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Opioid Withdrawal

The United States has never seen a drug cause so much destruction in a short period. We continue to witness record-breaking overdose numbers and drug abuse statistics. In 2016, there were a reported 64,000 overdoses attributed to opioids alone, which does not account for every other drug category. Unfortunately, despite their medical use, opioids are the most significant contributor to overdose deaths in the country. The withdrawal symptoms from opiates are a reason it is so challenging to overcome opioid addiction.

Withdrawals caused by opioid drugs, illicit, and prescription, can be severe. It can cause cravings that are difficult to manage alone, and push someone attempting to do so back into a life of drugs. If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid use disorder, it’s crucial to find out what you can expect when facing on the road to sobriety.

What Are the Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?

The classification of drugs known as opioids covers a vast range of drugs. Some of these drugs can range from codeine to heroin that is fast-acting or works slowly over time. The type of opioid you consume will determine your withdrawal experience. Opioid withdrawal symptoms come in two distinct phases. The first phase will involve symptoms similar to the common cold, and the second phase resembles flu-like symptoms.

Physical symptoms aside, opioid withdrawal will also include a wide range of psychological and emotional symptoms. Agitation and anxiety will accompany the first phase, while depression will become increasingly evident in the second phase. In many cases, depression can push someone to the brink of suicide. You must seek help from a medical professional or addiction specialist to help you overcome these intrusive thoughts.

What you can expect from the first phase of withdrawals can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Increased tearing
  • Body aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Confusion
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Dehydration
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy

During the second phase of symptoms, you can expect a much more severe reaction as they will be at their peak, which can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Severe body aches
  • Goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils

An intense craving for opioids will be the most prevalent symptom as you try to ride the wave of physical and emotional issues. When that is coupled with the uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal, it is increasingly difficult to overcome opioid withdrawal on your own.

While opioids will not possess some of the same dangers of withdrawal that you may expect from alcohol or benzodiazepines, it will be a test of character to get through. Due to the difficulties of overcome opioids, the majority of people going through this process will relapse. For this reason, committing yourself to medical detox is the safest and most efficient way to overcome opioid addiction.

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The Stages of the Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

The extent of opioid withdrawal symptoms you experience will be predicated on your level of chemical dependency. These symptoms are going to range from mild to severe based on how much you’ve been using, the length of time you’ve used the drugs, and the dosage that you’ve become tolerant of. The size of the last dose will also play a significant role.

The most common symptom of withdrawal is the severe craving and urge to use opioids. In most cases, these cravings are irresistible and will push you into drug-seeking behavior or finding alternative opioids to your drug of choice, which can be illicit drugs like heroin or fentanyl.

The initial cold-like symptoms will start first and continue for a few days. After the 72-hour mark, the symptoms will begin to peak and feel like the worst flu you’ve experienced. A majority of the symptoms will start to disappear after a week, but depression, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety may continue to last for a month or more. If your symptoms persist for more than a month, it is a sign you are experiencing post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). In the event your withdrawals continue to be bad, speak to a medical professional immediately.

Person bent over with stomach discomfort

Why Should I Detox?

If you choose to quit cold turkey, opioid withdrawal is going to have extreme effects on your mind and body. Abrupt cessation is risky when you have been consuming high doses for extended periods. The higher your tolerance to opioids, the more intense you can expect your comedown to be. If you experience severe symptoms and drug cravings, it is going to be a challenge to resist your urges to use again. Relapsing is not only dangerous but when your tolerance is much lower than it was, it means overdosing can occur much easier.

In medical detox, experienced clinicians and medical professionals will help you to wean off opioids safely. A detox program will ease your symptoms with medications that are designed to make the process more comfortable. The emotional issues are tough to deal with alone, and having an extra hand along the way can be an essential step in a successful detox.

What Is the Next Treatment Step?

Addiction recovery isn’t over once you’ve completed detox, and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), staying in treatment for an adequate period is critical to a successful recovery. Research shows that people need at least three months of treatment for long-term recovery. It’s vital to be committed to the continuum of care.

The continuum of care is a reference to addiction recovery. It starts with detox, and then moves to residential or intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment, and slowly scales back in its intensity. Addiction treatment should offer a combination of therapies that are right for you. You must be involved in a long-term support group for the best results. The continual commitment is your only way to ensure lifelong sobriety.

Sources

(January, 2018). Principles of Effective Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

(January, 2019). Overdose Death Rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

(n.d.). Opiate and opioid withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

(n.d.). Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Retrieved from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS

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