Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
Opiate withdrawal – it’s something most people hope will never happen to them. Non-opiate users fear opiate withdrawal as it means they, at some point, must have started using opiates in the first place. On the other hand, regular opiate users live in constant fear of withdrawals, and try their hardest to continue using opiates out of desperation of keeping the withdrawals at bay for just a little while longer.
While heroin is definitely one of the strongest and most problematic opiates, it is far from the only one that can cause withdrawals. Ever had a tooth pulled? It’s highly likely your doctor gave you something for the pain that is more than capable of causing withdrawals if taken incorrectly, or for too long.
One common misconception about opiate withdrawals, is they are something that only happens to “junkies”, once they run out of money to score more dope. This stems directly from another misconception that only heroin is strong enough to cause painful opiate withdrawals.
The term “opiate” covers everything from opium to Vicodin and back to heroin. Opiate withdrawal really came to the attention of the mainstream though, once the drug Oxycontin started to become regularly prescribed in the United States. Although a godsend for people who suffer from debilitating pain, Oxycontin has a chemical makeup so closely related to that of heroin, that well-meaning patients end up abusing their pain medication – ultimately trading debilitating pain for a debilitating addiction.
Just like with any drug, after the invigorating high comes the inevitable low. Unlike many other drugs though, opiate withdrawals can last for an exceptionally long time, making quitting opiates unthinkable to most people who are in the midst of a serious opiate addiction.
How long do opiate withdrawals last for?
If you ask a former addict, they might tell you they have been clean for years and are still going through opiate withdrawals. They don’t mean they are still experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms, but that the mental side effects of opiate use will last for a lifetime. Former addicts often find that even decades after quitting opiates, they still have to make daily, conscious decisions that keep themselves away from the situations and people that enable them to use opiates.
If nothing else, that should be a good enough reason to keep anyone from picking up an opiate habit. Starting to use opiates is akin to saying you don’t mind opiates (or the avoidance of) being a part of your life, for the rest of your life.
When it comes to the physical opiate withdrawal symptoms, they don’t last nearly as long, but the physical effects can certainly feel like a lifetime to anyone who is currently experiencing them.
When people are researching information about opiate withdrawal, they usually end up looking for an opiate withdrawal timeline. There are two factors keeping any opiate withdrawal timeline you see from being 100% accurate though:
Opiate withdrawals, their symptoms and severity, are all dependent on age, usage amount and length of usage. Obviously, older people who have been using higher doses for longer periods of time will experience longer, more difficult withdrawals.
Scientifically we can pinpoint different symptoms of the withdrawal process, but it is hard to verify the opiate withdrawal timeline from people who are actually withdrawing from opiates. This is because people going through withdrawals will find it difficult to accurately keep track of the time/date.
That being said, most cases of opiate withdrawal are typical enough in nature to make a fairly accurate timeline of. Our opiate withdrawal timeline below is simply a guideline of what most opiate addicts experience during withdrawal.
Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
Day 1 – 2 – These are the most difficult days to get through and also where most relapses tend to occur. The withdrawal symptoms usually kick in about 12 hours after the last dose was taken, or even before with lighter symptoms like agitation. Once the withdrawals fully begin, the most noticeable symptom is the muscle aches and pain – the muscles have forgotten what it’s like to not be numbed, so the feeling can be excruciatingly painful.
Along with the pain, most people sweat quite profusely, have diarrhea, experience loss of appetite and can’t sleep. Those going through withdrawals almost always experience anxiety which can lead to panic attacks as well. A runny nose or general cold symptoms can also be present but are quite minor compared to the others.
Day 3 – 5 – By this point, the worst of the pain should be over, though not completely gone. Eating and keeping solid food down will still be difficult but it is recommended to force yourself to eat something to stay nourished.
Diarrhea tends to stops during this period, although usually due to having nothing to actually pass through the bowels, rather than the diarrhea clearing itself up. Goosebumps, shivers, abdominal cramping and vomiting are all common symptoms during this period.
Day 6 and beyond – Once most people reach day 6, they are mostly out of the woods, but it’s not quite over yet. It still may be difficult to eat and it is normal to still experience nausea and anxiety.
The best thing to do at this point is to keep your mind and body active. Instead of just sitting around the house feeling miserable, force yourself to go out and do something to take your mind off the situation. A bit of light exercise, like walking or doing housework can do wonders to your overall mood and outlook on your new life.
How to make an opiate withdrawal more tolerable
The simplest answer is to simply never start using opiates so the problem never presents itself. Of course, if you are past that stage already, it’s not very useful advice.
If you are planning to cease your opiate use and anticipate withdrawals, the best advice is to not try and go through it alone. Whether you check yourself into a rehab facility for your detox, or have a friend or family member by your side, things are much easier when your aren’t experiencing the withdrawal with no one to depend on but yourself. Also, the temptation to go out and find more opiates to relieve the pain can be overwhelming – almost impossible to resist with no one there to stop you.
Some medical experts advise the use of Benzodiazepines like Klonopin or Valium. While these can help to make the withdrawal symptoms more bearable, it needs to be noted that these are also addictive drugs with a potential for abuse, and their own withdrawal process if used for too long. If you do decide to use drugs like this to assist in your opiate withdrawal, tread lightly. You didn’t develop an opiate addiction by only making responsible decisions with addictive substances, and the last thing you want to do is trade one addiction for another.
Finally, if you are addicted to opiates and scared or confused about your options for quitting, don’t hesitate to consult with your doctor, or any doctor for that matter. While possession of drugs is illegal, admitting that you are addicted to drugs is not. Unless you blatantly expose yourself to be in possession of drugs, you will face no legal repercussions from discussing your addiction with a doctor. A doctor can also point you in the right direction of a rehab center that is able to help you, or prescribe you other medications to help you make it through the withdrawal process successfully.
Some of the most common opioids that are being abused are methadone, buprenorphine, suboxone, morphine, clonidine, dilaudid, naltrexone, and drugs used for anesthesia, although there are a long list of other dangerous narcotics. Ultimately, abusing any narcotics will be threatening to your health, and there’s always the risk of overdose.
Once the initial emergency is over, it’s important to get a reliable diagnosis so you can become long-term treatment for opioid dependence. Detoxification is an important step, but the right healthcare can help reduce unpleasant side-effects like sweating until withdrawal symptoms subside. It’s important to treat recovery as a lifelong process, and know that even once you’re doing well, it will take sustained maintenance of what you’ve learned to keep your urges at bay.