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.
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:
- Yawning excessively
- Trouble with sleep
- Muscle ache and pain
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Running nose
- 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.
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.
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.