Opioid Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms & Detox

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms & Detox

Authored by Defining Wellness    Reviewed by Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis    Last Updated: August 17th, 2021


Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis Medical Reviewer
Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

Opioids are some of the most addictive prescription medications. They are sedatives taken to relieve pain that over-the-counter painkillers cannot stop. When you take an opioid prescription medication, it interferes with the opioid receptors in the brain to ensure that you don’t feel severe pain from chronic conditions such as cancer. Doctors can also prescribe such medication after surgery.

Opioids are effective for keeping severe pain at bay. The problem is that they are addictive, typically because people taking them develop a tolerance and soon need more of the drug than a prescription will provide. Up to 12% of people who take opioids to manage pain end up addicted to them. Regardless of how people obtain these drugs, abusing opioids is dangerous and can lead to death. That’s why it’s so important to seek addiction treatment as early as possible.

How Addiction Starts

The path to opioid addiction starts when you take more than the prescribed dose. This misuse leads to addiction, and the time may come when you are not able to do without opioids. Taking opioids leads to an increase in the “feel good” neurotransmitters of the brain, and you may end up taking more opioids to continue experiencing the euphoria. If you or your loved one struggles with opioid withdrawal symptoms in an effort to completely drop opioid use, our professionals at Defining Wellness Center can help you with recovery.

How Do Opioids Affect the Body and Brain?

Opioid receptors are in your brain, spinal cord, and gut. Besides opioids, there are some neurochemicals that bind to the receptors for pain and pleasure. Some neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, can decrease pain and control other body functions.

Opioid drugs are synthetic substances that bind to the opioid receptor. When that happens, dopamine in the brain increases. This hormone blocks the feeling of pain. On normal days, the brain will never produce excess amount of dopamine. However, when you take opioids, the brain goes into overdrive, producing a high amount of this substance.

Emotional Triggers

Some people start abusing the drugs by using them to manage emotional pain as well. Your body doesn’t distinguish between natural and synthetic opioids, so it reacts to them the same way.

Immediately after binding to opioid receptors, the brain sends fewer signals of pain. You will get a feeling of euphoria and calmness. For someone who has suffered severe pain, it is easy to get addicted to opioids.

Dangerous Physical Reactions

When you abuse opioids, they will affect your central nervous system to interfere with processes such as breathing and your heartbeat. If you take the drugs for a long time or in a high dose, they will depress your breathing and can also inhibit the cough reflex. Opioids also affect the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that affects your emotions, feelings of pleasure, and calmness.

How Do Addition and Dependence Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

If you use opioids for a long time, your body becomes tolerant to the drug. After some time, you will need more drugs to get the same feeling of euphoria you got when you started using them. Tolerance means that you are not as sensitive to the drug as you were when you started using it, and you will need a higher dose to get the desired effects.

Tolerance also affects those taking opioids to manage chronic pain. You may need a higher dose to relieve the pain after some time. As the sensitivity to the drug reduces, you continue increasing the amount to risky levels. This can lead to overdosing.

Long-Term Effects and Withdrawal

If you take opioids for a long time, the drugs alter the way the nerve receptors in your brain work. At some level, you may need the opioids for the nerves to even operate. If you have used opioids for a long time, you may not realize you are physically addicted to them. Psychologically, you may not be addicted to the drug, but your body needs it to function.

Once you develop dependence on opioids, you will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you stop using the drug. This means that quitting cold turkey will cause you to experience symptoms of withdrawal, which can be severe for opioids. If you are dependent on opioids, whether physically, psychologically, or both, you may need outside intervention to tackle the problem.

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioids?

The severity of the withdrawal symptoms of opioids is dependent on how long you have used the drug. You will likely experience symptoms such as:

• Tremors
• Anxiety
• Irritability
• Upset stomach
• Changes in breathing
• Changes in blood pressure
• Aches and pains
• Fever and chills
• Sweating
• Flu-like symptoms
• Depression
• Cravings for opioids

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline – Stages of Withdrawal

  • Anticipatory – This is the first stage after your last dose of the opioids. You will experience the first symptoms three to four hours after you stop using opioids. At this stage, you will typically experience anxiety and fear. You will also have cravings for opioids and want to seek the drugs.• Early Acute Stage – You will have these symptoms after about 10 hours after you stop using opioids. At this point, you may experience heightened anxiety and fear. You will also experience flu-like symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and sweating. The cravings for the drug will continue.• Full Acute Symptoms – After about three days, the symptoms will be at their peak. It is at this stage that most people will lapse back to using the drug. Some of the withdrawal symptoms that people experience at this stage include insomnia, diarrhea, spasms, and high blood pressure. At this stage, cravings are intense.

    • Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) – If you manage to fight off the acute symptoms without relapsing back to opioids, you get to the PAWS stage. Although the acute symptoms will have disappeared, you will still experience some psychological symptoms such as mood swings, depression, anxiety, agitation, poor concentration, drug dreams, and insomnia.

Psychological Symptoms Outlast Physical Ones

The withdrawal timeline typically doesn’t go past the second week. After a week, the physical symptoms will be at their worst, and then they will reduce. However, the psychological symptoms can last for many months or many years depending on the severity of the addiction. The extended withdrawal symptoms are known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

If a doctor gives you a drug that helps you reverse the effects of opioids, you might experience severe withdrawal symptoms, but then the symptoms will subside fast. A doctor can perform a clinical opioid withdrawal scale test to check the effects of opioids in your body. The test contains 11 questions that determine whether you are suffering from withdrawal symptoms after quitting opioids. If your addiction or dependence was severe, the doctor will check to see whether you have at least three of the most common symptoms.

