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What to Expect: Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD By May 14, 2019
opiate withdrawal timeline

Unfortunately, opiate abuse and addiction are commonly seen problems in the United States. These issues affect many individuals and families throughout the country, leaving very few, if any, communities untouched.

You may have experienced the effects that opiate addiction can have on a person, either in your own life or in the life of a loved one. You may have also witnessed the challenges of opiate withdrawal. 

Withdrawal from opiate addiction is a difficult but very worthwhile process. If you or a loved one are planning to detox from opiate use, you may be wondering what’s in store. After all, it’s not easy to know what to expect during this step of recovery.

The good news is that the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal are fairly short. The mental symptoms may be more persistent, but will also pass.

Everyone’s experience will be different, but you’re not alone. Knowing what to expect can help you to mentally prepare. Here’s what you can typically expect from an opiate withdrawal timeline. 

A Brief Overview: What Are Opiates?

Opiates are drugs that are derived directly from the poppy plant. This category of substances includes both natural and synthetic drugs. Some of the opiate drugs which are considered natural include:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Opium

Synthetic opiate drugs that are man-made are often referred to as “opioids”. They are made in a way that imitates opiate drugs; opioids produce effects that are similar to those of natural opiates. Sometimes, opioids are entirely synthetic, containing unnatural elements. But, in other cases, opioids may be partly synthetic and will contain chemicals derived from the poppy plant. Some examples of opioids include the following:

  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Vicodin
  • Methadone

People usually use prescription opiates in order to treat pain. Unfortunately, these substances can sometimes be habit-forming and cause users to become dependent on them. After continued and frequent use of opiate drugs, some individuals may become addicted. 

How Do Opiate Drugs Affect People Who Use Them?

Why exactly do individuals become addicted to opiate drugs? Many people wonder how or even if it’s possible to become dependent on or addicted to legal, pharmaceutical drugs. But, the truth is, these substances can be very strong and, after using them for a while, individuals’ bodies tend to grow used to functioning under the influence of these drugs.

Opiates can help to block pain in the body, bringing relief to the users. These drugs can also cause somewhat calming effects. Individuals who use opiates may eventually begin to stop feeling the effects of the opiates they’re using.

In order to experience the desired pain-relieving and calming results of opiate use, many people take more of the drug than is recommended. Or, they may use the drug more often than directed. This misuse of opiates can lead to emotional and physical dependence and addiction. 

Why is Opiate Withdrawal Difficult?

Firstly, it’s helpful to understand what is happening during the process of opiate withdrawal. Again, opiates activate the part of the brain which produces feelings of pleasure. This means an opiate user or addict associates substance use with positive, “feel-good” emotions.

In addition, the user becomes chemically addicted – meaning they experience a physical need for the substance. It becomes difficult for the individual to function without using opiate drugs. He or she may begin to feel “off” or abnormal without the influence of these substances.

This combination of emotional and physical symptoms makes for a challenging detox. Those who have become addicted to opiates may struggle to stop using these drugs because of their emotional and physical dependence on them.

Our brains actually produce their own natural opioids. Receptors in our brains use them to regulate stress and pain. Chemical opioids are much stronger and attach to the receptors in the same way.

The strength of these opioids induces feelings of euphoria beyond what we would usually experience. Over time, our systems become flooded and weakened by the chemicals and stop producing their own opioids.

This means our brains and bodies are then depleted of dopamine and similar chemicals. This causes many of the withdrawal symptoms – as the body adjusts to the lack of natural or chemical opioids.

Ending Substance Abuse: Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

With the above in mind, you may be feeling concerned about what withdrawal will actually feel like. It’s natural to wonder what you should expect. The good news is that the worst of it will be over within 3 days. Read on for a breakdown of what to expect and when. 

Days 1-3

Withdrawal symptoms will usually start about 12 hours after last use. This will depend on a few different factors, including your body and the substances being used. In many cases, the severity of withdrawal symptoms causes relapse to become likely within the first 48 hours of withdrawal.

During this time, individuals in withdrawal will likely experience the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Intense cravings
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Increased heart rate

Some may even show signs of behavioral and emotional changes, manifested in aggression. Muscles may ache and a headache is common at this stage. Digestive problems and discomfort, such as diarrhea or stomach ache, are also common symptoms of opiate withdrawal. 

During the first couple of days of withdrawing from opiates, some people: 

  • Experience a decrease in appetite
  • Have difficulty sleeping

If you are preparing to end opiate use in your life, you may experience some of the symptoms we’ve identified here. Keep in mind that, even if you’re not able to get proper sleep, it’s important to rest as much as possible during the withdrawal process. If you’re able to take time off from work, this will help.

During opiate withdrawal, the second and third days are often the most intense. This may be why addiction relapse frequently occurs within about 2 days post-use. But, relapse does not have to be part of your story. It’s important to remember that the symptoms will eventually pass. Remember, this is a temporary struggle, for long-term life improvement.

