Patients who have stopped using opioids and gone through the withdrawal process often wonder why their energy is so low. They want to know what they can do to boost it.
After extended use of opioid pain medications such as Oxycontin, Percocet®, Opana®, Dilaudid®, Vicodin®, etc., stopping is no easy matter. Using opioid means your brain is constantly inundated with externally sourced dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Stopping the use of these opioid medications leaves the brain with a deficit of dopamine.
Not only is there a lack of dopamine to contend with, but many patients who have been using opioids for an extended time have not focused on other important aspects of their health. Eating, sleeping, and moving have often been compromised and impaired.
There are no magic pills or shortcuts, but you can put in the work to restore the brain and body, leading to optimal energy. This healing process requires intention and compassion. You need a solid plan.
My suggestion? Get a blank book and create a personalized Habit-Tracking Plan.
Then use these 5 ways to boost energy after opioid withdrawal.
1. MAKE A POINT TO DO NOTHING
In the early days following an opioid detox, you may find yourself overthinking and plaguing yourself with energy draining thoughts such as:
- I had more energy on pills
- I’ll never feel better
- I can’t function like this
- I always relapse, this time will be no different
- I can’t bear the physical sensations
- I can handle a lower dose of opioid medications
- The recovery community refers to such thoughts as Stinkin’ Thinkin’. Fighting or trying to resist or suppress these thoughts saps unnecessary energy.
In The Joy Diet, Martha Beck, Ph.D., talks about the importance of starting your day with “doing nothing.”
“Doing nothing” means do nothing but with intent. This includes activities like:
- Practicing mindfulness
- Contemplative prayer
- Pranayama breathing exercises
Without the awareness of the patterns of thoughts that recur over and over again, it becomes all too easy to believe one’s own thoughts…even if an alternative thought might be as true — and bring peace rather than stress.
The presence of opioids means the brain has developed neural pathways reinforcing thoughts and behaviors supporting the drug use. The goal now is to create new pathways of thinking and action. This can only happen when we become quiet enough to notice the thoughts.
Simply being aware of such repetitive, harmful thoughts can influence your energy levels.
This step is essential for learning that we are people who have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts. Any long-term recovery requires the skill of separating ourselves from our thoughts.
2. MAKE SLEEPING A PRIORITY
Trouble sleeping may be the most frequent concern we hear from patients who have been treated at the Coleman Network. Sleep plays a significant role in restoring energy, particularly after going through the process of stopping Percocet, Roxicodone, Oxycontin, etc. Although we offer medications to help with this in the short term following detox, creating habits that support sleep is key for long term success.
There are many resources available that detail proper sleep hygiene. The most common tips for getting quality sleep during recovery include:
- Avoid caffeine. Try weaning slowly for a week, then turn to caffeine-free beverages.
- Avoid light at night. The light emitted from devices, like smartphones and computers, trick our brain into keeping us awake. When it’s time to sleep, turn off your electronics.
- Try napping. Napping can’t replace inadequate nighttime sleep, but a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.
- Physical exercise. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can improve nighttime sleep quality.
- Keep a consistent bedtime. Figure out a good 7-8 hour chunk of time for sleep that works with your life, and try to honor these hours…even on the weekends.
- Allow 3 hours between your last meal and bedtime. if you need a bedtime snack, Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, author of A Mind of Your Own, suggests a handful of raw nuts.
3. BE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR EATING
Good eating habits have often been compromised in people who have been on long-term pain medications such as Opana, Percocet, Dilaudid, and Vicodin. Many have likely forgotten the feeling of energy that comes with a healthy appetite and a healthy diet.
There are so many recommendations for the best diet out there, it can be mind-boggling. Vegan? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? Paleo? Mediterranean? Although all of these diets differ in some way, there seems to be agreement about a few things:
- Avoid processed food as much as is possible. These are foods that generally come in a box or a package and have a long list of ingredients. If a product has a shelf life that allows food to stay intact long after it’s made, that’s probably a great thing for the food manufacturer, but not a great thing for the body. Especially a body that has just gone through opioid detoxification. Why put more toxins in?
- Try to eat food that is natural. Eat food that looks as much like it did when it came out of the ground or dropped off a tree. Think about it—our bodies are not so different now than when we first evolved. But the foods that are so readily available for consumption often look nothing like the original fruit, grain, vegetable or nut that was its origin.
- Healthy fats are important to your diet. As the science of nutrition continues to evolve, the trend continues to go back to basics. Healthy fats, such as found in olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocados, certain types of fish, are believed to be heart-healthy and non-inflammatory. As much as possible, stick to these fats.
- Watch out for hidden sugars. Sugar causes a quick insulin release from the pancreas, which can then drop sugar levels so low, energy plummets. This low energy causes people to eat more sugary products to try to get their energy up again, and a vicious cycle ensues.
4. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE
Patients getting off Percocet®, Dilaudid®, Opana®, etc. are ‘returning to their bodies’. Without these medications, many feel intimidated by physical sensations they haven’t felt for some time, and be guarded about making any moves that could potentially cause pain.
There may be nothing that generates more energy after an opioid detox than moving one’s body. Not only do people benefit physically from moving, but psychologically as well. Both walking and being out in nature have been shown to reduce depression. It is important to clear any vigorous exercise program with a doctor.
Start slowly. Gentle stretching and walking is one of the best formulas out there. The majority of our patients who have been treated with long-term morphine products are stunned at the minimal discomfort they experience when the meds are gone and they start to move again.
5. DOCUMENT YOUR PROGRESS
Patients who come to the Coleman Network to get off fentanyl, Roxicodone®, Oxycontin®, or other opioids typically have scheduled follow up appointments every 1 to 2 months. This means we can see and track the progress patients have made in energy levels, sleep, relationships, and mood.
One of the most beneficial practices for our patients is to keep a journal. A brief — or lengthy — daily entry is a powerful motivator as people see the progress they are steadily making. There is nothing as satisfying as reading back on the first low-energy, foggy days post-detox, and realizing how far you have come.
Use the front pages of the journal for your Habit-Tracking and the following pages to document the journey itself.
Realistically, it will likely take the body several weeks to begin to rebuild dopamine and energy. The first few weeks are a great opportunity to start to incorporate long term energy-building practices.
The first step, of course, is to get off the pain medications. The Coleman Network is dedicated to making this process safe, gentle, and effective. We’ve been the leaders in Medication-Assisted Treatment using the opiate blocker, Naltrexone, for Opioid Use Disorder for over 20 years. Please call us with your questions and take back your life.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP