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Opioids Withdrawal | Psychological & Physiological Symptoms

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Opioids are powerful narcotic drugs used to treat pain. Unfortunately, they can be highly addictive. In fact, opioid addiction is a serious issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Those struggling with opioid addiction understand the difficulty of breaking free from this powerful drug, especially the mentally and physically taxing withdrawal.

In this blog post, we will explore both the physical and psychological symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal so you can better understand what it takes to break free from this powerful drug. 

What are Opioids used for?

Opioids are often used to manage moderate to severe pain. They are commonly prescribed to treat acute and chronic pain resulting from injuries, illnesses, and medical procedures. However, in recent years there has also been a rise in the use of opioids for non-medical reasons such as recreational drug use or addiction. 

Opioid medications work by binding to certain receptors in the brain, which blocks certain signals that carry pain information from getting through. Opioids can also block emotions associated with pain, which can lead to an overall feeling of well-being. However, due to their highly addictive nature, opioids can lead to drug addiction and should only be taken for a short time and never without a doctor’s prescription.

What is opioid withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal is a medical condition that occurs when a person who has been using opioids on a regular or frequent basis suddenly stops using them or drastically reduces the amount they are using. It is a physical reaction caused by the body adjusting to no longer having the opioid drug in its system. 

Is it common to have opioid withdrawal?

Yes, opioid withdrawal is unfortunately very common, particularly among those with physical dependence or addiction to the drug. Studies show that up to 20% of people who take opioids for more than two weeks will experience opioid withdrawal syndrome when suddenly discontinuing use.

The risks of developing an addiction increase significantly when opioids are taken at high dosages (opioids overdose) or for long periods. Thus, it’s important for those taking opioids to understand the risks associated with this class of drugs and be aware of possible withdrawal symptoms if their usage increases beyond a safe threshold.

Symptoms of Opioids Withdrawal:

Now let’s talk about the psychological and physiological symptoms that one might experience during opioid withdrawal.

Psychological symptoms

The psychological symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal can vary from person to person, but some common experiences include anxiety, depression, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and cravings for more opioids. 

During opioid withdrawal, these psychological symptoms will most likely peak within 48 hours after quitting opioids but may last up to several weeks afterward. It is important that those going through opioid withdrawal have access to professional counseling services in order to properly manage any mental health concerns during this time. 

Physiological symptoms

In addition to the psychological effects of opioid withdrawal, there may also be some physiological side effects as well. These physical effects can range from mild nausea and vomiting to more severe pains such as abdominal cramps and muscle aches. 

Other common physical symptoms include sweating, elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, shakiness or trembling hands, dilated pupils, headaches, chills, and fever. These physical effects usually start around 12-24 hours after quitting opioids and may last for up to a week or more. 

If these symptoms persist longer than a week without improvement it is important that medical attention is sought out immediately so that any underlying issues can be addressed appropriately by a healthcare provider. 

How to manage Opioid withdrawal? 

Due to the severity of the side effects associated with opioid withdrawal, proper medical supervision is essential and often necessary to alleviate this uncomfortable experience. Fortunately, there are various treatments and medications available which can help make the process of withdrawing from opioids much easier. 

This should involve both short-term detoxification and long-term treatment plans. Detoxification involves medical supervision during the initial phase of withdrawal in a safe environment where medications can be administered if needed. 

Long-term treatment plans include medication-assisted therapy (MAT) such as methadone or buprenorphine which are long-acting opioids that help block opioid receptors in the brain to help reduce your body’s physical dependence on opioids. 

Other medicines like antidiarrheal medication, sleeping pills, NSAIDs (aspirin), antihypertensive medication, and vitamin B and vitamin C supplements can also help manage some of the physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as sweating, diarrhea, muscle pain, and high blood pressure.

Along with medicine, medical professionals also recommend psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a means of coping with the psychological withdrawal symptoms and to address any underlying mental health issues that have been exacerbated by opioid use disorder.

In addition to medications, supportive care can be helpful in managing opioid withdrawal symptoms. This can include things like getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and eating a healthy diet. It may also be helpful to have the support of friends and family during this time.

Lastly, it is important for those going through opioid withdrawal to remain hopeful because recovery is possible with dedication and perseverance. 

How long can opioid withdrawal symptoms last? 

As such there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how long opioid withdrawal will last; however, on average most people report experiencing full relief from their withdrawal symptoms anywhere between one week to two months after they have ceased taking opioids. 

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological in nature, and the duration of such symptoms can vary from individual to individual. Generally speaking, the intensity of opioid withdrawal symptoms often peaks within 48 to 72 hours, but milder symptoms may persist for up to a week or two. 

