Opiate Abuse

Did you know that roughly 2 million people struggle with opiate abuse in the U.S.? Opiates are known as highly addictive substances and they are commonly abused through both prescription and non-prescription use. Long-term use of opiates can lead to dependency. When someone who abuses opiates stops or slows their use of the drug, it is common to undergo withdrawal within six to twelve hours after taking their last dose.

Common opiates and opioids include but are not limited to:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone (also known as Vicodin, Norco, Lortab)
  • Hydromorphone (also known as Dilaudid)
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (also known as Oxycontin)

How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last?

Certain withdrawal symptoms may begin within hours of the last dose. Other symptoms appear later in the withdrawal process and may continue for a week or longer. For example, psychological symptoms – such as cravings and anxiety – can persist for weeks or even months after stopped use.

It is common for medical detox to last between five to seven days. During this time, a person detoxing from opiate or opioid drugs will experience withdrawal in three distinct stages. These stages are based on the types of symptoms experienced, how intense these symptoms are, and how long they are expected to last.

The exact timeline for opiate withdrawal varies from person to person. It depends on the specific drug that was abused, the method of use, how long the drug was used, and how much of it. There are also additional factors to take into consideration. History of trauma, mental health conditions, environmental and biological factors, and whether medical care during detoxification is received are all factors.

The Stages of Opiate Withdrawal

There are three stages of opiate withdrawal: early withdrawal, peak period, and late withdrawal. We will break down each stage and how it can affect the person going through withdrawal.

Stage 1: Early Withdrawal

The first stage of withdrawal symptoms may begin as early as six to twelve hours after the last dose is taken for short-acting opiates – such as heroin – or within 30 hours for long-acting opiates. In the beginning of this stage, people experience a set of uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms typically worsen over the next day or two.

Early Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Joint, bone, and muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Racing heart
  • Runny nose
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Fever

Stage 2: Peak Period

The second stage of withdrawal is expected to begin about 72 hours after the last dose is taken. It is called the peak period because it is typically when symptoms reach their peak. This stage can last up to five days after the symptoms begin.

Several symptoms during this period appear to be similar to the flu – dehydration, lack of appetite, nausea, and so on. In order to help a person keep their strength, it is important to maintain adequate levels of hydration and nutrition. Because of the flu-like symptoms, solid foods and fluids other than water may be difficult to keep down. We suggest drinking plenty of water and to opt for softer food or liquid nutritional supplements.

Peak Period Symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Depression
  • Goosebumps
  • Chills
  • Intense drug cravings

Stage 3: Late Withdrawal

It is during this stage of opiate withdrawal that physical symptoms begin to decline. Some of the more intense psychological symptoms will generally begin to decline as well. Although it may seem like the person going through withdrawal is in the clear, it is important to the loved ones around them to be cautious of persisting symptoms. The first few days following the reduction of symptoms require gentle and patient care.

Opiate abuse and addiction can be complex. It may be tied to psychological or emotional needs that make maintaining recovery more difficult beyond the previous stages of detox. This means that while the chills and nausea of withdrawal are gone, the drug cravings, anxiety, insomnia, and depression may still linger. There are several treatment options that may be recommended after detox. Counseling, medication-assisted therapy, and residential care for addiction may be recommended based on the needs of the individual.

Getting Support for Opiate Addiction

Being willing to take the first step to withdraw from opiate use is a positive move forward, but you don’t have to take that step alone. Here at Holland Pathways, we offer medical detox,  residential inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization and more.