Throughout the most severe period of withdrawal, it’s common to experience mood swings. You may have feelings of depression and hopelessness. Opiate use has been an emotional crutch throughout your addiction. It can be hard to imagine life without drugs.

One of the most helpful things you can do during this period is to get support whenever and wherever it’s possible to do so. Surround yourself with people who will both hold you accountable and encourage you to keep going. Get help and guidance from clinical professionals to make sure that you are safely detoxing. Finally, ensure that there are no opportunities for relapse or self-harm.

Days 3-5

After the first 48 hours of withdrawal, the intensity of the symptoms should subside. The pain will reduce significantly. Sweating, shivers and stomach issues will likely continue into days 3-5, but not as severely.

It’s important to drink lots of liquids to stay hydrated. You may have lost fluids through sweating and diarrhea. If your appetite has returned, be sure to eat some healthy food to nourish your body. Avoid processed food items and focus on consuming vegetables, legumes, and protein. 

Gentle exercise such as walking can also be very helpful at this stage. You may not feel like moving, but exercise helps the body to release a natural chemical called serotonin, which has a positive effect on the mood. Walking also helps to pass the time and keep your mind busy, so you’re less focused on the discomfort you may be experiencing as you withdraw from opiate use.

Be aware that strenuous exercise may not be advisable at this stage. Consult your doctor or detox professional to advise you on this.

1 Week

Most of the physical symptoms should now be pretty mild. Congratulations! You’ve made it through the physical withdrawal!

The mental symptoms of addiction will still require some work. For many individuals in recovery, this is a lifelong process.

As with most addictions, it’s likely that there are emotional difficulties or mental health issues which led to the addiction. Learning about how to manage these will make your recovery much stronger. Understanding your triggers will also help to prevent relapse.

Your treatment program should focus on your physical, emotional, and mental needs as you work to recover from substance abuse. It should take into account any mental health challenges you may be facing.

Also, although physical dependence on opiates may disappear as a result of detox, your emotional dependence on these drugs may still be present. This is why treatment and therapy are so important. Through therapy, you can develop healthy thought patterns and gain emotional stability in order to avoid relapse.

Understanding and Avoiding Addiction Relapse 

Relapse can be a reality during recovery but, thankfully, a support program can prevent it.

It’s very important to be aware that deadly overdoses usually occur during relapse. This is because the body isn’t used to the presence of such high levels of opiates anymore.

During a relapse, an opiate user may go straight in at what had previously been their normal dose. Having been through withdrawal, the body cannot cope with this, and it can be fatal.

In order to avoid relapsing and possibly experiencing an overdose, individuals who are going through an opiate detox should seek counsel, support, and guidance from professionals who understand the difficulties of withdrawal and detox. 

With assistance from people who truly understand your journey and the obstacles you might be facing, you can successfully identify any triggers that might cause a relapse to occur in your life You can also develop strategies that will allow you to successfully deal with those triggers without returning to substance abuse.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opiate Addiction

Many times, people who desire to end substance use in their lives opt to do so by quitting cold turkey. This means that they simply stop taking drugs abruptly. Although this option may seem like the best approach, it can prove to be unsafe and even fatal if withdrawal symptoms become extreme.

Fortunately, there are other options. The detoxification process should be discussed and managed with a doctor or professional addiction therapist. It may be that you are eligible to receive medication-assisted treatment, also known as MAT. 

This approach to addiction treatment uses substances such as Suboxone or Methadone to make the withdrawal process more comfortable and safe for those in recovery.

An MAT program can be a stepping stone toward making the withdrawal less severe. It will make the recovery process longer but may help to make the journey more manageable overall. Of course, however, you should first discuss this option with your treatment center in order to determine whether this type of treatment is best for you.

Let Discovery Institute Help You Today!

Addiction can make people feel completely alone. Often, those who suffer from drug or alcohol abuse feel isolated and separated from all that matters in life. It can be overwhelming and difficult to work through.

But, if you’ve been feeling alone in your struggle, please know that there is hope for you! Here at Discovery Institute, there are professional staff members who are willing and ready to help you to get through the challenges of recovery in order to enjoy the freedom of overcoming addiction!

You might also consider attending support group meetings for those who have experienced something similar to you. This will help you to understand the causes of your addiction, and how to prevent relapse.

If you’re able to access a detox program or therapy, these options are also likely to aid your recovery. These professionals have supported many people through opiate withdrawal. They will provide a safe environment to guide you through.

For more information about addiction treatment, recovery, and how we can help you here at Discovery Institute, please contact us today by calling  (844) 433-1101. Allow us to be a part of your journey to a new and healthier way of life. We are committed to your well-being and will walk with you, every step of the way! 

References:

http://www.addictionrecov.org/Addictions/?AID=39

https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

Article Reviewed by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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