Patients with complicated inflammatory bowel disease commonly undergo repeated surgical procedures, often against a background of chronic opiate use. We describe a case in which a postoperative attempt to withdraw opiate analgesia on two separate occasions led to a clinical syndrome strongly suggestive of intestinal obstruction, the signs and symptoms of which settled rapidly on re-introduction of opiates. Small bowel contrast studies indicated a level of obstruction which not only fluctuated, but occurred at an unusual site for mechanical obstruction. In patients with a history of long-standing opiate use, postoperative opiate withdrawal can cause a significant, functional bowel disorder and should be borne in mind in the differential diagnosis of postoperative intestinal obstruction. Patients can be treated effectively with clonidine.