Opiate withdrawal is an uncomfortable but necessary process to begin opioid addiction treatment. Here’s what to expect and how medical detox at a facility can keep you safe.

Detox, short for detoxification, is often the first step in the opioid addiction recovery process. During this difficult and uncomfortable time, the body cleanses itself of the drugs a person has been using. Throughout opiate addiction, the body develops a dependence on opiates, meaning that there will be unpleasant withdrawal symptoms during detox.

Detox programs are a necessary part of treatment. Because opioid withdrawal can cause dangerous complications, it is important that detox happens at a facility staffed with medical professionals who can treat any such complications. A facility specializing in opiate detox makes the process safer; it also provides comfort as they undergo the challenges of withdrawing from these addictive drugs.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Symptoms of opiate withdrawal include nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and sweating.  
  • Longer-lasting symptoms can be rapid heartbeat, fatigue, hyperactivity, and dilated pupils. 
  • Most symptoms of opioid withdrawal occur within the first 24 hours. 
  • Opioid withdrawal often lasts for four to 10 days.  
  • Detoxing from opioids at a medical facility can take a day to a week depending on the level of dependence, but certain medications can help. 

What Are the Symptoms of Opiate Withdrawal?

Stopping or decreasing the number of opiates a person takes causes specific physical and psychological symptoms known as withdrawal symptoms. Using higher doses of opiates, especially over long periods, tends to worsen these withdrawal symptoms. Initial symptoms of opioid withdrawal can begin within the first day of detoxification.

Physical and psychological symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Hot flashes
  • Sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea

More intense and longer-lasting symptoms may include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia
  • Hyperactivity

Detox and withdrawal may be the toughest parts of overcoming the disease of opioid addiction. The Recovery Village’s accredited treatment facilities help mitigate risks involved with detox while keeping patients as comfortable as possible as they begin recovery.

How Long Do Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Most opioid withdrawal symptoms start within the first 24 hours after a person stops using opiates, but they may appear as soon as 8 hours after a person discontinues use. According to NCBI, withdrawal tends to last a total of four to 10 days, but each person’s timeline may vary. Most withdrawal processes, however, steer along a similar trajectory.

Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable or even painful. It’s important to remember, however, that the discomfort is only temporary. Because of this temporary discomfort, relapse is very likely to occur during the first two or three days of withdrawal.

Opiates have one of the toughest withdrawal processes. The physical effects of the withdrawal period are fairly short, compared to the mental symptoms that may persist. The withdrawal timeline and experience is different for everyone. However, most cases are similar enough that a basic outline of how long opioid withdrawal symptoms will last can be established.

Phase 1 Symptoms (Days 1 to 3):

Symptoms of the initial phase of withdrawal (days 1 to 3) often include:

  • Aggression
  • Headaches
  • Irritation
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
  • Stomach problems such as diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks
Phase 2 Symptoms:

After the first phase of withdrawal, most of the intense symptoms will typically have subsided. At this point, people are likely to experience:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Minor muscle aches
  • Shivers
  • Fatigue

It’s not unusual for some mild symptoms to linger; however, focusing on the goal of recovery and using coping mechanisms like exercise and healthy eating can help tremendously.

Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is of the utmost importance to maintain a person’s health and safety. When someone enrolls in opioid detox at one of The Recovery Village’s facilities, doctors and staff will help the person feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal.

What Are the Signs of an Opioid Overdose?

Opioid overdose is a possibility for people who misuse prescription or illicit opioids. Because opiates trigger receptors in the part of the brain that regulates breathing, high doses of opiates can interrupt, and even stop, a person’s breathing.

Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.

Important overdose symptoms to look for are:

People who are at high risk of opioid overdose are:

  • Opioid-dependent individuals taking high doses of opioids
  • Males
  • Seniors
  • People with co-occurring mental health disorders
  • People with low socioeconomic statuses

Additional risk factors for opiate overdose include having recently been released from the hospital after an overdose, recently being released from jail or prison while having a history of opiate abuse, and recently completing a detox program. The reason the risk is higher at these times is that people have reduced tolerance for opiates when they have been in a treatment setting or incarceration facility. If they return to using again, they may use more than intended and overdose. This is why ongoing treatment is especially critical.

