Opioid Withdrawal Timeline: What to Expect During Opioid Withdrawal

What happens during opioid withdrawal? Read on to learn about the opioid withdrawal timeline.

In 2016 and 2017, more than 130 people died of opioid-related overdoses every day.

For the last 30 years, the US has been in the throws of the opioid crisis and today, over 2 million Americans are dependent on or abusing opioids. When it’s time to get clean, withdrawal can be one of the most physically and emotionally difficult parts of recovery.

If you or a loved one is considering treatment for opioid abuse, there are some things you should know about opiate withdrawal symptoms. Knowing the opioid withdrawal timeline best prepares you for the long and difficult road to staying sober.

Keep reading to learn more about what to expect and what kind of support is out there.

What Are Opiates?

Our brains, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system make up our central nervous system. Across the central nervous system are opioid receptors: neurotransmitters that receive our body’s naturally-produced opioids and regulate both pain and stress. But chemical opioids can have an effect on these receptors, as well.

Chemical opioids include prescription painkillers such as codeine, tramadol, and Dilaudid. They also encompass street drugs such as heroin. Because they contain opiates, these drugs are able to attach to our opioid receptors and produce physical and emotional reactions.

Both prescription and street opiates create a sense of euphoria. They lower heart rate, body temperature, respiration, and blood pressure. At the same time, they flood the central nervous system with a pleasant emotional sensation.

Of course, chemically-made opioids are much stronger than what our body produces naturally. Abusing an opioid can change your brain chemistry by hindering your ability to produce opioids naturally. When dependence occurs, the body can’t feel and operate normally without the chemical opioid.

How Does Drug Withdrawal Happen?

Withdrawal from opiates occurs in one of two ways. Either someone who has been abusing the substance significantly reduces how much they’re taking or they stop taking the drug “cold turkey.” This not only produces uncomfortable physical and mental side effects, but it can also be dangerous.

But why does drug withdrawal occur?

Your central nervous system becomes dependent on the opioids that it can no longer produce on its own. The severity of dependency is related to:

  • Length of time an individual has been taking an opioid
  • Dosage/tolerance of the individual
  • Drug(s) being abused
  • Potential mental health conditions
  • Biological and environmental factors
  • Underlying medical issues

When your body becomes dependent on the opioid drug, you’re not producing any of those natural chemicals on your own. When the fake opioids are then withdrawn, your body has to adjust. This causes physical and emotional symptoms that range from mild to severe.

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

There are 3 stages to the opioid withdrawal timeline. The severity of these symptoms ranges from individual to individual but, it’s important for everyone to remember that withdrawal is temporary.

Stage 1

Opioids have what is known as a “half-life.” This refers to the amount of time it takes for half of the drug to be flushed from the body. Half-life is closely related to the first stage of withdrawal symptoms.

For example, heroin takes effect faster than any other opioid. That means it has the shortest half-life. An individual withdrawing from heroin would experience withdrawal symptoms faster than an individual taking a drug with a longer half-life.

For individuals withdrawing from short-acting opiates, withdrawal symptoms are usually present within 6 to 12 hours after the last dose. For longer-acting opiates, withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 30 hours of the last dose.

The symptoms of the early stages of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Yawning excessively
  • Trouble with sleep
  • Muscle ache and pain
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Running nose
  • Fever
  • Tearing up

In this stage of withdrawal, the individual may experience agitation and restlessness. They may also have flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

These symptoms get worse over the 48 hours after the last dose. After approximately 72 hours they’ll be at their peak. While most physical symptoms will be significantly reduced by the third day, they can last as long as 5 days.

Stage 2

After the drug has been flushed from the system in stage 1, the second stage of withdrawal can last for up to 2 weeks. The major physical symptoms include chills and cramping. Emotional symptoms such as depression and craving to use the opioid drug are common.

Stage 3

The final stage of withdrawal can last for as long as two months. These symptoms usually center around the mental and emotional attachment to the drug. They involve mood swings, anxiety, cravings, and insomnia.

Drug Withdrawal Support

While not all withdrawal symptoms pose life-threatening risks, opioid drug withdrawal commonly requires supervision and, more often than not, medical assistance. The medications and therapy that are provided in a medical detox can also reduce the chance of relapsing.

A medical detox usually takes place in a residential setting and makes the process as comfortable as possible for the individual. Medical professionals monitor vital signs such as respiration, body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. They can also provide pharmacological treatment to mitigate withdrawal symptoms.

Replacement drugs like Suboxone or methadone are weaker opioids that can be administered in a professional setting. Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and other symptom-specific drugs can help an individual through their withdrawal and give them a good chance at recovery.

Finding the Support You Need

Abusing opioid drugs can change your brain chemistry. When your body becomes dependent on opioid drugs and can’t function without their interaction, withdrawing from those drugs can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Knowing the opioid withdrawal timeline can help you through the process, whether you’re helping yourself or a loved one.

The first 5 days of withdrawal symptoms are the most physically difficult while the months following involve more emotional symptoms such as cravings and depression.

To give yourself or your loved one the best chance at recovery, consider professional help. Contact us for more information.

Real Client Testimonials

  • Before coming to coastal I was hopeless, helpless, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. It wasn’t the first detox I’d ever been to, but it was the only one who showed me so much love and compassion. They gave me hope. It’s hard to put into words the amount of gratitude I have for this facility. The employees were my family when I had none. The staff went out of their way to make sure not only were my physical needs taken care of, but my emotional needs as well. From the first phone call prior to admission, to helping me set up continuing care, they never missed a beat. Even going as far as to help me with my legal issues via Zoom court. This isn’t just a detox, they are the family I never had. All of the techs, especially Karen, are phenomenal. They will take the time to listen to you, laugh, and cry(if needed) with you. If you are reading this and you or your loved one is suffering like I was, go to Coastal Detox. The level of care is more than I could ever put into a review. It wasn’t the first detox I’d been to, but it has been my last; I owe them everything I have today, including my life.

    Travis B Avatar
    Travis B.
    12/07/2020
  • Had a really good experience at Coastal. The staff really went above and beyond in helping me get in and gave me the respect l, space and care I needed after I first got there. As I started to fell better they encouraged me to take part in groups which helped get me out of my head and bring positivity and health to my thinking. They had a great massage therapist, who came daily and it was evident the nursing staff genuinely cared. Got to know some of the staff as well and I’m grateful for the cooks Joe and Chris. Those guys literally made us sirloins and pork chops for dinner. Also I gotta thank Chris and Chris for helping me get in and setting me up with a transition plan. Real grateful for that help, I’m not sure if it’s management intention to hire guys named Chris but they got a good thing going there. Overall, I’m clean and sober today and walking it out. Coastal gave me a base that set me up for the success that I’m walking in today

    Brandon B. Avatar
    Brandon B.
    1/16/2020
  • My family is very thankful for Coastal Detox. They have went above and beyond for my son a few times. Unfortunately he has needed their help more than once and they have ever turned their back on him, even when he was at his worst. Jeannie and Chris have been amazing and kept me informed through the entire process. They truly care about the addict and want to help them especially when it would be easy to give up on them. I had many detox facilities be rude and uncaring to me when I was searching for help for my son, but Coastal never did that to us. I don't know the names of all the team members that have helped my son but I know their are many and y'all are angels!! One day we will be able to pay it forward and help someone as you have helped us. Thank you for all you do!!

    Brenda A. Avatar
    Brenda A.
    1/01/2020
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/13/2019
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/06/2019

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