How Long Does Withdrawal From Opioids Last?

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In This Article

If you're taking opioids for chronic pain, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the medication. Opiate drugs are extremely habit-forming; tolerance, physical dependence, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms are all possible.

Prescription opioids include:

Cutting out opioids safely involves gradually reducing the painkiller dosage as opposed to stopping the medication outright. Your best bet is to consult with your physician before you stop taking these medications.

Overview

Opioid withdrawal is not pleasant, but in most cases, it’s also not life-threatening. In fact, many people describe it like having a bad flu, with fever and sweating, nausea and vomiting, muscle aches and pain, and insomnia.

These symptoms can occur if you try to quit "cold turkey,” (suddenly stop the medication) and even if you're taking the prescribed amount. Tapering off the drugs slowly can help avoid some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to become physically dependent on opioids. For some, it can happen in a mere two weeks, especially if you're taking a large dose.

Signs and Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to very severe, depending on the type of drug, frequency of use, severity of the addiction, as well as your overall health.

Symptoms of withdrawal can begin six to 30 hours after last use of the drug, depending on the type of opioid taken, and 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

Later symptoms:

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

If you notice any of these symptoms, or if your withdrawal symptoms become worse, be sure to inform your healthcare provider immediately.

Even if your symptoms are mild, consider this: Opioid withdrawal can last anywhere from 5 to 10 days.

Coping and Relief

You may be able to go through withdrawal treatment at home if you have a strong support system and appropriate medications. But many people need the support of an inpatient detoxification program or local hospital.

To help your physician determine the best route for cutting out opioids, consider keeping a pain journal and track everything related to your painkillers, including:

  • Dosage
  • Frequency of use
  • Positive and negative effects

It's also important to do a little research and do your best to have a plan before visiting your physician. A few things to consider: What are your expectations? Do you want to simply switch painkillers, or do you want to try and live painkiller free?

When transitioning off of narcotic painkillers, your doctor may prescribe other pain-relieving medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent breakthrough pain. Opiate/opioid addiction may be treated with other drugs that help shorten and alleviate symptoms of withdrawal, including:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, or NSAIDS (Ibuprofen): mild symptoms
  • Loperamide (Imodium): diarrhea
  • Hydroxyzine (Vistaril, Atarax): nausea
  • Clonidine: anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, cramping
  • Suboxone: constipation
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex): shortens the length of detox 
  • Methadone: long-term maintenance
  • Antidepressant: co-occurring mental illness

Warnings

Although the symptoms may not be life-threatening, there are dangerous complications that can occur if left untreated. This includes dehydration, hypernatremia (elevated blood sodium level), and heart failure from persistent vomiting and diarrhea. Aspiration, which can cause choking or lung infection, can also occur if you vomit and then breath in stomach contents into the lung.

Perhaps the biggest danger is a relapse. The opioid withdrawal and detox process reduces your tolerance to the drug, so if you go back to taking the same amount of opioids you previously took, overdose can easily occur.

Long-Term Treatment

For most people, symptoms of withdrawal should markedly improve within a few days or weeks. If your symptoms are lingering or getting worse, it’s important to get medical help.

Quitting opioids is not easy and you may need long-term recovery support or addiction treatment following withdrawal to stay off the drugs, including

Resources

No one expects you to stop taking opioids on your own; help is encouraged and readily available. Even if you have been using a narcotic painkiller for a brief time, you may still be at risk for developing withdrawal symptoms if you quit on your own.

Talk to your physician about why you want to make a change, and let her help you do it the right (and safe) way.

A Word from Verywell

Experiencing the symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be unpleasant and may involve proper aftercare to ensure lasting recovery. Do your best to remain patient and remind yourself that what you are experiencing is temporary. Working with your doctor can help prevent opioid addiction and perhaps help you find a better alternative for pain relief.

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