Opioid withdrawal symptoms are among the most difficult to deal with, as they can cause severe depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and pain throughout the body.
Withdrawal is an unfortunate side effect of any addiction, but it’s also one of the most important steps in recovery.
Without medical assistance and proper detoxification treatments, your chances of relapse or overdose are extremely high. To help you understand what to expect from opioid withdrawal and how to manage it continue reading.
What Is Opioid Withdrawal?
Opioids are a class of drugs that are used to treat pain. They cause a person to feel pleasure and relief from pain and produce side effects that can be dangerous for your health. Because it affects parts of your brain, opioids lead to dependence or addiction.
If you stop taking opioids after regular use, you may experience withdrawal symptoms that vary depending on which drug you take.
While most people will have some symptoms upon withdrawal, it’s not an easy process, and there is no typical time frame in which most people recover.
Can I Have Withdrawals from A Prescribed Opioid?
Yes, taking prescribed opioids for a prolonged time is at risk of developing an addiction. Once these substances are in your system, they work quickly and can be extremely addictive – even if a doctor prescribes them.
Once you are addicted, your body becomes dependent on opioids. As you decide to wean yourself off them, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. The intensity of your withdrawal depends on your level of dependency.
Common Types of Opioids
- Codeine: A widely available pain reliever, codeine is less potent than other opioids.
- Fentanyl: Fentanyl has potent pain relief properties, but it’s also considered one of the most dangerous prescription drugs on today’s market.
- Hydrocodone: Widely used to treat moderate to severe pain, it can be prescribed as a tablet or syrup taken orally.
- Hydromorphone: Known under such brand names as Dilaudid and Exalgo, hydromorphone is an opioid medication used primarily to treat severe pain.
What Are the Symptoms Of Opioid Withdrawal?
Symptoms of opioid withdrawal can vary depending on how long you have been taking opioids, as well as which specific drugs you have taken.
People who abuse opioids for short periods may experience withdrawal symptoms within a few hours or days after their last dose, whereas those who are physically dependent on high doses of opioids for long periods may require several weeks to withdraw from a drug gradually.
Regardless of the length of use or dosage, symptoms can include
- Muscle aches and pains
- Excessive sweating
- Inconsistent mood changes
- Elevated blood pressure
What Is The Opioid Withdrawal Timeline?
The withdrawal timeline for an opiate can last anywhere from a few days to weeks, depending on the drug and the dependency level.
- The first stage is the early stage; this involves stopping the intake of opioids and the onset of cravings for said opioids.
- The second stage is the peak stage, here you will experience some of the most intense withdrawal symptoms.
- The last stage is the beginning of the recovery process. This stage will still be marred with painful withdrawal symptoms but not as intense.
If you seek treatment at a medical detox facility, they will usually provide a timeline that works with your schedule.
Post-Acute Withdrawal from Opioids
If you’ve been taking opioids for a long time, quitting cold turkey or even reducing your dosage is not an easy task.
Some people suffer from flu-like symptoms, including fevers, chills, and body aches. These symptoms may last up to two weeks after you stop taking opioids.
You may also experience nausea and vomiting along with depression, anxiety, and drug cravings. The good news is that these are all treatable conditions, so you don’t have to suffer through them on your own.
Opioid withdrawal can be difficult to deal with, so make sure you know what support systems are available to help you through it.
Features of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment
The three main components of a successful treatment program are detox, behavioral therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.
While detox is often synonymous with drug rehabilitation, it is only part of a larger treatment program.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant physical effects that make a person struggling with addiction want to use drugs again.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioids
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combines behavioral therapy and prescribed medication to treat addiction.
The two primary goals of MAT are reducing your cravings for opioids and keeping you in recovery long enough to learn how to live drug-free.
Both Suboxone and Vivitrol target opioid receptors in your brain, reducing withdrawal symptoms and preventing relapse. While both medications can be beneficial for opioid people struggling with addiction, there are some differences between them that should be considered before deciding which to use.
It would be best to work with a doctor familiar with both treatments to choose one that works best for you.
Peer Support and Opioid Withdrawals
It’s not an easy journey getting off opiates, but you don’t have to go it alone. Many people don’t realize that they need support during withdrawal, but it is an absolute necessity.
Don’t try to go at it alone; create a network of people who will support you as you recover from your addiction.
