Opiate withdrawal syndrome yields a variety of physical and psychological symptoms that range from mild to severe. The strength and duration of these symptoms is generally contingent upon the scope and severity of the sufferers’ opiate abuse (how long they’ve been abusing opiates, the type of opiates they’re abusing, any underlying pre-existing conditions, etc.). The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that more than 2.5 million Americans suffer from opioid use disorder (OUD). Each and every one of these Americans suffers from some type of withdrawal period, which is one of the main criteria for diagnosing the condition. One of the more common symptoms of opiate withdrawal, among other types of chemical dependency, is called restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, RLS is a neurological sensorimotor condition that manifests in uncontrollable and involuntary movement of the legs during sleep or deep rest. The National Sleep Foundation reports that the condition affects more than 10 percent of all Americans. While each case presents its own set of unique symptoms and long-term effects, some of the more common RLS symptoms include:
If you‘re exhibiting these or other peculiar symptoms related to leg movement, talk to your primary care physician.
There are two types of RLS: idiopathic (no known cause) and secondary (related to another medical condition). OUD sufferers most commonly suffer from secondary RLS. Though there is comparatively limited research discussing the correlation between RLS and OUD, recent data indicates there might be a strong relationship. The condition is also commonly anecdotally reported among opiate withdrawal sufferers. In another clinical study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment on the connection between RLS and alcohol and OUD, researchers found that RLS was present in 50.8 percent of those with OUD and in 21.7 percent of those with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
RLS can significantly impact sleep, which is a critical part of the everyday healing and recovery process for OUD. The National Sleep Foundation reports that RLS sufferers are far more likely to get fewer than six hours of sleep per night. Sleep is a fundamental and restorative element of everyday well-being that helps to regulate internal function and helps maintain a healthy supply of oxygen to the brain. As the rigors of withdrawal take their often-inevitable toll on the brain, body, and central nervous system, it’s imperative that withdrawal sufferers get adequate rest to fully combat these symptoms.
The opiate withdrawal cycle is generally divided into three phases: immediate, acute, and protracted. RLS can occur throughout all three phases and affect people days and even weeks after they get clean. In most cases, RLS sufferers require separate interventions to treat various aspects of their withdrawal syndrome; however, the often-brief nature of opiate-withdrawal-related RLS makes doctors reluctant to prescribe any serious medication for the condition. If the problem persists for several months or longer, patients’ physicians may be more apt to take more targeted measures toward addressing the condition. These measures can include medications and different types of occupational therapy.
Opiate-withdrawal-related RLS is usually brief and will dissipate over time; however, if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms for a protracted period that are disrupting your sleep, talk to your doctor or treatment provider immediately. You don’t have to sacrifice sleep because you have chosen to get treatment for OUD.
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