Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox

The severity of opiate withdrawal symptoms scares many people out of trying to quit. You don’t have to be one of them! In fact, a medically supervised detox ensures that you withdraw from the substance safely and in comfort. Being prepared by understanding what kind of symptoms to expect can make a huge difference. Keep reading to find out more about opiate withdrawal symptoms.

What are Opiates?

Opiates are controlled prescription substances that are obtained from opium, which is a chemical that occurs naturally in poppy seeds and plants. These drugs, which are used for treating moderate to severe pain in patients in a clinical setting, are also referred to as “opioid painkillers.” Opiates provide a very calming effect which can be helpful when it comes to physical pain. The euphoric and tranquil effects of opiates are felt when users take more than prescribed. This effect is what leads many to continuously abuse their prescriptions and become addicted. Addiction comes at a price that oftentimes ends up being fatal. 

Opiate addiction can be defined by compulsive drug-seeking behavior. For instance, in an effort to get more of the drug, a person may visit multiple doctors in order to get new prescriptions, also known as “doctor shopping.”

The use of opiates can even lead to eventual heroin use. Heroin mimics the effects of opiates, but at a much more intense and dangerous level. If you or a loved one is suffering from opiate addiction, please continue reading to become more informed so the first step in long-term sobriety can be taken.

Opiate Withdrawal

Stopping drug use makes you uncomfortable. There’s no way around it. Your mind will race as your brain tries to reach equilibrium. Your body will ache because your central nervous system is no longer depressed.

As it restarts connections, you’ll feel your body go through the pains of withdrawal. Some users liken this period to a bad episode of the flu. Add anxiety, insomnia, and periods of heavy sweating to the mix. Yes, this list can be a little overwhelming. However, with the right help and support system, you can get through it. 

You can see why medically managed opiate withdrawal drug detox is a better option than doing it at home alone.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms vary from moderate to very severe, depending on the prescription itself, frequency of use, the intensity of dependence, and your overall health.

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can include:

Early symptoms (within 24 hours of stopping the drug):

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Restless legs
  • Eyes tearing (lacrimation)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent yawning

Day-After Symptoms:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure

Opiate Withdrawal Symptom Timeline

Anticipatory (3-4 hours after the last dose): Increased anxiety or fear related to oncoming symptoms commonly happens during this stage of withdrawal. People in this stage also tend to begin feeling cravings and drug-seeking behavior.

Early Acute (8-10 hours after the last dose):  This stage is characterized by anxiety and restlessness beginning to start. A person may experience flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, as well as stomach aches. Cravings and drug-seeking behavior also tend to persist.

Fully-Developed Acute (1-3 days after the last dose):  This stage is when symptoms hit their peak. Body tremors, muscle spasms, diarrhea, insomnia, and increased blood pressure are generally experienced during this phase. Cravings are also strongest during this time.

PAWS – Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (Up to 24 months after the last dose):  Acute symptoms are no longer present during this phase. However, individuals may have mood swings, cravings, drug dreams, anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and poor concentration. It is important to remember that the person is still significantly sensitive to environmental triggers that may trigger a relapse.

What Happens at a Detox Facility 

Therapists help you to overcome the discomfort and assist with medications as needed. Additionally, the facility provides nutritious meals that strengthen the body and keep you healthy. Holistic treatments such as massages and yoga also help. Once you break your physical dependence on opiates, you’re ready to move on to rehab.

Depending on your overall health and the length of time you’ve been using, detox may take about a week. The worst symptoms taper off after three days, which makes the stay more comfortable. That said, some people take a little longer. In particular, those that suffer secondary health problems find that the process isn’t as quick.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms 

MAT is a form of addiction care that takes traditional rehab approaches and combines it with the use of (supervised) medication intake. These medications can be used to improve the client’s safety, lessen withdrawal symptoms, alleviate cravings and aid in sustaining long-term sobriety.

As the opiate epidemic grows, the need for evidence-based opioid treatment programs is in high demand. That’s where medication-assisted treatment comes in, supplemented by different kinds of therapy. This can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which targets the patient’s triggers, emotional and mental state, as well as any other mental health conditions that are affecting them. 

With MAT, a person’s chances of staying consistently on the road to recovery from opiate addiction increase significantly. 

The Effectiveness of MAT During an Opiate Detox

FDA-approved medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone—can either safely replace the opioids, or block the opioid effects on the brain. These medications can also alleviate physiological cravings.

Prior to starting MAT, authorized clinicians screen patients to make sure they’re prepared to begin treatment, both physically and mentally. MAT provides a more carefully formulated, individually tailored program of medication and behavioral therapy. In addition, MAT provides support services that address the emotional and mental needs of each person.

Medications Used During an Opiate Detox

More often than not, medical professionals will prescribe medications during the detox process. These medications help treat the long-term issues associated with opiate withdrawal, such as intense cravings. As time goes on, the medical professional will gradually taper down the dosage of these medications until the patient recovers from intense withdrawal symptoms. Medications may also continue to be prescribed while the patient is continuing treatment in an inpatient rehab and detox facility.

Common medications used to combat opiate withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Clonidine
    Clonidine is typically prescribed to suppress withdrawal symptoms and combat high blood pressure. It is particularly helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress. Clonidine does not cause the euphoric feelings typically connected with opioid painkillers. The result is a drug that has a small potential for abuse and physical dependence. Once withdrawal symptoms subside, this makes it easier to taper off the drug.
  • Methadone
    Methadone was once used a lot more during the detox process but has mostly been replaced by buprenorphine. It is usually prescribed to help patients taper off of the drug they once became dependent on. 
  • Buprenorphine
    Buprenorphine, otherwise known as Suboxone or Subutex, is more known for its treatment of alcoholism, but this medication has proven to be a very impactful form of treatment for opiate withdrawal. The drug has the purpose of decreasing symptoms of withdrawal and opioid cravings, which helps patients stay motivated in treatment.

Moving Into Rehab Right Away is Crucial

It’s a little-known fact that you may still experience some opiate withdrawal symptoms months after detox. However, because they’re typically psychological rather than physical, you may need the assistance of therapists at a drug treatment center

Treatment options there include:

  • Talk therapy in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy and similar modalities that help you address the “why” of addiction
  • Group therapy, which allows you to work on forming peer bonds and lets you hone social skills
  • Dual diagnosis assessment and treatment for individuals with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and similar disorders
  • Holistic treatments that continue to support your physical well-being with massage therapy, acupuncture, or chiropractic care
  • Emphasis on time management, life skills, and planning for daily activities after leaving the facility

The goal of the stay at the rehab center is to learn to live life without needing to use opiates. Depending on the length and severity of your addiction, this may take a little longer. For this reason, therapists adjust your treatment depending on your progress and with possible trigger situations in mind. Doing so is part of relapse prevention.

You Can Conquer Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate withdrawal symptoms may be a little overwhelming to learn about. Whether it’s you or a loved one that’s concerned, we want to assure you that these symptoms are conquerable. The light at the end of the road is far brighter than any pain being felt now. You have the power to choose and see this setback as a spring to catapult yourself further in life. No matter how bad things may seem, they don’t have to stay this way.

Don’t waste another day on a high that doesn’t last. Here at 1st Step, our purpose is to help you on the road to long-term recovery. Begin this fulfilling journey by calling 866.971.5531 today or contacting us here.

References

https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/withdrawal-detox/

https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment#medications-used-in-mat

About the Author: Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.