There are multiple ways to do that, whether professional help or finding like-minded peers who will support you in recovery. For many people with drug addictions, the community is crucial for recovery success, and peer support plays a big role in helping people struggling with addiction maintain sobriety.
Achieving Long Term Recovery from Opioids
Long-term recovery from addiction is difficult. For most people with an opioid use disorder, relapse is quite common.
In fact, within five years of getting clean, about three-quarters of opioid users will relapse. The withdrawal symptoms from opioids can also be physically and psychologically devastating.
This is why most people try to avoid them by taking their pills as prescribed by a doctor or a family member who has experience with addiction treatment methods like methadone maintenance therapy or Suboxone treatment.
Methadone Vs. Buprenorphine Vs. Naltrexone
All three medications—methadone, buprenorphine, and Naltrexone—are opioids, but each works differently on the brain to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and prevent people from taking opiates.
While they all effectively treat addiction, they aren’t equally safe or effective and are better suited for different populations of patients with varying needs. Naltrexone blocks some opioid receptors; methadone reduces cravings; buprenorphine blocks some receptors and partially activates others, resulting in less severe side effects than methadone.
Because it’s safer than methadone and more effective than Naltrexone for treating milder forms of addiction that don’t require daily medical supervision.
Long Term Opioid Use Consequences
In addition to the risk of overdose, opioid use can lead to several problems if used for an extended time.
Individuals who take high doses are more likely to suffer from serious complications such as sleep apnea, infections that require intravenous antibiotics, or even hospitalization. There is also evidence that tolerance builds quickly.
This means that users need higher doses to achieve similar pain relief—which is not good for health or safety.
Opiate Vs. Opioid Use Disorders
Opiate is the umbrella term for opium-based painkillers (morphine, codeine, heroin), while opioid is the term for synthetic opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone. Opiate addiction usually leads to opioid use disorder as people try different opiates to get high.
To differentiate between the two disorders, think of it like alcoholism and alcohol abuse—both are substance use disorders related to alcohol consumption, but an alcoholic would drink regardless of their circumstances (i.e., drunk at work, at home) while someone who abuses alcohol wouldn’t.
Both opiate-use disorder and opioid-use disorder cause similar symptoms when used over time.
Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scale
The Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scale (COWS) was a standardized tool for assessing opioid withdrawal and discontinuation symptoms based on changes in physical signs, mood, and behavior during and after naltrexone administration.
The clinical scale uses a seven-point numerical rating scale from 0 (not present) to 6 (extreme).
A score of 4 or greater indicates significant withdrawal symptoms. A score of 10 or greater indicates severe withdrawal symptoms. The COWS has demonstrated strong reliability and validity in research studies.
Opioid Tapering Schedule
When it comes to reducing your dose, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Typically, a doctor or medical professional will develop a taper schedule based on things like how long you’ve been using opioids and how much you have left to go.
A typical schedule might look like two milligrams every three days. Be sure to follow all recommended taper schedules exactly as written by your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare providers.
If your symptoms become too uncomfortable, talk with your health care provider about adjusting your schedule or tapering faster or slower than prescribed.
Recognizing An Opioid Overdose
If you are not sure whether or not a person is suffering from an opioid overdose, look for these signs:
- Dilated pupils
- The skin is ashen
- They may be in a stupor or unconscious.
- They also might experience nausea and vomiting
- abdominal cramps
- profuse sweating
- excessive yawning
- shallow breathing
Steps To Take During Opioid Overdose
There are several steps to take if you suspect someone is overdosing. If they have overdosed and you administer naloxone, it could save their life and give them a second chance at treatment. Before administering naloxone, call 911 or emergency medical services.
Administering too much naloxone can cause respiratory depression in people who are not using opioids, so make sure to follow your first dose with rescue breathing until EMTs arrive and take over.
Ensure to wash your hands before touching anyone who has just overdosed on an opioid.
Naltrexone And Narcan as Overdose Prevention
Narcan is an over-the-counter drug that reverses opioid overdoses and can save lives, but it’s also a part of Naltrexone therapy for opioid use disorder (OUD).
This drug blocks opioid receptors in your brain, making it exceedingly difficult to get high. Once you have completed treatment with Naltrexone, you can stop taking both medications.
But as long as you have an active OUD, you need to continue taking Naltrexone to avoid relapsing into substance abuse. If you’re thinking about going off of Naltrexone, talk to your doctor first.
If you or anyone is looking for help with opioid withdrawal, you need to seek help from professionals from facilities like Circle Of Hope.