If you suffer from chronic pain, you know that regular over-the-counter pain relievers rarely do the trick. Because of this, you might have turned to something stronger, like opioid painkillers. These pain medications quickly suppress the sensory receptors and nerves responsible for telling our bodies that something isn’t right, causing the relief of pain.
While opioid pain relief medication can be a godsend if you are dealing with chronic pain, it can also cause an even greater issue if taken irresponsibly. Opioid medications are highly habit-forming and addictive. If you become addicted to these medications, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal when you run out or stop taking them.
The opioid withdrawal timeline can be extremely uncomfortable and even painful. Oftentimes, this causes people to avoid achieving sobriety, even though their addiction to opioids is causing them problems in their lives. Understanding how long opioid withdrawal lasts can motivate you to attend a professional detox program, where you can begin to recover from addiction.
What is Opioid Withdrawal?
Opioid painkillers are prescription medications that your doctor can prescribe to you when you are dealing with severe or chronic pain. Opioids work by blocking the pain receptors responsible for allowing you to feel pain.
However, opioids also cause a release of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for making you feel good and euphoric. When you repeatedly take a medication that causes a rush of dopamine, your brain begins to learn that the substance is providing you with pleasure and reward. This is how you become physically and mentally dependent on opioids, beginning the cycle of addiction.
Once you are addicted to opioids, your body believes that it needs them to function normally, so you will experience symptoms of withdrawal if you suddenly stop taking them.
What are the Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal?
The symptoms of opioid withdrawal will depend on which type of opioid you are using, how long you’ve been taking it, and how large of a dose you take each time. Other factors play a role in the intensity and length of your withdrawal symptoms.
In general, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Rapid heart rate and hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness and pain in muscles
- Cold and flu-like symptoms
While the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are typically not life-threatening, they should be treated by medical professionals. Some of the symptoms can lead to medical emergencies if proper preventative treatments are not provided. For example, symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea could lead to severe dehydration without the administration of fluids.
If you are addicted to opioids, you should always attend a professional detox program where you can receive medications to limit symptoms of withdrawal and prevent emergencies.
How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?
When it comes to opioid withdrawal, the clock starts ticking right after your last dose of the drug. While you may not experience symptoms of withdrawal for several hours, your body is beginning the withdrawal process behind the scenes.
If you were using a short-acting opioid drug like heroin, you may notice symptoms of withdrawal 6 hours after your last dose. On the other hand, long-acting opioids may not cause symptoms of withdrawal until 12 or even 24 hours after your last dose. Overall, most withdrawal symptoms peak during days 2-4 and subside after one week.
Opioid Withdrawal Timeline
It is important to note that the opioid withdrawal timeline is different for everyone. Many factors come into play, including your overall health, frequency of opioid abuse, the type of opioid you were abusing, and much more. However, there is a general timeline that most individuals follow:
When withdrawal symptoms begin depends on the type of opioid you were abusing. Short-acting opioids are designed to begin working quickly, but they do not last long in your system, so withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as 7 hours after your last dose.
On the other hand, long-acting opioids take longer to start working but can take up to 24 hours to metabolize in your body, so it may take longer for withdrawal symptoms to appear.
The early symptoms of opioid withdrawal are typically mild. Most people experience increased tearing of the eyes, a runny nose, excessive sweating, yawning, muscle aches, and insomnia.
About 3 days into the withdrawal process, the peak stage will begin. This is when your withdrawal symptoms will be at their worst, making it important that you are within the safety of a medical detox program. Oftentimes, people who attempt to detox at home end up relapsing during this stage of withdrawal because of how uncomfortable the symptoms can become.
Common symptoms during the peak stage include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Strong cravings to use opioids
In an opioid detox program, nurses and staff members will provide you with tapering medications that prevent the symptoms of withdrawal, allowing you to focus on recovery.
After the peak withdrawal symptoms pass, your symptoms will begin to slowly fade away. This usually happens about 10 days after your last dose of opioids. It is important to note that some people may experience a shorter or longer withdrawal timeline depending on a variety of personal factors.
Once the withdrawal symptoms subside, you can move on to the emotional and psychological aspects of addiction recovery. Typically, people opt to transition into residential or inpatient treatment after detox, where they will receive 24/7 support and undergo evidence-based behavioral therapy to address the root causes of their addiction.
Finding Help for Opioid Dependency and Addiction
If you or a loved one suffer from opioid addiction, help is available. While you may be tempted to try to quit using opioids on your own, doing so could prevent you from being able to maintain long-term sobriety. Instead, choose to attend an opioid detox program that can offer you the medical and emotional support you need to overcome your addiction.
At New Jersey Interventions, we have close relationships with the highest-rated drug and alcohol detox and treatment centers in New Jersey. A dedicated team member can assess your needs, verify your insurance, and help you choose the right program for you. Contact us today to get started.
Medically Reviewed: September 22, 2022
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.