Opioids, also known as opiates, are powerful drugs commonly prescribed to treat major pain or chronic pain. These drugs can be effective for short-term use, but are also highly-addictive and often abused for their effects.
Taking an opioid for more than a few weeks can lead to drug tolerance and dependence. This requires a person to take higher doses to feel the same effects and can lead to uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms when attempting to reduce or stop using opioids. This is known as withdrawal.
Opioid (opiate) withdrawal is an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous process that can last between one and three weeks, depending on the type of opioid used. People who abuse or are addicted to opioids can experience more intense withdrawal symptoms and are at high risk for relapsing to avoid or relieve severe symptoms.
Opioid abuse treatment at The Bluffs includes a full program of treatment services that begins with medical detoxification (detox). To learn more about opioid withdrawal and effective treatments for withdrawal, continue reading below.
What Is Opioid Detox?
Opioid detoxification (detox) is a necessary process for people who have become physically dependent on a drug. With opioids, this can occur in as little as a few weeks. Detox involves allowing a drug to fully process through a person’s system and leave the body. This can trigger physical and psychological symptoms referred to as drug withdrawal.
Detoxification services are commonly required in instances where someone has been abusing or become psychologically addicted to a drug. Abuse of a drug refers to taking a drug in any way other than prescribed or directed by a doctor.
- taking higher doses
- taking it more often than prescribed
- crushing and snorting pills
- wearing an excessive number of opioid patches
- mixing opioids with alcohol or non-prescribed drugs
Opioid withdrawal can cause a number of symptoms from mild to severe throughout the body. The types of symptoms experienced during withdrawal can vary from person to person and may require medical attention.
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How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?
Opioid withdrawal can last anywhere between a few days to a few weeks depending on the type of opioid(s) a person has been taking, as well as other personal and biological factors.
Factors that can affect the length of the withdrawal process include:
- type of opioid
- duration of drug use
- method of use (e.g. swallowing, snorting, injecting)
- frequency of use
- previous history of drug or alcohol withdrawal
The timeline for opioid withdrawal can vary depending on the type of opioid used. Short-acting opioids, such as heroin or morphine, have shorter withdrawal periods that typically last no longer than a week.
Longer-acting opioids like methadone can cause withdrawal symptoms that begin later and last up to three weeks. Unless prescribed in an extended-release form, most prescription opioids roughly follow a short-acting opioid timeline.
Opioid (Opiate) Abuse Withdrawal Timeline And Symptoms
Symptoms of withdrawal from short-acting opioids can begin within 6 to 12 hours after a person’s last dose. For longer-acting opioids such as methadone, this can take up to 30 hours, with anxiety and agitation being some of the most common initial symptoms.
The timeline for opioid withdrawal and detox can be split up into three general stages:
- early withdrawal
- peak withdrawal
- late (protracted) withdrawal
Early opioid withdrawal symptoms often begin anywhere between 6 to 12 hours after a person’s last dose. These can be uncomfortable but easily manageable with support from medical professionals or other sources of support.
Early withdrawal symptoms may include:
- muscle aches
- eyes tearing up
- runny nose
- insomnia (trouble sleeping)
Additional symptoms such as hot or cold flashes, difficulty concentrating, and mood swings can also occur during this time.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms typically reach their peak between 48 and 36 hours after a person’s last dose. This is often the most uncomfortable stage of the withdrawal process. To avoid or relieve these symptoms, people are at high risk for relapsing back into their drug use.
Late withdrawal symptoms during this peak period may include:
- stomach cramps
- dilated pupils (large pupils)
- nausea and vomiting
- drug cravings
Following the peak period of opioid withdrawal, symptoms will generally begin to reduce in severity. Certain dangers, however, may still remain for people overcoming severe or long-term opioid dependence and require medical monitoring.
Most withdrawal symptoms for short-acting opioids disappear within a week. Some symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and drug cravings may still linger for some time. Withdrawal symptoms of longer-acting opioids, such as methadone, can last up to three weeks.
Mental and psychological symptoms that persist beyond the initial withdrawal period may be treated with certain medicines and through behavioral counseling. This type of treatment, known as medication-assisted therapy (MAT), is the most effective treatment for overcoming opioid dependence and preventing relapse.
Is Opioid Withdrawal Dangerous?
While the dangers of opioid withdrawal can vary depending on the severity of a person’s dependence, it is important to understand the potential health risks of detoxing from opioids without medical support.
For some, the experience of opioid withdrawal can be relatively mild and easily treated with medicine, hydration, and rest. In severe cases, however, opioid withdrawal can become dangerous and even life-threatening. This is most likely among people without access to efficient medical support, such as people who are imprisoned or homeless.
The primary dangers of opioid withdrawal are the combined consequences of diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to severe dehydration. This can also cause elevated blood sodium levels, risking serious heart problems. In severe cases, people undergoing intense withdrawal can experience hypoxia (lack of oxygen reaching the brain), heart failure, or death.
These potential dangers of opioid withdrawal are preventable, and treatable within a medical setting. Due to the dangers detailed above, it is not recommended that people who have been abusing opioids attempt to detox on their own.
What Treatments Are There For Opioid Withdrawal?
There are two primary options for opioid detox: inpatient (medical) and outpatient detox. The most helpful and most effective option for people who have been struggling with opioid abuse is to enter an inpatient setting for medical detox.
Outpatient detox for opioid withdrawal is typically only recommended for people with mild opioid dependence who have not been abusing the drug. On an outpatient basis, patients can develop a tapering schedule with their doctor based on their current dosage. This offers a more manageable withdrawal process for working professionals, caregivers, or others with important obligations.
Although withdrawing from opioids on an outpatient basis may sound more preferable, this is not an option that is generally suitable for people who have been abusing opioids. Opioid abuse and addiction can lead to stronger dependence within the body, as well as a psychological addiction. This can make an opioid withdrawal a much more challenging process to manage without medical support.
Medically Supervised Detox
Medically supervised detox (medical detox) is provided in some hospital settings and most drug addiction treatment centers. This involves 24-hour monitoring under the supervision of medical professionals who can observe patients for health concerns and provide support.
Within medical detox, people can receive medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, nutrition, and fluids to prevent dehydration. Undergoing medically supervised detox also decreases the risk for relapse by separating a person from external triggers present in a home environment.
Through detox, patients are able to rid opioids from their bodies, but this alone is not enough to address the underlying causes of an opioid problem. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the most effective treatment for opioid abuse involves a combination of counseling and medicine.
Begin Your Recovery At The Bluffs
At The Bluffs rehab facility, we offer a full and integrative opioid abuse treatment program that begins with medically-supervised detox, followed by a seamless transition into our addiction treatment program.
Opioid abuse is an epidemic that devastates the lives of individuals and their loved ones across the nation every day. Our opioid treatment program incorporates both traditional and holistic treatments designed to address all physical, emotional, and psychological needs. This includes the use of medications for cravings, counseling, as well as art and wilderness therapies to help people explore their inner motivations for healing.
Don’t wait to seek help. Learn more about our opioid detox and addiction treatment programs at The Bluffs by contacting us today.