One of the most challenging aspects of recovery from opiate addiction is the withdrawal process. Many of our patients want to know what to expect from the opiate withdrawal process. However, no two people have the same withdrawal experience. The timeline for opiate withdrawal depends on a variety of factors and differs between individuals. That is why effective treatments for opiate addiction cannot take a “one size fits all” approach. Understanding the typical symptoms of opiate withdrawal can help you make informed decisions about your treatment.
Why Opiate Withdrawal Occurs
Opiate addiction does not develop overnight, and the same is right for recovery from the drug. Opiates — whether heroin or prescription painkillers — exert their effects by crossing the blood-brain barrier and acting on specific brain areas. The opiate molecules bind to particular receptors in the limbic system of the brain, which is responsible for processing rewards and emotional information. When these receptors are activated, the trigger the “rush” or euphoric sensations experienced by opiate users.
Over time, however, the brain becomes numb to the effects of opiates. As the brain and body begin to expect frequent doses of the drug, they prepare a compensatory response. This is the reason why it takes more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. When the drug is no longer taken, and the body does not get its normal dose, the result is a collection of physical and psychological symptoms.
What to Expect from Opiate Withdrawal
Opiate withdrawal symptoms typically start within a few hours of the drug leaving the bloodstream. They peak between 5 and 10 days. Most people have no residual symptoms after a few weeks, although some people have reported experiencing a post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) that lasts up to a few months. While individuals have commonly described PAWS in the recovery community as something real, the disorder is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders or any other significant medical association. The severity and duration of the opiate withdrawal symptoms can depend on the length of opiate dependence, dosage, metabolism, the drug of abuse, the manner in which drugs are taken, and other factors.
Risks of Opiate Withdrawal
Going “cold turkey” can be dangerous for some opiate users. Patients run the risk of severe dehydration or elevated blood pressure. Furthermore, opiate withdrawal can cause heart irregularities that may be dangerous for patients with certain chronic medical conditions. Professional medical attention is suggested, to keep one safe during the opiate withdrawal process. For example, medical detox protocols help remove opiates from your system and safely manage withdrawal symptoms.
Perhaps one of the most prominent disadvantages of going “cold turkey,” is the high likelihood of relapse or due to the extreme discomfort, some might not even complete the withdrawal process. Professional medical detox is more likely to result in a positive, safe and effective manner to obtain an opiate-free life. The Waismann Method ® located exclusively in So. California has successfully treated thousands of patients and medically assisted them overcome the opiate withdrawal symptoms.
Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
There is absolutely no way to predict precisely how the opiate withdrawal process will affect you. The effects depend on your substance abuse history, medical background, metabolism and some other personal factors. However, the following timeline provides an overview of the typical course of “short-acting” opiate withdrawal:
Withdrawal Days 1 and 2:
Most people begin to experience symptoms within the first day without opiates. Early symptoms may include aching in the joints, muscles, or bone. You may also experience abdominal cramping, sweating, nausea, or vomiting.
Withdrawal Days 3 and 4:
The body begins to adjust to an opiate-free state. Withdrawal symptoms typically peak between days 3 and 5. Many people describe their symptoms as feeling like a severe case of the flu. Common symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- A runny nose
- Excessive tear production
- Irregular heartbeat
- Fluctuating body temperature
- Muscle or joint aches
- Abdominal cramps
During this phase, the body is focused on expelling toxins and re-balancing levels of endorphins the brain chemicals associated with feelings of pleasure. Because of the vomiting and diarrhea, people run the risk of severe dehydration. Breathing in stomach contents after vomiting is another risk. This is one of the most challenging times for an individual because so many people cannot withstand the suffering and relapse. A medically supervised detox can prevent these and many other serious complications from arising.
Withdrawal Days 6 and 7:
By the one-week mark, most physical symptoms have subsided. However, you may feel physically weak and exhausted. At this point, the signs shift from being mostly physical to primarily psychological. Common symptoms include:
- Drug cravings
- Shame or regret
The mental symptoms of opiate withdrawal can be just as challenging to manage as the physical symptoms. To promote healthy outcomes, it is essential to be in a supportive environment and reach for an appropriate mental health provider. This is the time to learn new strategies to deal with frustration, manage damaging emotions, and self-harming behaviors. An individualized assessment and treatment of the cause are essential to maintaining sobriety. No two profiles are the same, and emotional assistance should be based on each specific individual needs.
After day 7: Psychological symptoms and cravings may persist for up to a month or longer after stopping use. Continued psychological and social support eases this transition and raises the chance for an opiate-free life.
The Waismann Method® provides a safe, supportive environment in which to receive inpatient medical detox. Not only can the Waismann Method safely manage uncomfortable physical symptoms and prevent unnecessary complications, but the post-detox Domus Retreat allows an individualized and private continuum of care.