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Clonidine, originally an anti-hypertensive drug, has been used off-label for decades to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms. It works by blocking chemicals in the brain that trigger sympathetic nervous system activity. The goal is to reduce the length of the detox process.

How it works: Clonidine belongs to a class of drugs called alpha-2 adrenergic agonists. It helps alleviate some of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal by binding to alpha-2 adrenergic receptors in the brain. This action inhibits the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in the body’s stress response. By doing so, clonidine can help decrease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, agitation, sweating, muscle aches, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Additionally, clonidine may help people maintain longer periods of abstinence from opioids.

A 2015 study examined whether clonidine could help block the stress-induced seeking of heroin or cocaine among 208 people with opioid dependence. After the participants had maintained abstinence for 5–6 weeks, they were randomly assigned to take clonidine or a placebo for 14 weeks.

The results suggest, compared to a placebo, that clonidine resulted in a longer duration of abstinence from opioids during the intervention phase. Researchers also found that clonidine helped separate day-to-day stress from the craving for opioids.

  • Administration: Clonidine can be administered in different ways for opioid withdrawal, depending on the specific situation and your healthcare professional’s recommendation. It’s commonly available in tablet form, which you can take by mouth. This allows for convenient use at home under the guidance of a healthcare professional. In more severe withdrawal situations or when close monitoring is necessary, clonidine may be administered in an inpatient or residential treatment setting. In these settings, it can be given orally or through other routes, such as intravenous infusion or transdermal patches.
  • Potential side effects: Some potential side effects of clonidine may include:
    • Dry mouth
    • Drowsiness
    • Dizziness
    • Constipation
    • Low blood pressure
    • Fatigue
    • Headache

Remember that while clonidine can effectively manage withdrawal, other medications such as methadone or lofexidine may have fewer side effects.Opioid withdrawal symptoms can make treating opioid use disorder difficult, but clonidine, as well as several other medications, can help ease them.

Talk with a healthcare professional about whether clonidine could be an effective option for you. Depending on your symptoms, health history, and treatment goals, they may recommend a different medication or combine clonidine with another approach.

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