Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiates, also called opioids, are a class of drugs commonly abused in the United States. These drugs include prescription medication and the illicit drug heroin. They are responsible for substance abuse and addiction in millions of American men and women, including teenagers and young adults.

Due to their highly addictive nature and euphoric effects, it can be extremely difficult for you or a loved one to get over opioid addiction or substance abuse. Severe and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms may develop if you try to quit on your own. For these reasons, withdrawing from opioids is best done in a medically-supervised setting where you can receive the necessary care and treatment.

Opioid Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug addiction is a chronic brain disease that needs treatment like any other chronic disease, e.g., diabetes. Opioid addiction itself is a substance use disorder that leads an individual to compulsively seek and use one or more opioids despite the harm posed to their health and well-being. This drug-seeking behavior is due to chemical changes in the brain that cause persistent drug cravings and prevent you from quitting even when you so badly want to kick the habit.

Commonly Abused Opioids

Among the commonly abused opioids are the illegal drug heroin and these prescription drugs:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxymorphone

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Mild to severe physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms are common during withdrawal for opioid addiction or substance abuse. This is because drug abuse results in physical and psychological dependence. The symptoms are similar whether heroin or prescription drugs are involved.

However, their severity may vary from person to person based on factors like the level of substance abuse or addiction, type(s) of opioid abused, frequency and method of use, the presence of co-occurring disorders or mental health issues, and your biological makeup. Symptoms also vary based on the stage during the withdrawal timeline, e.g., the first 72 hours versus 7 days later. Common symptoms include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Cold sweats
  • Overpowering cravings
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Body aches or muscle spasms
  • High blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucination

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Each opioid drug has its own “half-life” meaning the length of time it takes before half of the drug is removed from the body. The half-life also affects when symptoms begin and how severe they are. For example, the fast-acting drug heroin and short-acting prescription drugs oxycodone and tramadol have a short half-life of just a few hours.

The withdrawal timeline is divided into three stages and helps you know what to expect during opioid detox:

Stage 1: Early Withdrawal Symptoms (6-30 hours)

It may take about 6-12 hours for withdrawal symptoms to begin when short-acting opioids such as heroin are involved. Longer-acting prescription opioids can take up to 30 hours. Early symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Runny nose or eyes
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Persistent yawning
  • Insomnia

Stage 2: Peak Period Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms typically increase in severity and peak by the end of 72 hours after the last opioid use and then start to subside by day 7. At this stage, other symptoms may develop and include:

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Depression

Stage 3: Late Withdrawal Symptoms

Even though physical opioid withdrawal symptoms may subside between days 7 and 10, psychological symptoms such as anxiety or depression can persist longer. Some recovering individuals experience psychological symptoms months or years later, long after formal treatment ends. Mental health professionals managing your withdrawal process will offer medical treatment, therapy, and psychological support to help decrease the effects of the symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.

Opioid Detox

Detoxing at home “cold-turkey” is dangerous due to possible severe opioid withdrawal symptoms and the risk of overdose. Detoxification is a natural process of allowing the body to purge itself of the drug and toxins accumulated from opiate abuse. It can be safely and effectively done in a medical setting. Depending on the severity of your substance abuse or addiction, your doctor may administer prescription medication to help make the process more tolerable and improve your chances of a successful recovery.

Drugs Used for Opioid Detox

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several prescription drugs for use in patients undergoing opioid detox within a medically-supervised setting. Ironically, these drugs include the following prescription opioids:

  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
  • Buprenorphine

Each of these drugs works to reduce cravings by producing euphoria while blocking the natural opioid receptors in the brain responsible for causing addiction in the first place. They are administered in low doses to help you taper off heroin or other types of opioids until you are stabilized.

Some patients continue to experience psychological cravings after detox. In such cases, a prescription drug such as Suboxone or Vivitrol may be administered to you to help maintain your sobriety during recovery. Suboxone is a combination of naloxone (a pure opioid antagonist) and buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist). Vivitrol is a once-monthly, non-addictive, opioid antagonist medication containing naltrexone.

Therapy After Detox

Once you are stabilized or no longer physically dependent on the drug, you will be ready to transition into therapy. Therapy is designed to treat underlying mental health disorders that may trigger drug abuse. These disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. Many treatment centers use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the main mental health treatment tool.

Some other therapies that may be incorporated into a client’s treatment plan are dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), multidimensional family therapy (MDFT), holistic therapy, couples therapy, and 12-step recovery programs. This broad-based approach to opioid substance abuse and addiction treatment is aimed at helping you manage drug use triggers to prevent relapse after formal treatment ends.

Getting Treated at St. John’s Recovery Place in Crescent City, FL

St. John’s Recovery Place (SJRP) offers dual-diagnosis for alcohol and substance abuse and provides treatment for co-occurring disorders. Individual treatment plans are comprehensive and include various types of recovery therapies. Our highly trained, experienced, and professional medical and clinical staff will design a treatment plan to meet your recovery needs.

Detox and therapy are conducted in a structured and compassionate environment to help give you the best possible chance at recovery and long-term sobriety. You don’t have to continue living a life of drug addiction. Help is available. Feel free to call St. John’s Recovery Place to speak to an admissions counselor and get the help you need today.

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