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Restless Leg Syndrome During Opioid Withdrawal

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

February 15, 2019

The abuse of opioid medications may lead to several adverse side-effects including restless leg syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by the unbearable urge for an individual to move their legs. Not everyone who has restless leg syndrome has abused opioid medications, but those who have abuse opioids may experience intensified effects during withdrawal.

Opioid withdrawal can have a range of effects. If you have experienced it, you know these effects can vary in length and intensity. The type of side effects a person will experience also depends on the duration of abuse, and amount of the substance abused.

During opioid withdrawal, some people deal with what’s known as restless leg syndrome (RLS), a condition that is characterized by a nearly unbearable urge to move your legs. RLS can occur in people who aren’t abusing opioids, but some studies have shown that opioid abuse will intensify RLS for those undergoing withdrawal from opioids.

The following are some feelings associated with RLS, which are felt in the limbs:

  • Aching
  • Crawling
  • Creeping
  • Itching
  • Pulling
  • Throbbing

RLS tends to occur after you are at rest (lying or sitting down), and gets better with movement. While this may not sound too bad if you haven’t experienced it, Mayo Clinic explains that people with the syndrome tend to describe it as “abnormal, unpleasant sensations in their legs or feet, usually on both sides of their body.”

Dealing With RLS During Opioid Withdrawal And Treatment

To understand how to deal with RLS, it’s important to know what may be causing it. For those undergoing opioid withdrawal, RLS may be an unfortunate side effect. Treating it, then, requires treating the opioid addiction—effective treatment of opioid abuse should help you overcome RLS, but this takes time.

So, how do you manage RLS while experiencing withdrawal during treatment? Some medications may help. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that medication is only recommended for those who fit a specific need criterion. Benzodiazepines like Klonopin (clonazepam) are used as sleep aids, and may be useful in treating RLS that keeps you from sleeping.

The first choice for treatment of RLS, though, are dopaminergic medications. These work by increasing the chemical dopamine in the brain, and easing the symptoms of RLS to help you rest. Some of the most common of these medications include Ropinirole (Requip), Pramipexole (Mirapex), Rotigotine, and Cabergoline.

Medication assisted therapy used in treating opioid abuse can help you cope with opioid withdrawal-induced RLS. Medications like buprenorphine, naltrexone and methadone have qualities that alleviate pain and discomfort associated with withdrawal and are likely to help ease RLS symptoms during opioid withdrawal.

Aside from medications, there are other ways you can manage RLS, and all are helpful in opioid addiction treatment as well:

  • Proper exercise
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting adequate sleep, including not sleeping late into the day
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other substances

Improving your iron levels may also help relieve RLS, as the condition is associated with a lack of iron in the body.

Overall, dealing with RLS during opioid withdrawal, and especially during treatment, requires finding what works for you. Detoxification, the process of ridding your body of toxins gained from abuse, is the first step in opioid treatment.

Withdrawal occurs during detox, and this could increase your RLS. Knowing your options for how to ease the symptoms before entering rehab may help you not just in dealing with the symptoms, but in achieving your recovery goals. The quicker you can get through detox, the quicker you can begin treatment and get your life back on track.

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Other Symptoms Of Opioid Withdrawal

What exactly is withdrawal? When you’re addicted to certain substances, like opioids, you may find yourself physically dependent on the drugs. This means that your body actually feels that it needs the substances: to function and to feel all right.

Over time, you may develop a tolerance to the effects of the drugs. The amount of time it takes to become dependent or tolerant depends on the person, amount of abuse, and duration of abuse.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “when the person stops taking the drugs, the body needs time to recover. This causes withdrawal symptoms.” Essentially, your dependence on the drugs, gained from long-term use, shows up as physical symptoms we call withdrawal.

Along with restless leg syndrome, here are some of the other symptoms of opioid withdrawal:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Goose bumps
  • Increased tearing
  • Increased yawning
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Pupil dilation
  • Runny nose
  • Sleep troubles
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

The Scope Of Opioid Abuse

Opioid drugs include prescription drugs, like pain relievers such as morphine and fentanyl, and illicit drugs like heroin. These drugs have a highly addictive nature. As you might guess, this makes them an easy target for abuse.

But not everyone who abuses prescription drugs knows they will develop addiction after using these drugs. We tend to believe that when we get medications from our physicians these drugs come with low risk of adverse side effects. Prescription opioids are highly addictive and anyone who takes them would benefit from being aware of this fact.

When you take these drugs as directed, you can avoid abusing them. Yet if you increase dosage because your pain increased and you thought it would be ok just once, or you crush a tablet and snort it to get the effects faster, you put yourself at higher risk of developing addiction.

If you have abused prescription opioids, you also stand a higher likelihood of seeking other narcotics like heroin. For instance, if you were prescribed a pain reliever, and fell into abuse to help with the pain, but your prescription ends and you are becoming addicted to the effects, it may be all too easy to continue to seek those effects. Heroin is relatively inexpensive and easily obtained.

In fact, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that “94 percent of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were ‘far more expensive and harder to obtain.’” Also, four out of five people new to abusing heroin reported first abusing prescription opioids.

So who is at risk? It’s important to understand that anyone who is prescribed a narcotic prescription runs the risk of developing addiction to it if the drug is not taken as directed. However, there are some groups who show higher percentages of abuse than others, including youth and women.

Teens are often given prescription opioids by friends or relatives who aren’t aware of the dangers they can cause. Women are more likely to have chronic pain, seek medical help for it, get a prescription narcotic, and develop subsequent abuse or addiction.

What Can Be Done About Opioid Addiction?

The best way to fight the opioid addiction issue is treatment. The withdrawal effects you can experience when trying to stop use can be daunting. Seeking help during recovery is the best thing you can do to ensure you overcome opioid abuse.

Rehab centers, like the ones we can connect you with at, offer the support you need to make it through detoxification and for the healing process of treatment. Our medical staff have experience in evidence-based treatment methods to help your reach your treatment goals.

During recovery, you’ll overcome the physical symptoms of withdrawal and detox, and also learn new behaviors that will help you stay away from addiction long-term.

What Other Treatments Are Available?

Addiction isn’t a negative habit, but a medically-recognized disease that requires adequate treatment. Our rehab centers understand that just as with other diseases, there is no “one treatment fits all” method—effective healing methods have to be specific to each individual.

That’s why research in the past decades has been dedicated to finding methods that work for anyone who enters addiction treatment services. Men and women have different needs, people seeking treatment for multiple abuse disorders have differing needs, people with mental health issues and abuse disorders have different needs than people without mental health issues. No matter what needs you bring to treatment, you can have them addressed, and comprehensive healing is necessary for a successful recovery.

Whatever rehab center you choose, make sure it offers treatment methods that work to give you the best overall chance of meeting your goals. Some of our evidence-based methods include:

  • Gender-specific treatment
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Adventure Therapy
  • Wilderness Therapy
  • Counseling
  • Nutrition focus
  • Intervention services
  • Aftercare support

Find Relief And Support In Treatment

Opioid withdrawal can be tough to handle, especially if you’re dealing with it alone. Helping people overcome substance abuse and addiction is why we’re here. If you’re struggling with opioid abuse and the withdrawal that follows addiction, you don’t have to go it alone. Contact us at today to learn how you can find relief and support at one of our treatment centers.


American Society Of Addiction Medicine - Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts And Figures

University Of Maryland Medical Center - Restless Legs Syndrome And Related Disorders

U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services - The Opioid Epidemic: By The Numbers

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