Withdrawal is sneezing: What it’s like to taper off opioids

So as a result of feeling a bit better lately, I have been trying to go off all of my opioid pain medications, which at one point totaled as much as 60 mg. a day — three, eight-hour time release 15 mg. morphine pills and then as many as three, short-acting, 5 mg. hydrocodone as needed.

I worked my way down from 60 mg. a day to 15 mg. a day over the course of a month, and then tried to drop down to zero. It did not go well. You can read more about that here.

A little over a week after trying to go cold turkey, for various reasons involving a fresh pain flare and horrific withdrawal symptoms, I ended up back on the drugs. And I have spent the last few months working with a team of doctors trying to figure all this out and attempting to slowly taper off those last 15 mg.

This is what it’s been like:

Withdrawal is sneezing. Every three or four minutes. As soon as the opioids wear off at all — it’s sneezing.

And it’s anxiety. And waking up drenched in sweat. And it’s the kind of diarrhea that you have to learn to accept as a part of your life now. The kind that fills the toilet multiple times a day and leaves your legs weak.

It’s calling your high school boyfriend at 2 p.m. on a Friday because you’re in Target having an anxiety attack for no reason and you need to talk to someone, anyone, or you might actually die right there between the fitting room and the yoga pants display. It’s immediately regretting that phone call and then having anxiety about why you made it in the first place.

It’s not sleeping. God is withdrawal not sleeping. It’s, you’re lucky if you get four hours in one night. And waking up at 3 a.m. like normal people wake up at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. or even 9 a.m.

It’s giving up, and then trying again tomorrow.

It’s realizing that cutting your pills in half and taking them in a different time configuration actually helps a lot. And it’s tracking every dose and every symptom in Google Keep.

It’s deciding that maybe dating isn’t the greatest idea when your fight or flight response is literally kicking in every time it takes a guy more than seven minutes to respond to a text message. It’s giving in and hooking up with a guy on a Tuesday night anyway because the escape is worth the mess you’ll have to deal with in the morning.

It’s doing a lot of things you aren’t proud of.

It’s your primary care doctor telling you that other people have no problems at all going off these drugs, then qualifying his statement with, “But, I mean, I believe you,” which somehow implies he doesn’t.

It’s reaching out to your old psychologist and pleading for help, and then getting referred to a psychiatrist who specializes in this sort of thing and finally finding one person on the whole entire Earth who actually has some idea of what you’re going through.

It’s a glass of wine, and a handful of Advil, and lots of sugar candy, as you try to find anything to help manage the symptoms.

It’s slow. Withdrawal is maddeningly slow. It’s going down 1.25 mg. in a day and feeling like the world is ending and waking up more anxious than you’ve ever been. And wondering if you can actually do this.

And then it’s a post anxiety-crash four hours later, and being so tired that you can’t even move your arm to check your phone.

Withdrawal is multiple people calling you a drug addict to your face because your body is physically dependent on a medication you were given by a doctor. It’s multiple people saying you just need more willpower and more prayer and more desire to get off the drugs.

It’s wondering if maybe you are a drug addict.

It’s trying to eat Taco Bell because Taco Bell usually solves everything and then realizing that you can’t even stomach a cheesy gordita crunch because the withdrawal has destroyed your appetite.

It’s working out to help the anxiety, and using the stupid Calm App for meditations that never work, and texting your best friend 72 times an hour so that you know you’re not alone. And then texting her again. And it’s breathing her oxygen for awhile because you don’t seem to have any of your own.

It’s intestinal cramping so severe that you’re literally doubled over in pain on the couch, crying out in pain, wondering if this is the end.

It’s deciding to go back to church because for some reason, for that hour each week, you feel maybe a little bit of peace.

Withdrawal is feeling weak.

It’s wondering if you’ll ever feel normal again. It’s wondering that over and over and over and trying to convince yourself that someday you will get a full night’s sleep and you won’t wake up covered in sweat and you won’t have diarrhea first thing in the morning and you won’t have the crushing feeling of anxiety as you greet the day.

Withdrawal is trying to live a normal life while your body goes through hell every day. It’s trying to work and be a good friend and a decent human being when all you want to do is die. It’s trying to figure out how much information, exactly, you should give your boss about your opioid dependence.

It’s having a pain flare and thinking that maybe the drugs were doing more than you thought, and wondering if you’re even doing the right thing.

It’s saying that John Green quote about survival to yourself 59 times a day. The one that goes, “I’m not saying that everything is survivable. Just that everything except the last thing is.” And then it’s reminding yourself that this is probably not the last thing.

And it’s reaching out to your Facebook friend who has the same chronic pain you have and him telling you that you have to do this — it’s important that you do this — because if you don’t the next best option is in-treatment and you don’t want that.

It’s trying to distract yourself with The Hobbit, and Spotlight and Downton Abbey, and Facebook.

Withdrawal is still happening. It’s ongoing. It’s a long-term goal. A hope that one day you’ll be clean — whatever that means.

It’s praying, and crying, and giving up, and trying again.

And it’s sneezing.