Is Opioid Withdrawal Lethal? Can You Manage Opioid Withdrawal at Home?

The symptoms can be severe but never fatal. The only potentially fatal symptom is depression, which can increase chances of suicide. You also need to watch out for dehydration, which comes as a result of detoxing from opioids.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms can get very severe, which may tempt you to relapse. You need outside support and help from professionals like the specialists at Defining Wellness Center to handle the symptoms. During this period, you will go through a lot of stress and pain. You will be tempted to take drugs again to relieve the pain, but that will only suck you back into the addiction.

Why You Shouldn’t Go It Alone

A symptom such as high blood pressure can cause a heart condition if not managed quickly. Others, such as diarrhea and vomiting, can lead to severe dehydration, which causes high blood sodium levels that can ultimately cause heart failure. In pregnant women, opioids can cause leaking of the amnion and bleeding. You need to withdraw from opioids with the supervision of a professional. This way, you will get help if there are complications or severe health risks.

The most dangerous thing you can do with opioids is to overdose. This is even more likely if you haven’t used for a while and then relapse. When you take too high of a dose, you interfere with normal brain functioning, and the control of vital processes and organs in the body might stop. This is why opioids cause so many deaths in the United States and elsewhere. Undergoing withdrawal with professional help can reduce the chance of relapse and overdose.

Medical Detox for Opioids

The pain and distress that come with withdrawing from opioids can be managed, but this needs to occur under the care of medical detox professionals in an appropriate facility. In such a facility, a doctor may prescribe some medications that will lessen or reverse the withdrawal symptoms. Most of the medications reduce nausea and inflammation. You might also receive a replacement drug such as Suboxone. This controls the cravings for opioids and helps manage the withdrawal symptoms.

After you detox and withdraw, your doctor will continue with the post-withdrawal treatment plans. These plans make sure that you can fight the psychological effects and symptoms of withdrawal as you begin your journey to sobriety. Post-withdrawal treatment plans include support groups, counseling, therapy, and several medications to prevent a relapse. The doctor may give you different types of medications, including:

• Drugs that ease the withdrawal symptoms and allow you to deal with the cravings. These include buprenorphine and methadone. The doctor reduces the dose as you progress until you do not need the drug at all.
• Drugs that settle your stomach for people with issues such as diarrhea and vomiting. The doctor also recommends that you take a lot of fluids to replace the water lost to vomiting and diarrhea.
• Drugs to regulate your blood pressure. This helps if it rises too high as a result of the withdrawal.
• Drugs that replace opioids, such as Suboxone. This takes the place of opioids in the brain to ease the withdrawal symptoms without being addictive.

Other Ways to Manage Your Withdrawal

There are many other ways to manage the withdrawal symptoms of opioids. For instance, you can take ibuprofen for headaches, fever, and joint pains. Other ways to manage the withdrawal symptoms include:

• Practicing moderate exercise
• Eating nutritious foods without skipping a meal
• Drinking plenty of fluids to manage the dehydration that comes with detox
• Taking medication to help you stay calm
• Talking to a friend or joining a support group

Why Not Detox at Home?

You can detox at home. However, you need a great amount of discipline and a strong will to fight the opioids. If you have been using opioids for a long time, even a strong will may not be enough to keep you from using addictive drugs.

In most cases, people detoxing at home end up going back to harmful drugs. The main reason people return to these drugs is to end the discomfort that comes with withdrawal. If your addiction is severe and you have severe withdrawal symptoms, you can get dehydrated very fast from vomiting and diarrhea.

When you get help from a professional, you experience a shortened withdrawal timeline. The doctor will give you the emotional support you need during the withdrawal period. If you join a high-quality detox program, you will likely have complementary therapies. These include acupuncture, restorative yoga, massage, and others that help reduce stress and promote overall well-being.

When to Seek a Doctor

Most of the symptoms of withdrawal are challenging to overcome. A doctor will help you manage the symptoms and stay true to your resolve to stop using opioids. In addition to providing medication to ease those symptoms, the doctor will counsel you and engage you in therapy. You will also get to interact with other people who have the same problems you are dealing with or even more severe ones.

Doctors at a detox facility will evaluate the severity of your condition and then give you the treatment that will best help your case. If you are anxious about the quitting process, you should visit a wellness center and get help from addiction professionals. Anxiety is the first sign that you may not be able to handle the problem on your own.

We Can Help You

At Defining Wellness Center, we help people manage opioid withdrawal and set them on a journey to recovery. The process can be intimidating, but with the right motivation, you can get through it. Contact us today, and you or your loved one can take the first steps on the path to sobriety. Meet our team today to learn more about the addiction recovery process.

Family-owned and operated, Defining Wellness Centers is a true labor of love. My wife Robin and I, along with our children, are deeply passionate about wellness, mental health and addiction treatment.

We are a family, dedicated to helping other families. We created Defining Wellness with two central goals in mind: to share our love, understanding and compassion with clients and to utilize the best health and wellness modalities available today to treat addiction.

Our programs are built on a foundation of proven, evidence-based therapeutic techniques combined with cutting-edge bio-technological treatments, fitness and experiential learning. Our end goal is to provide the support and tools necessary for people become their best selves through emotional wellness and balance.