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Updated on January 31, 2022

Clonidine for Opiate Withdrawal

What is Clonidine?

Clonidine is an alpha agonist anti-hypertensive drug. It is part of a class of medications called central-acting agents.

These drugs lower blood pressure by decreasing heart rate and relaxing blood vessels. This allows blood to flow more easily throughout your body. 

If high blood pressure is left untreated, it can damage your:

  • Brain
  • Heart
  • Blood vessels
  • Kidneys

Any damage to these vital organs can also lead to:

  • Heart enlargement
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Vision loss
  • Other serious problems

Clonidine Uses

Clonidine is also known by the brand name Catapres. It's used alone or with other medications to treat high blood pressure.

Clonidine is also used off-label to help treat:

  • Dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual cramps)
  • Tourette's syndrome
  • Menopausal hot flashes
  • Alcohol and opioid withdrawal

Clonidine comes as a tablet or an extended-release, long-acting pill. Both are taken by mouth once or twice a day or as directed by your doctor.

Catapres extended-release, long-acting tablets (Kapvay) also treat and control symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These symptoms include difficulty focusing and controlling actions.

Be sure to take clonidine exactly as directed. Don't consume the tablets any more or less often than prescribed.

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Clonidine for Opiate Withdrawal

If you become opioid-dependent, clonidine may help with detoxification. Clonidine quickly reduces the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.5

Opiate use and misuse are rampant in the United States. In 2018, about 808,000 people across the country reported using heroin during the past year.3

About 11.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers without prescriptions in the same year.3

Coming off opiates can be difficult, especially if they’ve been misused. Opiate withdrawal symptoms can be severe, challenging, and uncomfortable.

The symptoms of opioid withdrawal include the following:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Clonidine helps to reduce some symptoms of opioid withdrawal, including:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Cramping
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating

However, clonidine doesn't help reduce cravings, so it can't cure your addiction. It's best used with other treatment methods like detox programs, rehab, and therapy.

Additionally, it isn't the only medication available to treat opioid dependency. Speak with your doctor about whether or not clonidine is suitable for you.

How Effective Is Clonidine for Opioid Withdrawal?

Clonidine for opioid withdrawal is considered very effective. The drug can help detoxify in less than 14 days, rather than the typical 3 to 6 months.6

The success rate is high even for people taking up to 75 mg of methadone every day.6

Potential Side Effects of Clonidine

While clonidine may help opiate detoxification, it isn't safe for everyone.

Like all medications, clonidine has some adverse side effects that can take a toll on people—some more than others.

These include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Exhaustion
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Low libido
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hoarseness

Contact medical help immediately if you're experiencing side effects from taking clonidine. However, don't abruptly stop taking it without your doctor’s advice.

If clonidine has adverse effects on you, seek professional medical advice on other treatment options for your opioid dependence. There are different ways to quit your opioid use safely.

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How Is Clonidine Administered For Opioid Addiction?

Clonidine is available in 2 forms: tablet and patch.

The tablet form of clonidine is usually taken every few hours on the first day. Over the next few days, your dose may decrease depending on your withdrawal symptoms.

Any withdrawal symptoms should start to subside by the end of the week. Once this occurs, you'll be tapered off clonidine until you no longer need it.

The patch form is placed on the skin. This is usually an area with little hair like the upper outer arm or the upper chest.

Once the patch is set, it will deliver medication to the body. The patches come in varying strengths to work with different body sizes.

It will take around 2 days for the patch to reach a steady state. The first couple of days may involve using a patch and taking a tablet.

Patches release medication over the course of 7 days. If withdrawal symptoms persist, your doctor may suggest staying on the patch longer.

Does Clonidine Have Withdrawal Symptoms? 

Clonidine is a non-opiate, so you shouldn't have withdrawal symptoms. You should still take it and stop it as directed.

Medical professionals advise that you continue to take the drug as directed even if you begin to feel well.

If you suddenly stop taking clonidine, you could experience a rapid rise in blood pressure and symptoms. These include headaches and shaking. If you want to come off clonidine, your healthcare professional will reduce your dose gradually.

Treatment Options for Opioid Abuse & Addiction

Opioid use disorder is challenging to overcome. Fortunately, there are several options for help.

These include:

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

There are three types of medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone

Buprenorphine and methadone help manage withdrawal symptoms as you detox.

Naltrexone blocks the receptors that opioids bind to, making it impossible to get high from them.

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) is most effective when combined with other treatments.

Inpatient Programs 

Inpatient programs are the most intensive addiction treatment options.

These programs guide you through:

  • Medically supervised detoxification
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Other services like medication-assisted therapy

They typically last 30, 60, or 90 days. However, they may be longer if necessary.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Intensive outpatient programs are the next level of addiction treatment. These programs provide similar services to inpatient programs such as detoxification and behavioral therapy.

The difference is that the patient will return home to sleep. Some programs also include transportation and meals.

PHPs are ideal for new patients and those who have completed inpatient treatment but still need intensive care.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs provide well-rounded treatment for people with a high motivation to recover. These programs are flexible and can be made around your schedule. They can also be customized to work best for you.

These programs work for new patients and those that complete an inpatient or partial hospitalization program.

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Resources

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  1. CE;, Kleber HD;Gold MS;Riordan. “The Use of Clonidine in Detoxification from Opiates.” Bulletin on Narcotics, U.S. National Library of Medicine
  2. “Clonidine: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine
  3. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine
  4. “SAMHSA's National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP : SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” SAMHSA
  5. Gold MS, Pottash AC, Sweeney DR, Kleber HD. Opiate Withdrawal Using Clonidine: A Safe, Effective, and Rapid Nonopiate Treatment. JAMA. 1980;243:343–346.
  6. Kleber, H D et al. “The use of clonidine in detoxification from opiates.” Bulletin on narcotics vol. 32,2 : 1-10

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