Opioid Detox: What To Expect

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People who abuse opioids will go through a period of withdrawal if they stop taking them. Opioid detox can be very uncomfortable and last days, depending on the severity of the addiction.


Opioid Detox: What To Expect

Opioids are synthetic drugs that have the same effects as naturally occurring opiates, which are derived from opium poppy plants. Opioids are often used as medicines due to their powerful pain-relief properties.

When illicit or prescription opioids are abused, it can quickly lead to physical dependence and addiction. The first step in overcoming opioid use disorder is the process of detoxification.

Opioid withdrawal can be daunting, but with a healthy expectation for how the experience will go, and with help from medical professionals, people can break free from this dangerous addiction.

Cause Of Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are painful effects that will likely occur if someone abruptly stops using opioid drugs.

Some of the most commonly abused opioid drugs include:

  • codeine
  • heroin
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen)
  • OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Demerol (meperidine)
  • fentanyl

Withdrawal happens due to how opioid chemicals change the way the brain operates. If the drug is suddenly removed from the body, the brain struggles to adjust to operating without it.

Symptoms Of Opioid Withdrawal

There are several symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal, some more serious than others.

Symptoms of opiate withdrawal may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle aches and pains
  • diarrhea
  • elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • restlessness
  • tremors
  • runny nose
  • insomnia
  • depression
  • dilated eyes
  • agitation and anxiety
  • intense cravings

The severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary in people depending on a variety of factors. Some people find withdrawal to be a minor annoyance while others may experience excruciating discomfort.

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal can be marked by distinct stages, each with its own set of physical and psychological symptoms and unique challenges.

Early Onset Symptoms (First 24 Hours)

Within a few hours of the last use of opioids, the body begins to react with a host of symptoms such as restlessness, sweating and chills, and muscle aches. This initial wave of discomfort can last up to 24 hours.

Peak Of Symptoms (24-72 Hours)

Between days one and three, the worst symptoms of withdrawal begin. Physical strains may include nausea, vomiting, and heightened vital signs.

Many people also experience intense cravings during this period as well.

Gradual Improvement

Between four and seven days from the onset of withdrawal, the intensity begins to wane, and relief sets in. Gradually, appetite and the ability to get restful sleep will return.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Some people may experience a protracted period of withdrawal known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This condition is caused by long-term changes in the central nervous system, including the brain’s opioid receptors.

PAWS symptoms may include mood swings, occasional cravings, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating.

How Opioid Detox Works

While opioid withdrawal is generally less dangerous than withdrawal from other substances, such as alcohol, it will usually involve the use of medications to help the body wane off opioids with minimized pain.

Withdrawal management will differ with each client, depending on their unique history and needs.

Medications used in opioid detox include:

  • methadone — Methadone works by lessening the pain of opiate withdrawal and blocking the euphoric effects of drugs such as heroin, hydrocodone, morphine, and others. Methadone can be addictive and should be taken only under strict medical supervision.
  • buprenorphine — Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist that produces effects such as euphoria at low to moderate doses. When taken as prescribed, it is safe and effective in the treatment of opioid addiction.
  • naltrexone — Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids and suppresses opioid cravings. There is no abuse potential with naltrexone.
  • Suboxone — Suboxone can simultaneously manage chronic pain as well as the uncomfortable symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal.

Upon entering a detox center, clients will be assessed to determine the severity of their addiction, their history of substance use, and any underlying health conditions or mental health disorders.

At the end of the detox process, many clients will transition into an outpatient or inpatient rehab program where they will continue to receive counseling and other forms of treatment.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Programs

Drug and alcohol rehab programs are staffed by healthcare providers and other medical professionals to help people battling addiction achieve lasting recovery.

Opioid addiction treatment options may include:

It’s imperative to receive adequate treatment to minimize the chance of relapse and life-threatening opioid overdose.

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