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What to Expect: Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

By May 14, 2019
opiate withdrawal timeline

Around 9% of Americans will suffer from opiate addiction in their lifetime. You may have experienced the effects that opiate addiction can have on a person – whether personally or in 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 opiates, you may be wondering what’s in store.

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. 

Why is Opiate Withdrawal Difficult?

Firstly, it’s helpful to understand what is happening during an opiate withdrawal. Opiates activate the part of the brain which experiences pleasure. This means an opiate user or addict associates substance use with positive emotions.

In addition, the user becomes chemically addicted – meaning they experience a physical need for the substance. The combination of emotional and physical symptoms makes for a challenging detox. 

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.

Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

With the above in mind, you may be feeling concerned about what withdrawal will actually feel like. 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 after around 12 hours of last using. This will depend a little on you and the substances used. Relapse is much more likely to occur in the first 48 hours of withdrawal.

In this time you will likely experience intense cravings, agitation, and anxiety. This can also manifest as aggression or panic attacks.

Muscles may ache and a headache is common. Sweats and fever, as well as increased heart rate, are to be expected at this stage. Digestive upset such as diarrhea or stomach ache is common. You may not have much of an appetite.

Many experience difficulty sleeping when in the first couple of days of withdrawing from opiates. Even if you’re not able to get proper sleep, it’s important to rest as much as possible. If you’re able to take time off from work, this will help.

2-3 days in is often the worst of opiate withdrawal. It’s important to remember that the symptoms will pass. It’s a temporary struggle, for long-term life improvement.

During the most intense 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.

Get support where possible. 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. Sweats, 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 and focus on 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 releases 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.

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 addicts, 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 prevent relapse.


Relapse can be a reality during recovery, and a support program can prevent this.

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 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. 

Drug Replacement Options

If going cold-turkey is not for you, there are other options. Detox should be discussed and managed with a doctor or professional addiction therapist. It may be that you are eligible to use an opiate replacement, such as Suboxone or Methadone.

This can be a stepping stone to make the withdrawal less severe. It will make the recovery process longer but may seem more manageable overall. It’s important to understand that these are still opiates and will also have a withdrawal process.

We Can Help

Remember – you are not alone and addiction recovery is something many people manage in daily life. Ensure that you have a support network or friends and family.

Consider a support group 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 that’s 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.

We hope you’ve found this summary of an opiate withdrawal timeline helpful. If you’d like to discuss opiate withdrawal, contact us

Insurance may cover up to 100% of your treatment

Discovery Institute works in partnership with most of the leading insurance providers in the country. Depending on your coverage, your stay with us may be covered by your policy’s benefits. Speak to one of our admissions coordinators today to receive a free assessment of benefits.

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