you for any complications.  For most medical detoxes you can expect:

  • Vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure, and temperature to be obtained as these can indicate if you are experiencing pain or other symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Blood or urine samples to be obtained to monitor the levels of the opioid in your system.
  • Your physician should work with your other healthcare providers to obtain medication and health history so they have a clear understanding of what has or has not been beneficial to you in the past.  It is important to note, that you should be providing consent for them to speak to other providers, they cannot collaborate care without your consent.
  • Medications may be administered to help ease discomfort and make the tapering process as tolerable as possible.
  • To be provided with other ways to manage pain effectively.

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Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Tapering off opioids can cause potentially unpleasant symptoms as the body learns to manage pain without the assistance of medication.  Tapering slowly is intended to keep these symptoms at bay.  While symptoms may be different for everyone, here is a list of common opioid withdrawal symptoms:

  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Fluctuations in blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Tremors or uncontrollable muscle movements
  • GI distress such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
  • Cramping in the stomach
  • Chills, sweating, or goosebumps
  • Experiencing an increase in pain
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Restlessness
  • Congestion, watery eyes, or excessive yawning

What Happens When Tapering Off Opioids

For some, slowly tapering off opioids is all you need to discontinue opioids, however, for a great deal of people, additional support may be needed.  If you are struggling with tapering off opioids or if you require a medical detox from the medication, opioid addiction treatment is a great way to ensure success long term.  The Source Treatment Center works with a select and highly vetted group of detox clinics that can prepare you for successful addiction treatment.  Don’t go at this alone, there is light at the end of the tunnel and a wealth of resources available to help you get there.  If you would like more information on how The Source can help you taper off opioids, please call (800) 204-0418 or visit them online at