How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?
Opioids are highly addictive drugs, encompassing prescription medications (like hydrocodone) and illegal substances (like heroin).1 People can develop a dependence on opioids, even if they’re prescribed them by a doctor. In fact, nearly 80% of heroin users say that they started out taking prescription opioids first.2
Once someone is addicted to opioids, getting off them can be challenging. That’s because severe withdrawal symptoms can set in when someone stops taking them. If you or a loved one is struggling with or showing signs of opioid addiction, you may be wondering how long does opioid withdrawal last?
In this article, we’ll break down the opioid withdrawal timeline in detail and explain what opioid treatment options look like.
What Are Opioids?
Before diving in, it’s important to understand opioid vs. opiate addiction. Opiates include naturally-derived drugs, such as opium, morphine, or codeine. Opioids are a synthetic drug classification for substances used to help people manage moderate to severe pain.3 People may be prescribed opioids after surgery or during cancer treatment, for example. Sometimes, opioids are also used to treat intense coughing or chronic diarrhea in medical settings.3
The most common opioids include:4
How Do Opioids Affect the Body?
Opioids bind to the body’s natural opiate receptors. These receptors are usually reserved for endorphins—the body’s natural opioids.5 They’re in charge of regulating pain, mood, stress levels, breathing, and gastrointestinal functions.6 Opioids can also produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that induces feelings of pleasure and reward.3
Even when taken as prescribed, opioids can be addictive. That’s because prolonged opioid use can desensitize the body’s opioid receptors, causing them to develop a tolerance.1 In turn, someone may need to take higher doses of opioids to achieve the same effect, whether they’re seeking pain relief or a euphoric high.
Once someone has a tolerance to opioids, going without them can quickly induce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be agonizing, so many people may take more opioids desperately to ease their symptoms. How long do opioids stay in your system? The answer depends on how strong the opioid is, specifically if they are long-acting, short-acting, rapid onset, or half-life.
Opioid Withdrawal Timeline
While opioid withdrawal can be distressing, there’s good news—it doesn’t last forever. In fact, the worst part of opioid withdrawal is usually over within a week to ten days. So, how long does opioid withdrawal last in its entirety?
Here is an average timeline for opioid withdrawal:7
- 8 to 24 hours – Opioid withdrawal symptoms can set in as early as eight hours after someone’s last dose.
- 24 to 72 hours – The most intense withdrawal symptoms typically occur during the second and third days of opioid withdrawal.
- 4 to 10 days – After 72 hours, opioid withdrawal symptoms will likely start to wane. However, some mild withdrawal symptoms may persist for 10 days or more.
- 10 days to several months – Once the acute withdrawal period is over, the brain may take several months to recover. Symptoms that take place during this period are called post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). PAWS can include insomnia, fatigue, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, irritability, and slowed cognition.8 Cravings for opioids can persist during this time too.
While this is an average timeline, it’s important to note that each person’s withdrawal timeline may differ depending on their:
- Duration of opioid dependence
- Frequency of opioid ingestion
- Average opioid dose
- Type of opioid used (short-acting vs. long-acting)
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
Now that we’ve discussed the general timeline for opioid withdrawal, you may be wondering about its symptoms. Opioids are known for inducing euphoria, drowsiness, pain relief, constipation, and slowed breathing. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal are pretty much the exact opposite of those effects.
Some common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:9
- Muscle and bone pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Intense cravings
These withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on the person’s degree of opioid dependence vs. addiction and health status.
Withdrawal Detox and Treatment
As you can imagine, experiencing these symptoms for several days can be excruciating. That’s why so many people struggle to reduce and eliminate opioids on their own.
Opioid withdrawal is easier when done during a medically-monitored opioid detox. During medical detox, patients can receive medications, such as methadone or buprenorphine, to ease their opioid withdrawal symptoms.7 Some medications may also be prescribed after detox to assist with ongoing cravings. By making the withdrawal process more tolerable, a medically-assisted detox can help someone escape from the vicious cycle of opioid addiction once and for all.
Medical detox is typically just the first step in opioid recovery. After detox, patients can participate in inpatient or outpatient treatment programs, attend therapy, and join recovery support groups. These steps can help them gain the skills they need to combat their cravings, manage their stress, and stay sober.
Overcome Your Opioid Addiction At Elevate Rehab
Opioid addiction can affect every aspect of a person’s life. In the worst-case scenarios, opioid addiction can end in a fatal overdose.10 Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case for you or your loved one struggling with opioid addiction.
At Elevate Rehab, our medical drug and alcohol detox program can help you or your loved one break free of your opioid dependence safely and comfortably. After that, our holistic rehab and treatment programs can help you or your loved one pave the path to a fulfilling life post-recovery.
Knowing how long does opioid withdrawal last and what to expect are an important first step.
So, if you’re ready to relinquish opioids’ hold on your life, reach out to the compassionate team of addiction specialists at Elevate Rehab today for more on our opioid addiction treatment program.
- MayoClinic. How opioid addiction occurs. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-opioid-addiction-occurs/art-20360372
- NIH. Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-opioids-heroin/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use
- Cleveland Clinic. Opioids. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21127-opioids
- CDC. Prescription Opioids: The Basics. https://www.cdc.gov/rxawareness/information/index.html
- Cleveland Clinic. Endorphins. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23040-endorphins
- NIH. Physiology, Opioid Receptor. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546642/
- NIH. Withdrawal Management. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/
- UCLA. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS
- NIH. Opioid Withdrawal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/
- NIH. Overdose Death Rates. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
Scott Friend, MSW, M.S.
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