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Opiate Withdrawal Timeline


Opiate drugs are a type of narcotic that comes from the opium poppy which is grown in the country of Afghanistan. There are three types of opiates:

  • The first group is natural opiates, which come directly from the opium poppy and do not need compounding or mixing to produce the drug. Some examples include codeine and morphine.
  • The second group is synthetic opiates, which are completely man made. While these substances have opium-like effects, they do not contain any opium. Methadone, Demerol, and fentanyl are some common examples. These types of drugs are used in medical settings as painkillers.
  • The third group is semi-synthetic opiates, which are drugs that have a similar chemical make-up to opiates but are synthesized in a laboratory to create the substance. Heroin is an example of an illicit semi-synthetic opiate, while oxycodone and hydrocodone are examples of the drug that are often prescribed to treat pain.

Although all classes of opiates are slightly different, they all have the potential for abuse. This is true even for prescription medications. Additionally, all opiates can result in physical dependence. This is because of the interaction between the human body and the opiates.

Opiates, both prescription and illicit, are different from natural opioids. Opiates bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, causing pain reduction and feelings of relaxation and euphoria. These effects make these substances useful for treating pain in a medical setting, but they also make opiates tempting substances to abuse.

If a person uses opiates for a long time, they develop dependence and tolerance. Because the use of opiates can change the function of the opioid receptors in the brain, dependence means that a person’s brain and body need opiates to function normally. Tolerance means that a person can become desensitized to opiates. Over time, the person will need more and more of the substance to feel the same effect. This slippery slope can lead to opiate addiction and overdose.  

There is another aspect of dependence. An individual may experience opiate withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop or reduce their opiate use. A person is more likely to experience opiate withdrawal symptoms if they have been using opiates at a high dose for a few weeks or longer. At this point, the person’s body has come to depend on the substance to function. When the person quits taking opiates, they begin to experience opiate withdrawal symptoms, as their body struggles to adapt to the change.

The withdrawal symptoms of opiates can be unpleasant, but they are rarely life-threatening. However, many people find themselves tempted to give up on recovery, as a way to avoid the discomfort of opiate withdrawal. By understanding opiate withdrawal symptoms and the opiate withdrawal timeline, you will know what to experience from the withdrawal process and make it more likely that you will get clean and sober.


Understanding the Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

Many people want to know the answer to the question: How long is opiate withdrawal? Opiate withdrawal duration varies based on the symptoms. Opiate withdrawal symptoms can be mild, moderate, moderately severe, or severe. To determine the severity of symptoms, a physician will ask a patient questions about their opiate use and symptoms. Using this information, the physician can classify the severity of the symptoms and then begin to address the symptoms to help the patient feel more comfortable.

Many different factors, such as overall physical and mental health and the frequency and amount of opiate abuse, influence the severity and duration of opiate withdrawal symptoms. Given this fact, each person will find that the withdrawal process is slightly different for them.

Also contributing to variation in the duration of opiate withdrawal is the fact that different drugs stay in the body for different amounts of time. Heroin leaves the body quickly, so withdrawal symptoms start within 12 hours of the last dose. However, methadone is processed much more slowly, so people who use the drug may not have withdrawal symptoms for up to 30 hours.

Although there are differences in the presentation of opiate withdrawal symptoms, there tends to be an opiate withdrawal timeline that most people experience when they stop taking opiates.

Many people find that the first symptoms of opiate withdrawal appear 24 hours after the last dose of opiates. These symptoms vary and may include agitation, anxiety, cravings, insomnia, muscle aches, restlessness, runny nose, tearing eyes, sweating, and yawning.

After the first day, the next set of opiate withdrawal symptoms appear. This diverse range of symptoms is more intense and includes abdominal cramping, blurry vision, diarrhea, dilated pupils, goose bumps, high blood pressure, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and vomiting. While these symptoms can be very unpleasant and even painful, they begin to improve within 72 hours of the last dose of opiates and generally disappear within one week.

It is important to note that some people will experience withdrawal symptoms of opiates for up to six months. While this is not common, protracted withdrawal symptoms can occur. If someone experiences protracted withdrawal symptoms, they should speak with their physician for help managing the symptoms.

Some people may experience opiate withdrawal symptoms other than those mentioned above. As a result, people who are stopping opiates should remain under the care and supervision of experienced medical professionals during withdrawal.


Opiate Withdrawal Complications

Opiate withdrawal symptoms are generally not life-threatening, but they can sometimes lead to medical complications. For example, if a person begins vomiting due to withdrawal symptoms, they can accidentally aspirate, or inhale, vomit into their lungs. Aspiration can result in aspiration pneumonia, a condition that requires medical treatment.