The severity and type of these effects also depend on the individual, depending on their unique physical idiosyncrasies as well as their level of tolerance towards opioids. So, if you are experiencing opioid withdrawal and are concerned about the length or severity of your symptoms, it is important to talk to a healthcare professional for guidance and support.

Opioids Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal is a challenging experience for those who are addicted and trying to break free from their opioid dependency. The timeline of withdrawal can vary from person to person and will depend on many factors, such as the type of opioid used, the amount is taken, duration of use, and any other medications or substances being taken at the same time. 

Most experts agree that it typically takes between seven to ten days for an opioid user to go through the entire withdrawal process. This timeline is based on the half-life of opioids in the body, which can range anywhere from six to sixty hours depending on the type of opioid used. 

Early Stage

The first stage of opioid withdrawal begins shortly after the last dose is taken and typically lasts on average between four and five days. The onset of withdrawal depends on the half-life of a drug i.e. how long it takes for half a dose of a drug to leave the body.

Each opioid drug has a different half-life e.g. Oxycodone’s half-life is 3–5 hours while Methadone has a longer half-life of 8–60 hours.

During this early stage, symptoms may include restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, and muscle aches. Other common early symptoms include sweating or chills, diarrhea, and vomiting. Some people may also experience strong cravings during this stage. 

Peak Stage

The peak stage starts around day three or four after the last dose was taken and typically lasts anywhere from two to three days. At this point in time, the most severe symptoms begin to manifest including nausea, cramps, and abdominal pain. 

Weakness throughout the body is also commonly reported along with intense cravings for opioids. Anxiety levels usually peak during this phase as well as cognitive issues such as difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. 

Late Stage

The late stage begins around day five or six after the last dose was taken and can last up to a week after cessation has occurred. During this stage, some initial symptoms may still persist but at a much milder intensity than before. Common late-stage symptoms include fatigue, irritability, and depression – all of which can be very difficult emotionally for those going through withdrawal. 

Cravings may still be present but should be significantly reduced compared to previous stages – especially if treatment has begun by now such as tapering medications or taking care of underlying mental health issues like anxiety or depression that were triggered by opioid usage in the past. 

While it may seem like an endless cycle with no end in sight – there is hope for those struggling with opiate addiction and support is available if needed!

Opioids Detoxification  

Opioid detoxification is a necessary process for those trying to overcome opioid addiction. It can be an extremely difficult and challenging experience, but it is necessary for those seeking a better way of life.

It involves the removal of opiate-based drugs from the body, allowing the individual to begin to lead a healthy lifestyle without the negative consequences of these toxins. When getting off opioids, individuals must receive medical support in order to reduce their dependence on opioids and manage withdrawal symptoms safely. 

Detoxification requires medical supervision to ensure that patients are able to make it through the weeklong procedure without serious health risks or severe repercussions. By relying on trained professionals, individuals can be screened for potential risks of possible opioid use and monitored closely throughout the detox process. 

What is safe to ingest during opioid detox?

When undergoing opioid detox, it is safe to ingest foods that will help fuel your body, provide essential nutrients and support healing. This means consuming plenty of fluids as dehydration can lead to many uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and exhaustion. 

To stay hydrated, a person should drink around eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day, as well as other healthy fluids like herbal teas, vegetable juices, and fresh fruits or vegetables with high water content. 

Eating balanced meals filled with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will ensure the body has the proper nutrition to handle the withdrawal process. Additionally, adding digestive enzymes may help reduce gut discomfort caused by opioids. 

Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids can also help reduce inflammation throughout the body while promoting better overall health. Vitamins C and D are known to help fight off infection due to their antioxidant properties.

What you should avoid during opioid detox?

Refined sugars and processed foods should be avoided during opioid detox due to their inflammatory properties which can worsen withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, muscle aches, and mental fog. In general, any food with artificial flavors or additives should be avoided since they often cause further inflammation throughout the body. 

Alcohol should also be avoided at any stage of opioid detox because it triggers dopamine receptors in the brain which can make cravings worse. Caffeine can also disrupt sleep patterns so it is best avoided when trying to get through withdrawal more comfortably. Finally, any illegal drugs including marijuana should not be ingested as they could lead to further complications down the road in recovery.

Bottom Line: Managing Opioids Withdrawal

The side effects of opioid withdrawal are wide-ranging and often unpredictable. Knowing what symptoms you may experience before beginning the detox process can help you prepare mentally and emotionally for what lies ahead. 

Opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous, so it’s not something that should be attempted without medical supervision. If you’re struggling with an addiction to opioids or if you know someone who needs help with their addiction, it would be wise to seek out professional assistance during the detox journey in order to ensure a successful recovery process.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.