Opiate Withdrawal Timelines, Symptoms and Treatment
What Are Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms?
Opiate drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin, can produce withdrawal symptoms just hours after the last dose, and the symptoms can last for a week or more.
Unassisted withdrawal may not be life-threatening, but it can lead to relapse. Medications and therapy, accessed in medical detox, may make relapse less likely.
- Muscle cramping
- Opiate cravings
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes that between 26.4 million and 36 million people around the globe abuse opiate drugs, which includes prescription pain relievers and the illegal drug heroin.
Opiates change the way the brain responds to pain stimuli and can also produce a “high” feeling by disrupting the reward and pleasure centers in the brain.The central nervous system, which includes the brain, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, has opioid receptors that receive opiate drugs, and these drugs bring a variety of physical and emotional effects. Heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and body temperature are lowered while pleasant feelings are increased.
Repeated use or abuse of an opioid drug can actually change the way an individual’s brain chemistry works and lead to physical and psychological dependence. The body may not feel “normal” anymore without the drug’s interaction, and withdrawal symptoms may start in between doses or when an individual stops taking the opiate.
Signs of Opiate Withdrawal
Opiate withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on how dependent the individual is on an opioid drug. Dependency can be directly tied to the length of time taking a particular drug, dosage amount, which drug was taken, how the drug was taken, underlying medical conditions, the co-occurring presence of a mental health issue, and certain biological and environmental factors, such as family history of addiction, previous trauma, or highly stressful and unsupportive surroundings. Withdrawal from an opioid drug may roughly adhere to the following timeline, although it can vary from person to person.
Early Withdrawal Symptoms
These usually start within 6-12 hours for short-acting opiates, and they start within 30 hours for longer-acting ones:
- Tearing up
- Muscle aches
- Trouble falling and staying asleep
- Excessive yawning
- Nose running
- Racing heart
Late Withdrawal Symptoms
These peak within 72 hours and usually last a week or so:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Drug cravings
Some of the psychological withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioid drugs may continue longer than a week in some cases. Therapy and psychological support provided by a mental health professional as a part of a complete substance abuse treatment program can decrease the symptoms and side effects of withdrawal.
Medical Detox as Part of a Whole Treatment Plan
Detox followed with counseling, education, family and individual therapy, and support groups can help an individual stop using drugs and maintain sobriety.