Prescription opiates are important for treating severe or chronic pain, but they can spell death for those who get physically dependent upon them. Illegal drugs — such as heroin — can also lead to addiction and dependency. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) estimates that 100 Americans die of a drug overdose every day. Nearly half of these overdose deaths are due to opioids — a problem which could be overcome if the necessary resources are used to combat substance abuse. Opioids cause more deaths than any other type of drug or medication. Withdrawal can be hard to fathom, but it is necessary for an addict to gain control of their life.While quitting opiates can help you take control of your life and improve your health, it can be the hardest thing an addict ever has to do. Stopping or reducing the amount of opiates you take can cause you to experience physical withdrawal symptoms, especially if you have used opiates in high doses for several weeks or longer.
Opiate withdrawal can be a prolonged and painful experience. It can even be a deadly process for heavy opiate users. Opiate withdrawal can happen to anyone who takes opiates, even those who use them as prescribed by a doctor. Opiate drugs can cause withdrawal symptoms within hours of the last dose. The symptoms can last for one week or longer and include hallucinations, death or a coma. But if withdrawal is done in a safe environment with a steadfast resolve, then the addict can, and will, recover.
How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last?
Many people wonder how long opiate withdrawal timeframe will last. There are several factors which affect this. Withdrawal symptoms and their severity often depend on typical opiate dosage, frequency, and length of use. The age of the person can also impact the timeline. An older person who has been using fairly high doses of opiates for many years will usually have a harder time. Someone who became dependent on opiates while using them as prescribed for less than a few months might have an easier go of it.
Opiate withdrawal can be considered mild, moderate, moderately severe, or severe. This is usually be determined by evaluating your history and specific symptoms with a diagnostic tool like the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS).
Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
Opiate drugs change how the brain responds to pain stimuli, while disrupting the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. This can seriously damage the reward centers of the brain. Opiate drugs are received in the central nervous system’s opioid receptors and trigger a variety of emotional and physical effects. Repeated or long-term use of opioids can change the brain’s chemistry — physically and psychologically. This results in dependency. Withdrawal is the body’s way of responding to the absence of the drug.
The first day or two of withdrawal is usually the worst. It is during this stage that most relapses occur. Sometimes withdrawal symptoms begin after just a few hours of the last dose. More often than not, they occur within 6-12 hours with short-acting opiates, and within 30 hours for long-acting drugs. Short-acting opioids include heroin, Vicodin, Oxycodone, Percocet, and crushed OxyContin.
Early opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Sleep disturbances, such as trouble staying asleep
- Runny nose
- Racing heart
- Loss of appetite
Late Withdrawal Symptoms
After the first 48 hours, the worst of the pain is considered to be over. During this stage, many people experience vomiting, abdominal cramps, goosebumps, and shaking. These symptoms typically peak after 36 hours and may continue for a week or longer. Psychological symptoms of opiate withdrawal — including cravings — can continue for longer than one week. Addiction lasts a lifetime but can be treated with the proper program!
After the first week, most withdrawal symptoms have passed, but it may still be difficult to eat — many still have residual nausea and anxiety.
Easing Opiate Withdrawal
Opiate withdrawal can be very unpleasant and potentially dangerous, depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms and other factors. While it is usually safe to go through withdrawal without medical intervention, it’s always best to avoid going through it alone. You may wish to check yourself into a rehab center for the detox process, or have a close friend by your side.
Sometimes drug-assisted detox is recommended. Several drugs like Benzodiazepines (Valium and Klonopin) can ease withdrawal symptoms. However, these drugs also have a potential for abuse. Medical detoxes use these pharmacological treatments, as well as psychological care, under close supervision. Medical detox can offer a safe way to detox while keeping you as comfortable as possible.
Withdrawal symptoms can be mild or very severe. The more intense the withdrawal symptoms, the more medical intervention may be required. In some cases, people withdrawing from opiates require hospitalization, as well as medications to treat symptoms. A commonly used medication for in-patient opiate detox is clonidine, which reduces the intensity of withdrawal symptoms by up to 75%. This medication is especially helpful at controlling muscle aches, cramps, restlessness, and anxiety.
Detox is considered a short-term stepping stone to help you achieve a stable recovery. It’s important to follow up detox with opiate addiction treatment to reduce the risk of relapse. While relapse may seem to offer a relief from cravings and withdrawal, relapse after detox can be especially dangerous. A period of not taking opioids can reduce tolerance levels to the drug and increase the risk of death due to overdose. Follow detox with counseling, therapy, support groups, and education to maintain your sobriety, well-being and peace of mind.
Help Is Available
If you are afraid or confused about quitting opiates, you can always discuss your concerns with a doctor. Being addicted to opiates, whether or not they are legal, is not a crime and you will not be treated like a criminal for seeking help. You will face no legal repercussions from discussing addiction with a physician.
Getting help for your addiction doesn’t need to be embarrassing or frightening — addiction can happen to anyone. Seeking help can improve your health and reduce the risk of relapse and complications.
Once you make it through the week-long opiate withdrawal timeline process, the next step is seeking long-term treatment to develop strategies for keeping your cravings under control. This will set you on the right path to a brighter future!