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  1. Hi and Ty 4 accepting my request.I just finished reading a comment on how adamant u were re: being allowed 2 take the pain meds that have worked 4 u 4.yrs, May I ask what’s happened that u felt u no longer needed them 4 ur pain and subsequently decided to attempt to eliminate any from your body? Ty for sharing all u have. Wishing u only comfort, and the best u can be. Anne

  2. Please, please check into seeing Dr. Kristina Naseer, Belleville, IL, She is a pain mgmt specialist. I travel 2 hours to see her. I was just there today for pain injections. She WILL help you, WONT ignore you and YOU will love her and her staff! My story is almost just like yours. Please feel free to email me and we can talk more. I’m not a salesperson, I’m a 54 yr old, married and a mom in pain. On disability, had to leave my High School job of 17yrs, which I loved. Stay strong!

  3. I just found this blog today. Idk if your still active on it or not but, thought it would be good to comment, question or maybe even empathize.

    I’ve been hooked on methadone for years. I do not see a way out of this fucking prison! Rehab was a joke. Alternative pain treatment plans do not work either. The bold truth that stares me in the face is i am an addict. Ugh! It’s hard to even type that, but it’s true. If there was a way to travel back in time, i would have said “no” to that Dr. who graciously prescribed 60 and 2 refills. “I’ll take advil instead”. That’s what i should have said but, like many back then, was ignorant. Flash forward to now, many lost jobs, enough guilt to fill ten lives, many Dr. payments and I’m worse off than i was.

    The withdrawal is awful. The sneezing thing is weird. I hardly ever sneeze when I’m on the meds but as soon as i run out, here comes the sneezing along with the usual suspects. Were you able to kick it? If so, how?


    1. If I can quit at my age… I’m 63 and had been taking 180 Tylenol #4 per month for at least 15 years. The last pill I took was Nov 21 so it’s been well over 200 days. I went through hell for the first 40+ days before I even began to feel better. I still sneeze and have withdrawal symptoms. I quit cold turkey, without medication, and without support. I wish I could tell folks how to quit but I really don’t know how I accomplished it. Every second of withdrawal was hell for a very long time. I still have withdrawal but mostly it’s muscle spasms in my thighs and only when I lie down to sleep. I usually have to take a high dosage ibuprofen to fall asleep. I still have the watery eyes and sneezing, too, but the latter is down to a single episode per day of exactly six sneezes each episode. The runny nose stopped only a couple weeks ago. I was lucky that I didn’t have to hold down a job while going through withdrawal. I know these residual withdrawal symptoms could last for years but they’re nothing compared to what I’ve already been through. I’ve talked to young folks that took suboxone and had no withdrawal at all but I don’t know the specifics of their opiate consumption. Others have told me their withdrawal only lasted a week.

  4. You made me laugh and cry. You brought back many bad memories. Ouch ouch ouch. When I was coming off, I couldn’t find any honesty on the internet (or elsewhere) about what withdrawal was like. Hope you are doing well.

  5. You’re not an addict; just dependent as all us chronic pain patients. And I relate to the sneezes onset 24 hrs after last dose. My great doc who only comes to work every 8 weeks cancelled. I stupidly accepted a shortage at pharm. 110 tabs of 120 – 30 mg oxycodone that would’ve got me thru until he came in half a day. I asked him to leave a script for the 10 as the pharm refused to issue them even tho Ive seen them hand pills to others who ‘run out’ and this isn’t my fault! Bitches say “its controlled substance BS” and I repeated: THEY OWE ME 10 FROM LAST MONTH. Dealing with dumb, dumber, dumbest! Pharm claimed script over 60 days old expired; a LIE expires in 6 MONTHS! They always blatantly lie, insult my intel and clearly do not want to dispense even when due, make me come back twice a day, say theyre out, etc etc. Enjoy seeing elders suffer in pain. I go to pharm 4x to 3x down to 2x a month and still fight to get my meds. Face tat guy walks in greeted with smile gets all 4 bottles! They told me :”We are making exception for You get every 28 days not 27 like everyone else?” WTF? Ive never absued diverted, don’t drink can buy and sell them all day long. Just haters. Im sick of being treated rudely because Im injured through no fault of my own! SO it began…I go to ER and they refused to even give me 10 tab deficiency the pharm too even when i explained im out dr is a no show, Im in big time pain. They say go to ER where I get 10 5 mg shit made me sick to last 3 days. I said are you nuts? You cant titrate down 120 mis to 20 mg per day! Now I get a $800 bill for that I have to send in my disability income and explain so i dont pay. I know they prescribe oxy, as i was in a car wreck this summer couldn’t make to pharm out of town where my script was, they cant transfer and got 15 tabs, no prob. They all lie and laugh glare at you enjoy seeing old folks suffer. Theyre pill counters, count my damn pills and hand em over. And if you short me, give me the difference~ Ive been through hell and stye nah it worse! I leave script early to ensure its will be in stock and they still say “we have other patients may run out. make sure you call in advance” Look, dumb ass why Im giving it to you now! just order so its here! LIES LIES LIES. Then wonder why people end it, suffering plus chronic insults, degradation and anxiety of wondering, worrying, waiting to get what you’re prescribed is egregious!

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