After repeated exposure to opioid drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin or heroin, your brain cells are changed. When you stop misusing drugs, your damaged brain cells can’t react normally, and withdrawal symptoms begin. They typically last for about a week.
Opioid withdrawal is considered a life-threatening condition. Severe symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, can result in dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. If you develop withdrawal, you must get treatment for it.
Opioid Withdrawal Explained
Opioid withdrawal is a natural process that begins with damage caused by drugs and ends with brain cells returning to normal functioning.
When Does Opioid Withdrawal Start?
While all opioids can cause withdrawal, symptom onset can vary depending on the type of drug you use. Short-acting opioids (like oxycodone) cause withdrawal within 6 to 12 hours, while long-acting opioids (like methadone) cause withdrawal within 30 hours.
When Does Opioid Withdrawal End?
Almost all types of opioid withdrawal fade within about a week, but it’s not uncommon for people to deal with persistent symptoms for much longer. Though symptoms wane in intensity, they can linger.
What Does an Opioid Withdrawal Timeline Look Like?
|Symptoms Begin||Symptoms Peak||Symptoms Ease|
|Between 6 to 30 hours after last dose||Within 72 hours||Within a week|
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
During opioid withdrawal, your brain and body develop symptoms that increase in intensity until they fade away. Multiple phases are involved in an average opioid withdrawal process.
As your body processes the last bits of drugs within your system, symptoms begin. Those symptoms can include the following:
- Aching muscles
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
Acute Withdrawal Stage
At this phase, your symptoms are severe and difficult to ignore. Common signs can include the following:
- Diarrhea and cramping
For many people, acute symptoms lessen and go away within about a week. But some scientists have a theory that the majority people recovering from opioid misuse develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
People with PAWS experience anxiety symptoms, combined with severe cravings for drugs. These signs can persist for much longer than a week, even for months or years. Drug cravings may never disappear entirely.
Getting Help for Opioid Withdrawal
Experts say people with opioid withdrawal symptoms should seek treatment that involves medications like methadone or buprenorphine. These therapies can latch to receptors used by opioids, forming a weak link that eases symptoms without creating a high.
Some people use medications for withdrawal alone, but others keep using them for longer periods. Medications for opioid use disorder (mOUD) programs offer prescriptions combined with therapy to help people stay sober over the long term.
If you’re dealing with opioid withdrawal symptoms, talk to your doctor about enrolling in an mOUD program. A comprehensive program can help you to sustain recovery and build the foundation of a healthier future.
- Opioid Withdrawal. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/. September 2022. Accessed March 2023.
- Opioid Withdrawal Support. Indian Health Service. https://www.ihs.gov/opioids/recovery/withdrawal/. Accessed March 2023.
- Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm. April 2022. Accessed March 2023.
- Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS. Accessed March 2023.
- Effects of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid Use Disorder on Functional Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Rand Health Quarterly. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7302321/. June 2020. Accessed March 2023.
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD
Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More
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