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Opioid Withdrawal

If there is any silver lining to the opioid crisis we are battling as a nation, it has pushed scientists and government officials alike to come up with modern solutions to overcome. Addiction specialists have been hard at work to create advanced treatment theories and testing them on the thousands of people coming in each month. As the record-breaking overdose numbers and drug abuse statistics rise, we are left with only hope. 2016 was an especially deadly year, and 64,000 overdoses were attributed to opioids alone, which isn’t accounting for other categories of drugs. 

Opioids have been proven successful in some cases, but they are still a significant factor when it comes to overdose deaths in our country. One of the reasons we see such an influx in death is because those addicted are afraid of the withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawals, while not deadly, are considered to be some of the most uncomfortable of any illicit or prescription drugs. It is an additional hurdle to overcome when battling opioid addiction.

The symptoms of withdrawal created by opioids can be severe. It can cause you to feel cravings that are unmanageable alone. The cravings can be so intense that they can push you right back into a life of drugs. If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid use disorder (OUD), you must speak to them and understand what they may be facing on their road to sobriety. A little help and understanding can go a long way.

What Are the Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?

Opioid drugs fall under a broader classification of drugs that range from codeine to heroin. Some of these are fast-acting or will work slowly over time. The brand of narcotic you use will determine the type of withdrawal experience you will face. Withdrawal symptoms will appear in two distinct phases. The first portion will feel like you’ve caught a cold, but the second and more intense part will feel like you’ve contracted the flu.

While the physical symptoms are notorious with opioid withdrawal, you will also experience a wide range of emotional and psychological symptoms. Anxiety and agitation will be present in the first phase, while depression will become more prominent moving forward. In some cases, depression can cause suicidal thoughts, which can be dangerous if not monitored. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you must seek immediate help from a medical professional.

You should expect these symptoms during the first stage of withdrawal:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Increased tearing
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion

During the second and more severe portion, the symptoms will be at their peak. You can expect:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe body aches
  • Cramping
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps

An intense craving for your drug of choice will be one of the more apparent symptoms you must deal with. When you couple that with uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal, it becomes a much more difficult task to stop using without medical help.

Opioids are not inherently dangerous when you compare them to other depressants, but that does not mean they should be overlooked. Due to these difficulties, many people who forego this process alone will relapse. If you commit yourself to medical detox, you give yourself a much higher chance of succeeding. 

The Stages of Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

The extent of symptoms will depend on your level of chemical dependence. The signs will range from mild to severe based on your level of use, the dose you’ve become tolerant of, and the length of time you consumed opioids. The size of your last dose will also play a role.

The most common symptom is a craving to use more opioids. In many cases, the needs will be irresistible, and you’ll give in to your drug-seeking behavior. It can lead you to find alternative opioids to your drug of choice, which can be dangerous if you start using heroin or fentanyl. 

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The initial symptoms that are similar to a cold will start first and last briefly. After you’ve reached the 72-hour point, the symptoms will peak and feel like the worst flu you’ve had in your life. A majority of the symptoms will start to subside after a week, but depression, insomnia, fatigue, and anxiety can persist for a month or more. It can be a sign you are experiencing Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). If your symptoms continue to persist, you must reach out to a medical professional immediately.

Why Should I Detox?

Deciding to stop drug addiction is not easy, and that is especially true when it comes to potent opioids. You are going to deal with extreme effects on the mind and body, and being in a place with a set of addiction specialists will allow your experience to be smoother. Clinicians are there to help you wean off the drug safely. A detox program will help you overcome your symptoms comfortably and safely. The emotional issues may be challenging to master on your own, and having that extra hand can be an essential piece to your success.

What Is the Next Treatment Step?

Completing detox should be a milestone in your book, but addiction recovery is just beginning. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) highlights that staying in treatment for an adequate period is critical to long-term and successful recovery. Research has shown that an individual needs at least three months of treatment that starts in detox to facilitate long-term sobriety. You must commit yourself to the continuum of care.

Sources

(January, 2018). Principles of Effective Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

(January, 2019). Overdose Death Rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

(n.d.). Opiate and opioid withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

(n.d.). Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Retrieved from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS

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