Tips to Cope With Diarrhea, Stomach Pain, and Vomiting During Drug Withdrawal

Withdrawal Symptoms and Other Treatments

upset sick man sitting on toilet
Diverse Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Diarrhea isn't something many people feel comfortable talking about, but the distress caused by severe diarrhea can be a major factor impacting the decision to quit drugs for many drug users. Diarrhea and stomach pain from diarrhea can be withdrawal symptoms among people who have been addicted to some drugs, particularly opiates, or even after a period of intense substance use. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.

Tips for Diarrhea and Stomach Pain

The following strategies can help control diarrhea, gastrointesitinal spasms, stomach pain, and vomiting:

  • One of the main risks with diarrhea is dehydration, so sip plenty of water.
  • Fluid loss is not the only problem with dehydration. You also risk the loss of electrolytes, particularly if you are also vomiting a lot. Drinking rehydration fluid, available from drug stores, can help avoid this.
  • Yogurt with live/active cultures contains bacteria that, in some cases, can help reduce the severity and length of time diarrhea lasts.
  • Avoid hot drinks, acidic fruits and spicy foods, which can induce spasms leading to diarrhea and related stomach pain.
  • Bland foods, such as white toast, white rice, and bananas may help. If you are also suffering from withdrawal nausea and vomiting, you may prefer to avoid food intake until the initial acute withdrawal phase has passed.
  • Over-the-counter medications, such as Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol (bismuth) or Imodium (loperamide) may help control diarrhea and slow down the bowel process.

 

Why Do Diarrhea and Stomach Pain Withdrawal Symptoms Happen?

When drugs or alcohol are used constantly, the brain has to adjust to changes in the functioning of neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that affect the nervous system.

When these substances are stopped, it forces the brain and body to have to change again, creating unpleasant physical and mental withdrawal symptoms.

Diarrhea, stomach pain, and vomiting are often experienced by people going through withdrawal from opioids and other drugs. Although this can be a normal reaction by the body, the severity and discomfort you experience can be reduced by correct treatment. Therefore, it is a good idea to talk to your pharmacist or doctor for advise on over-the-counter medications.

However, it is important to be aware that there are other causes for diarrhea, and it is important to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. For example, a range of viral and bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, and may be a result of ingesting contaminated food, water, or drugs, or by some sexual activities. Diarrhea can also be a side effect of some drugs.

Treating Dehydration

Dehydration happens when your body loses too much fluid and electrolytes through urination, sweating, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. However, drinking only water, particularly in large quantities, can be harmful and can lead to water intoxication, which can be life threatening. For this reason, if you have been suffering from severe diarrhea, you should drink rehydration fluid - available from drug stores - rather than plain water to replace lost fluids.

You can also add one teaspoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt to two liters of water to make up your own inexpensive rehydration fluid. Fruit juice can also help replace lost electrolytes, but can exacerbate diarrhea. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice on the right way to replace lost fluids. In an emergency, you can go to an emergency room where an IV drip can be used to quickly replace fluids and electrolytes.

Other Treatments for Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from substances can be done at home or in a healthcare setting. Quitting substance use is often easier under medical supervision because medications can be used to make the transition easier and less uncomfortable.

Different treatments are available for different substances.

  • Opiates: Treatment may include the use of clonidine, which helps anxiety, sweating, irritability, muscle cramping and aching and runny nose, and/or buprenorphine or methadone, both of which can decrease the amount of time it takes to detoxify and also help withdrawal symptoms. Gabapentin can help with a number of symptoms, including diarrhea. Antispasmodics like bentyl may also help with the gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Alcohol: If alcohol withdrawal symptoms are moderate to severe, you may need to be in a supervised clinical setting. Whether you seek treatment as an inpatient or outpatient, you may be given sedatives to help make the transition to complete withdrawal in a medically safe way.  
  • Barbiturates: Because of the potential complications from stopping barbiturate use, withdrawal should always take place under medical supervision. You may be given phenobarbital to help make the transition.
  • StimulantsTreatment for stimulant withdrawal will likely involve psychotherapy, but may also include antidepressants or other mood-affecting medications.

Treatment for Diarrhea, Stomach Pain, and Vomiting

If your diarrhea, stomach pain, or vomiting are severe, or last for a long time, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. Although they can be considered nuisance withdrawal symptoms by some drug users, they can be troubling enough to derail attempts at quitting, leading to an increased risk of overdose. They can be an indication of an underlying, treatable infection, and they can lead to life-threatening dehydration.

 

Sources:

Lin S, Pan C, Chen C. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of dextromethorphan combined with clonidine in the treatment of heroin withdrawal. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 34(4): 508–512. 2014. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000000144

Manatsatihit S, Dupont H, Farthing M, et al. Guideline for the management of acute diarrhea in adults. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 7:71. 2002. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1746.17.s1.11.x.

Salehi M, Kheirabadi GR, Maracy MR, Ranjkesh M. Importance of gabapentin dose in treatment of opioid withdrawal. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 31(5):593-596. 2011. doi:10.1097/JCP.0b013e31822bb378.

Continue Reading