Understanding Opioid Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment
Opioids are a class of drugs typically used to medically manage severe, chronic pain. The term opioids refers to natural, semisynthetic, or fully synthetic chemicals including both prescription medications and illegal substances such as heroin, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, and many others1. While their primary role is to manage pain, Opioids are also abused due to the feelings of euphoria and relaxation they produce1. Long-term use of opioids is associated with dependence and withdrawal(2).0
Opioid withdrawal is often the powerful motivator behind continued opioid use and other addictive behaviors(3). Understanding opioid dependence is essential in understanding opioid withdrawal symptoms and how to treat them.
What is Opioid Dependence?
Opioid Dependence occurs when an individual repeatedly uses the substance and begins to develop a tolerance to the medication or drug. Ultimately increasing doses are required to achieve the desired effect and the individual may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued3. Dependence can develop in individuals who are compliant with their prescription medications and in individuals illicitly using opioids. Opioid tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal are all the result of brain changes caused by prolonged opioid abuse(3).
For those who have developed a dependence on opioids, cutting back or stopping use all together can be very challenging. Treatment is often needed to help those struggling with an opioid dependence to safely navigate withdrawal and recovery.
What are the Common Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?
Physical opioid withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and will vary based on which opioid was being used, duration and frequency of use, and other individual factors. The most common opioid withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following(2):
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Hot/Cold Sweats
- Muscle Aches and Pains
- Dilated pupils
- Heightened Anxiety
- Restless Legs
- High Blood Pressure
How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?
The timeline for opioid withdrawal can vary from person to person and is dependent on the type of opioid that was being use. The onset of withdrawal symptoms for short-acting opioids, such as heroin, generally occurs within 8 to 24 hours of the last use(4). The duration of acute withdrawal symptoms for short-acting opioids typically lasts between 4 and 10 days (4). Some individuals may experience long-term, non-acute withdrawal symptoms for up to six months after discontinuing use (4).
Treatment for Opioid Dependence at Greenbriar Treatment Center
At Greenbriar Treatment Center, we offer an integrated opioid abuse treatment program that begins with a medically-supervised detox and is followed by our inpatient treatment program. Our opioid treatment program includes the use of medications for withdrawal management and cravings, group and individual counseling, and other services to address the physical, mental, and emotional needs of those seeking treatment.
Don’t wait to seek help. Opioid withdrawal is best treated in a professional setting with addiction treatment specialists who can help you safely begin your recovery journey. Reach out to Greenbriar Treatment Center today to learn more about our opioid detox and treatment programs today.
**this page does not provide medical advice**
- Centers for Disease Control (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/terms.html
- Shah M., Huecker MR. Opioid Withdrawal. [Updated 2021 May 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/
- Kosten TR, George TP. The neurobiology of opioid dependence: implications for treatment. Sci Pract Perspect. 2002;1(1):13-20. doi:10.1151/spp021113
- Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4, Withdrawal Management. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/