Edited by: Dr. Erika Kane

Opioid withdrawal is a challenging and often uncomfortable experience, but it is sometimes an essential step in the recovery process for those beginning recovery from Opioid Use Disorder. The important thing to realize is opioid withdrawal is treatable and early recovery does not have to be painful. In this blog, we’ll delve into opioid withdrawal and how to treat it.   

Opioids are a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with opioid receptors in your cells. Opioids can be made from the poppy plant, such as morphine, or synthesized in a laboratory, such as fentanyl. 

Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in your cells, which can lead to physical dependence and addiction. When you suddenly stop taking opioids, your body goes through a period of adjustment as it tries to regain balance without the drug. This can cause withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to severe depending on the duration and amount of opioid use. 


The Timeline of Opioid Withdrawal 

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, depending on factors like the specific drug used, the individual’s history of use, and their overall health. Despite these variations in intensity and duration, opioid withdrawal tends to follow a clear pattern. 

  1. Early Withdrawal (6-12 hours after the last dose): Early symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness, muscle aches, and cravings for the drug. These symptoms typically intensify over the first day.
  2. Peak Withdrawal (1-3 days): The most intense withdrawal symptoms usually occur around this time. Individuals may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, chills, and severe cravings.
  3. Gradual Improvement (5-7 days): After the peak, symptoms start to subside. Physical discomfort lessens, but psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, and irritability may persist.
  4. Post-Acute Withdrawal (weeks to months): Some individuals experience a prolonged phase of emotional and psychological symptoms, which can include mood swings, insomnia, and persistent cravings. This stage can last for weeks to months, depending on the individual.


Factors Influencing Withdrawal Duration  

The duration of opiate withdrawal can be influenced by several factors: 

  1. The Type of Opioid: Short-acting opioids like heroin and oxycodone typically have shorter withdrawal periods than long-acting opioids such as methadone or extended-release prescription medications.
  2. The Individual’s History: The duration and severity of withdrawal can be influenced by how long a person has been using opiates, how much they use, and their overall health.
  3. Medical and Emotional Support: Seeking medical help and emotional support can significantly ease the withdrawal process and reduce its duration.  Healthcare providers can prescribe medications to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal and to decrease cravings.  
  4. Co-Occurring Disorders: The presence of co-occurring mental health and physical health disorders can complicate withdrawal and its duration.


Seeking Help and Support 

Opioid withdrawal can be a difficult and uncomfortable process, but there are several treatment options available to help manage the symptoms. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), treatment for opioid withdrawal typically involves a combination of medication and behavioral therapy  

Medications that may be used to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Clonidine and Lofexidine: These medications can help reduce anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, and cramping 12. 
  • Buprenorphine: This medication can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. 
  • Methadone: This medication can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is often used in a controlled setting under medical supervision 1. 


If you or someone you know is struggling with opiate addiction, it is essential to seek professional help. Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder and withdrawal can not only make withdrawal symptoms more manageable but also improve the chances of long-term recovery. Give us a call at 877-440-6234.