Vomiting, as well as diarrhea, can cause individuals to lose fluids and electrolytes. In severe cases, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can lead to a heart attack. However, this medical emergency can be prevented if the person replaces the fluids and electrolytes that they lose. Additionally, physicians can prescribe medications to reduce or prevent diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

The final complication of opiate withdrawal is the most deadly – returning to drug use. Most of the opiate overdose deaths occur when someone returns to drug use after going through the withdrawal process. The person might not realize that their tolerance is lower, so it is much easier to accidentally overdose on the same amount of drugs that they used to take. Medical intervention and support during the recovery process is the best way to prevent this tragic situation.


Treating Opiate Withdrawal

Because the symptoms of opiate withdrawal can be uncomfortable, some people want to keep taking opiates to avoid them. However, proper treatment can make withdrawal symptoms much more manageable. A physician can diagnose opiate withdrawal after performing a physical examination and asking questions about a person’s symptoms, medical history, and drug use. The physician may also order blood and urine tests to determine the amount of opiates in the person’s body.

People may believe that they can go through withdrawal at home, but this is difficult. To increase the likelihood of successfully getting clean and sober, individuals should undergo the withdrawal process in a controlled, medical environment, such as a drug and alcohol treatment center. The doctors and treatment specialists in an inpatient rehab program can provide 24/7 medical monitoring to treat withdrawal symptoms during the opiate detox process.

Treatment of opiate withdrawal symptoms depends on the symptoms’ severity. For mild aches and pains, physicians can give individuals acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. A physician may also recommend Atarax or Vistaril for nausea and Imodium for diarrhea. While someone is undergoing detox, it is recommended that they get plenty of rest and drink extra fluids.

If a person is experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms, their physician may prescribe clonidine, a drug which can reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms by 50% to 75%. The specific symptoms that clonidine can reduce include anxiety, cramping, muscle aches, restlessness, runny nose, sweating, and tearing eyes.

Some drug treatment programs may use other drugs to manage opiate withdrawal symptoms. One such drug is suboxone, which is a combination of a mild opioid (buprenorphine) and an opioid blocker (naloxone). Suboxone is much less addictive than other opioids, and it can reduce the intensity and length of withdrawal symptoms. Physicians may also prescribe methadone for long-term maintenance therapy. Although methadone is a powerful drug, in reduced and controlled doses, it can reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.


Treating Opiate Addiction

When someone is ready to begin treatment for a painkiller addiction, the first step is the detox process. Although detox can occur at home, individuals should consider attending a residential treatment program to help manage the difficult symptoms of withdrawal. In such a program, an individual gradually takes a smaller dose of opiates until they are no longer taking the drug. This type of detox is the most effective, and it can reduce the severity of withdrawal.

After the detox process, the person will need to receive psychological counseling and support. These services can be provided on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Regardless of the setting, counseling and support should continue as a part of long-term treatment.

With psychological counseling, a mental health professional works with the individual one-on-one to help them discover what caused their painkiller or heroin addiction, and together they develop new coping strategies and life skills to prevent a return to drug use after leaving treatment. In addition to one-on-one counseling, individuals can also attend group therapy with other patients in recovery or with family members. All forms of counseling can be beneficial during the recovery process, and many people use all three forms.

Counseling also presents an opportunity for mental health professionals to diagnose and treat coexisting mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression. People who receive treatment for such mental health conditions are more likely to maintain long-term sobriety.

Support is very important for individuals who are recovering from an opiate addiction. For the best results, support should come from many different sources, including medical professionals, loved ones, and support groups. If someone does not have support from friends and family, they should seek support from medical professionals and support group members.

Support groups can do wonders for individuals who are recovering from an addiction to opiates. One support group that is designed to help people who are recovering from opiate addiction is Narcotics Anonymous.

If someone is looking for a more general group, they can attend SMART Recovery, a support group that helps people who are recovering from any number of substances including opiates. Attending a support group can help people in recovery learn from each other and realize that they are not alone in their recovery.

Seeking help for an opiate addiction can improve a person’s mental and physical health, as well as the quality of their life. The symptoms of opiate withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but they follow a predictable timeline and can be managed. Ultimately, long-term sobriety is worth the short-term discomfort of opiate withdrawal.

Luminance Recovery is committed to making opiate detox and treatment as comfortable and safe as possible. Our experienced team offers holistic care that is individually tailored to each client’s unique needs. Our treatment center helps clients detox from opiates by providing comprehensive care with medical monitoring. After detox, we help clients explore and overcome the causes of their addiction with a wide variety of effective therapies.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction to opiates, the team at Luminance Recovery is here to help. Please contact us today to learn more about our holistic approach to helping clients overcome the symptoms of opiate withdrawal and addiction. With the right treatment and support, you can live a life free from addiction.

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