Vitamins and Supplements for Opioid Use Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on June 07, 2024
6 min read

If you have an opioid use disorder (OUD) and want to stop taking opioids or just feel better, you may wonder whether vitamins or supplements can help you reach your goals. Products sold as dietary supplements may contain various ingredients, including:

You can find supplements sold as single ingredients or more complex combinations with many ingredients. Some treatment centers you can find online make claims that certain vitamins and supplements may help with symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Search online, and you will likely find “opioid withdrawal relief supplements” and products you can buy that claim to offer support for people who use opioids. The question is: Do they work?

The first thing to keep in mind when thinking about supplements for your OUD is that while some vitamins and supplements might be good for you, they do have risks. The FDA doesn’t review supplements for safety or show that they work in the way they say they do. Before you take anything, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor first. This is especially true when you’re taking other drugs or medicines.

The FDA regulates dietary supplements differently than “conventional” foods or drugs. While they sometimes do it anyway, companies aren’t allowed to sell them based on claims that they help with opioid use disorder, opioid withdrawal, or any other condition.

So if you find a supplement or treatment center that’s pushing vitamins or supplements to treat your opioid use disorder or symptoms of opioid withdrawal, you should know that these are unproven claims. Watch out for any company that’s making false claims about vitamins or supplements or that’s selling products with hidden drugs in them as dietary supplements. In the past, the FDA has warned companies about illegal claims that certain compounds sold as supplements treat opioid use disorder.

You should always be cautious about taking dietary supplements. But there is some limited evidence that certain vitamins and herbs might help in different ways when you have an opioid use disorder or are going through opioid withdrawal.

There are some studies in animals and people testing whether certain vitamins and herbs might help or play some role in opioid use disorder. None of them are proven or approved to treat opioid use disorder or withdrawal. Vitamins and herbs that may help with OUD include:

Another name for vitamin C is ascorbic acid. Many people take vitamin C, often to help with a cold. There’s some evidence that vitamin C can help with pain as well as OUD and opioid withdrawal. Some of the studies have been done in animals. There’s also limited evidence in people.

One small study in people with an addiction to heroin showed that vitamin C and vitamin E helped with withdrawal symptoms. People took vitamins C and E for at least 4 weeks, and about half of them reported fewer withdrawal symptoms. Another study of vitamin C in people going through withdrawal for opiates or other drugs found that it eased withdrawal symptoms in some cases. Most people in the study also thought vitamin C was helping them after they were done detoxing. Vitamin C is generally safe, but you shouldn’t take too much.

One study found that people with OUD are more likely to get too little vitamin D. You get vitamin D from food, supplements, and spending time in the sun. The study also suggested that having too little vitamin D might make people more likely to use opioids in the first place. Studies in animals suggested that correcting vitamin D levels changed the response to opioids. More study is needed, but it’s possible that increasing your vitamin D levels might help with OUD.

  • Zinc

People with OUD often get too little zinc. There’s also limited evidence that zinc supplements could help with opioid dependence. It might be a good idea to take extra zinc when you’re taking opioids even if you don’t have an OUD, but this isn’t proven.

  • Acetyl-L-carnitine

This is a type of amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. One small study tested whether acetyl-L-carnitine helps people who are dependent on methadone. The study found some evidence it could help with sensitivity to pain. Acetyl-L-carnitine also showed some benefits for muscle tension, cramps, and trouble sleeping (insomnia).

  • Passionflower

Passionflower extract is sometimes used for anxiety. One small study that tested its use for people with opioid use disorder suggested that it might help with mental symptoms. But the researchers said more study was needed to confirm the results.

  • Ginseng

A study testing whether wild ginseng helps with anxiety and depression-like behaviors in animals going through morphine withdrawal suggested that it might help. But this wasn’t tested in people.

Kratom is made from the leaves of a tree from Southeast Asia. It’s not approved for any use, but people around the world have used it to help with opioid withdrawal and cravings. There are concerns that kratom is addictive. Some people who use it have withdrawal symptoms when they stop. Kratom also has side effects, and a small number of deaths are linked to its use. But research is underway to see if kratom or some of the compounds within it might be used in the future to treat opioid use disorders. While it’s legal to buy kratom, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lists it as a “drug of concern.”

If you have an opioid use disorder, this could affect your nutrition. OUD has been linked to deficiencies for certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. One study showed that most people starting treatment for a drug use disorder had signs of a nutrient deficiency. The most common ones were vitamins A, E, C, and amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.

Why does this happen? Opioids may change the way your body absorbs certain nutrients. When you have an opioid use disorder, you also may not eat well.

It’s always a good idea to eat a healthy diet. Eating foods that are rich in vitamins and other nutrients you may be lacking will help you feel better in general. Make sure you’re getting enough protein, grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. It’s generally best to get the nutrients you need from whole foods. But if your diet is lacking or you have a vitamin deficiency, vitamin supplements may help. Ask your doctor what and how much you should take.

The benefits of dietary supplements for OUD aren’t certain. Dietary supplements also come with risks. This is true even if the ingredients are “natural.” They could make you sick or interact with medicines you’re taking.

It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or other health provider about any vitamins or supplements you’re taking or thinking about taking. Other tips when you’re taking a supplement are:

  • Get your vitamins or supplements from a reputable company.
  • Check the label to make sure you know what you’re taking and how much.
  • Don’t take more than the recommended amount.
  • Check for any alerts, warnings, or recalls on the supplement you’re taking.
  • If you think a supplement you’re taking is causing side effects or illness, stop taking it and let your doctor know.

Remember, companies can’t sell vitamins or supplements for the purpose of treating OUD or withdrawal symptoms. If you see or hear claims that seem too good to be true, the FDA advises that they probably are.