The opioid drug group includes prescription and street drugs that bind to opioid receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body. These drugs block pain and cause various other effects, including sedation, euphoria and emotional detachment.
Opioids alter brain chemistry and physical and psychologic dependence can begin within days, according to a March 2017 "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" article. People who have developed opioid dependence/addiction experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping usage of these drugs.
Prescription medications are used to ease these symptoms. Vitamins are also sometimes used, but research is largely lacking regarding their effectiveness.
Use of high-dose vitamin C to reduce symptoms of opioid withdrawal dates back to the late 1960s, when a small study involving 20 adults addicted to heroin found that those taking large doses of the vitamin experienced fewer or milder withdrawal symptoms.
In subsequent years, animal-based studies showed similar results and a handful of doctors who included high-dose vitamin C as part of the overall treatment for opioid withdrawal anecdotally reported positive results, as noted in a January 2012 review article published in the "Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine."
A pilot study published in the March-April 2000 issue of the journal "In Vivo" reported that high doses of vitamin C (up to 20 grams per day) for 4 weeks reduced the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms among 40 heroin-addicted men, compared to 10 participants who did not receive vitamin C supplementation.
Despite these promising preliminary results, use of vitamin C to help reduce the effects of opioid withdrawal remains poorly studied and possible benefits have yet to be conclusively proven.
As of 2017, the American Society of Addiction Medicine does not recommend vitamin C for the management of opioid withdrawal. Additional research is needed to assess the potential role of vitamin C in aiding people withdrawing and recovering from opioid addiction.
The eight B vitamins participate in hundreds of biochemical functions throughout the body and are particularly important for normal brain function. The brain requires an inordinate amount of energy relative to its size, and the B vitamins are critical for generating energy.
Additionally, these vitamins function as essential cofactors in the production of brain signaling chemicals, or neurotransmitters. Although research is lacking on the potential role of the B vitamins in managing opioid withdrawal, some addiction medicine specialists recommend supplementation. The rationale is based on knowledge that many people suffering with opioid addiction have nutritional deficiencies, including insufficient levels of the B vitamins.
Additionally, alcohol misuse is common among people living with an opiate addiction, which increases the risk for B vitamin deficiencies. Finally, supplementary B vitamins might help reduce anxiety and depression associated with opioid withdrawal — although this has not yet been proven.
Vitamins work together in concert. A full complement of these essential micronutrients is particularly important when the body is undergoing physical and biochemical stress, such as occurs during opioid withdrawal. As previously noted, nutritional deficiencies are common in people addicted to opioids, including both vitamins and minerals.
Therefore, a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may be recommended for those withdrawing from opioids. However, there is no research demonstrating that use of these supplements eases the discomfort of withdrawal.
Next Steps and Other Considerations
Opioid addiction is a life-threatening disease that affects people of all ages and walks of life. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported in 2016 that approximately 2.6 million Americans suffer from an opioid addiction. If you're misusing or addicted to an opioid drug, talk with your healthcare provider or an addition counselor about your treatment options.
As opioid addiction is a medical and psychological condition, multifaceted treatment is needed to heal both your body and mind. Nutritional counseling is often an important part of recovery from opioid dependence. Your healthcare provider and dietitian might recommend specific vitamin and mineral supplements, depending on your body's changing needs.
- Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Characteristics of Initial Prescription Episodes and Likelihood of Long-Term Opioid Use — United States, 2006–2015
- Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine: Attenuation of Heroin Withdrawal Syndrome by the Administration of High-Dose Vitamin C
- In Vivo: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) Effects on Withdrawal Syndrome of Heroin Abusers
- American Society of Addition Medicine: National Practice Guideline for the Use of Medications in the Treatment of Addiction Involving Opioid Use
- Nutrients: B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy -- A Review
- Iranian Journal of Public Health: Burden and Nutritional Deficiencies in Opiate Addiction- Systematic Review Article
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing; Sheila L. Videbeck
- American Society of Addiction Medicine: Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts and Figures