opiate abuse facts

Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Detox |  Back to top

In the US, over 2 million Americans abuse opioids. This includes both legally prescribed opioid medications and street opiates, and both legitimate and recreational use.

If you or someone you love needs to go through opiate withdrawal and detox, here are the things you need to look out for.

What Is Opiate Withdrawal?

To understand what opiate withdrawal is, you need to first understand what opiate addiction is.

Opiates (or opioids; these are synthetically manufactured) are substances that are derived from opium, which comes from poppy seeds and plants. They have highly effective calming and painkilling effects, which is why doctors prescribe them for chronic pain or pain management after accidents and/or surgeries. Opiate medications include:

  • Codeine
  • Darvocet/Darvon
  • Demerol
  • Dilaudid
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone

However, the downside to opioids is it’s very easy to develop a physical dependence on them, even if you’re following your doctor’s instructions to a T. You build a tolerance, and with long-term use, you’ll need more of the medication to achieve the same previous effects.

The above is also true for those who abuse opiates recreationally. Not only do they get calming effects, but also euphoric ones if they take enough of the drug.

Opiate withdrawal happens when you go for too long without opiates. This is because the physical dependence on it has changed the nerve receptors in your brain. In fact, they need the drugs to function.

symptoms of opiate withdrawal

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Many people don’t recognize opiate withdrawal symptoms, especially if they’ve been taking their medications as prescribed. Many of the symptoms are similar to being ill, which is why lots of people mistake withdrawal for the flu.

Some common opiate withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Teary eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle aches

Those occur in the early stages of withdrawal. Later symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Goosebumps
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dilated pupils

As you can see, all of the above withdrawal symptoms can be easily mistaken for the common cold or flu. If the dependence isn’t that serious, then you might just think you’re feeling a little under the weather.

opiate withdrawal timeline

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The opiate withdrawal timeline will be different for each person, as it depends on their unique body chemistry. It also depends on the type, severity, and length of opioid dependence.

In general, you can expect to see 4 phases for withdrawal: anticipatory, early acute, fully-developed acute, and post-acute.

The anticipatory stage happens just 3 to 4 hours after your last dose. The most common symptoms are anxiety and cravings.

The early acute stage happens 8 to 10 hours after your last dose. You’ll have the same symptoms as above, but you’ll also get many of the flu-like symptoms.

Next, the fully-developed acute stage happens 1 to 3 days after your last dose. This is where you’ll have the most serious withdrawal symptoms, such as muscle spasms, insomnia, diarrhea, tremors, and increased blood pressure. This is also where you’ll have the most intense cravings for opioids.

Lastly, you’ll go through post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This can occur up to 24 months after your last dose and symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, depression, irritability, poor concentration, and insomnia. You’ll also likely still have cravings, which means it’s very possible to relapse even years after you’ve quit opioids.

symptoms of opiate detox

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Considering all the unpleasant symptoms and even danger to your life while going through opioid withdrawal, it’s always a good thing to seek out the help of a professional detox and rehabilitation center.

When you’re at an inpatient detox facility, you’ll be under the care of trained and experienced medical staff. They can monitor your progress and even prescribe medications to make detox a more manageable and safer process.

Medications they might prescribe include:

  • Clonidine (reduce withdrawal symptoms)
  • Methadone (help wean off your opioid of choice)
  • Buprenorphine (reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings)

Do note that all of these are non-addictive, so you’re not replacing one addiction for another. The exception is methadone, which means that it’s important to take it exactly as prescribed.

Another benefit of being in inpatient detox is you’ll be removed from an environment with temptation. While at the treatment center, you won’t be able to change your mind mid-detox. You’re there for good and won’t have access to opioids, which means your chances of detoxing successfully are significantly higher.

After you’ve completely detoxed, then you can move on with rehabilitation. Through individual, group, and alternative therapies, you’ll learn what your opiate triggers are. Not only that, but you’ll also discover healthy ways to deal with those triggers and develop a support group that’ll help you through thick and thin.

The most important thing about rehab is that it’s a holistic treatment. So not only do you heal your mind and body, but also your spirit.

Get Help Dealing With Opiate Addiction Today

Knowing what to expect from opiate withdrawal and detox is half the battle. The other half is taking that first step toward sobriety and gaining the necessary knowledge you need in rehab to live a clean, happy, and healthy life.

Getting into recovery can be a scary decision, but it’s the right one that’ll vastly improve your life. So reach out and get some help today for opiate detox. You’ll be glad you did!

Are you ready to detox from opioids? Then look for a detox center near you.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Detoxification Guide for Opiates.

Written By Jeff Mahre BA MFA MLIS - January 12th, 2017

As you can see, opioids are extremely addicting. It’s very possible for anyone to go down the slippery slope of dependence, especially if they’re living with chronic pain.

But long-term addiction can be quite dangerous. An accidental overdose is very possible, and it can lead to death. This is why it’s extremely important to get off opioids and regain control of your life.