Because of the advent of opioid overdose antidotes like Narcan, a brand-name version of naloxone, a non-fatal opiate overdose is possible. Naloxone is a commonly-used antidote to opioid overdose that can be delivered intravenously, intramuscularly, subcutaneously, or intranasally. It is effective because it is an opiate antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opiates, including respiratory depression. While the drug may help reverse an opioid overdose, immediate medical attention should be sought after its use.

Related Topic: Narcan 101: How to Save a Life in an Emergency

How to Detox from Opioids at a Medical Facility

Detox can take anywhere from a day to a week to complete, depending on the severity of the opioid dependence. It can be an uncomfortable experience because opiates rewire the brain to think it needs these drugs to function properly. Once the opioids are removed, the body can have a volatile reaction, which the person will experience as withdrawal symptoms.

The detox process involves three main steps: evaluation, detoxification and transitioning to further treatment.

Step 1 of Opiate Detox: Evaluation

During the evaluation phase at The Recovery Village, members of the medical and clinical teams will evaluate the patient to determine the extent of his or her addiction. Then the patient receives a customized treatment plan based on specific needs. This plan may include treatment for a dual diagnosis when a person experiences substance use disorder and another mental health condition at the same time.

The evaluation process at The Recovery Village involves tests like:

  • Individual assessments
  • Blood tests
  • Co-occurring condition screenings
  • Medical assessments
  • Psychological assessments
  • Risk assessments
  • Social assessments
Step 2 of Opiate Detox: Detoxification

During the detoxification phase, The Recovery Village strives to make patients as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. During this critical phase, medical professionals carefully monitor each patient, ensuring the medical stabilization of the body. Depending on a person’s needs, the medical team may give the person taper medications or detox drugs to ease discomfort.

There are several different ways to detox from opiates. Many people who try to quit opiates on their own stop cold turkey, or all at once. However, this is one of the most dangerous and least effective ways to overcome addiction. The sudden removal of opiates can shock the system and result in dangerous symptoms like convulsions, hallucinations, and seizures.

Home detox kits that contain vitamins, herbs and minerals are available at drugstores and online for purchase. Many individuals preparing for home detox purchase such kits with good intentions. However, they are rarely successful in overcoming the disease because the kits do not address the deep-rooted psychological and behavioral issues associated with opiate use.

For this reason, medically supervised detox is preferential. A person can undergo detox in many settings, including:

  • Inpatient detox, which may occur at a hospital, detox center, or rehab facility such as The Recovery Village. Drug rehab centers can provide 24-hour supervision, pharmacotherapy, and intensive monitoring during this time.
  • Outpatient detox, which may occur at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or clinic. Patients who choose outpatient detox may only receive medical monitoring during business hours, leaving them vulnerable to setbacks during the evenings and on weekends.
  • Holistic detox programs, which may occur at naturopathic doctors’ offices. These programs usually rely on herbal medicines and alternative therapies to detoxify the mind and body. Such programs may include spiritual counseling, yoga, and acupuncture.

Addiction treatment professionals usually recommend that people detox in a medically-supervised setting because it can be a dangerous process. Complications can include aspirating vomit or breathing it into the lungs, leading to lung infection or asphyxiation. Excessive vomiting, sweating and diarrhea can also cause dehydration, leading to chemical and mineral imbalances and possibly causing seizures. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility like The Recovery Village mitigates all of these risks.

Step 3 of Opiate Detox: Transition to Further Treatment

Once detox is complete, patients can transition to further treatment. Recommended treatment options include moving into a residential treatment center. At The Recovery Village, people in residential treatment can work with counselors and therapists to understand the causes of their addictions, learn how to avoid triggers, and learn how to build sober living skills for long-term recovery.

What Medications Help with Opiate Withdrawal?

There are some medications available to help ease the withdrawal and detox process. These drugs may also have risks and should only be used as prescribed by a medical professional.

Common opiate withdrawal medications include:

  • Methadone: Methadone is well-known for its ability to relieve withdrawal symptoms during opiate detox. Many doctors recommend methadone as a short-term solution. However, some people may become addicted to methadone itself. Before taking methadone, it is important to discuss the risks with a doctor or rehab treatment team. It is important to keep in mind that despite the risks of methadone addiction, according to SAMHSA, research shows that it reduces the risk of death, keeps people in treatment, and decreases illegal opiate use.
  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid painkiller, as well as an approved medication for treating opioid dependence. Suboxone is the most popular buprenorphine prescription for addiction withdrawal and is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, an opiate overdose antidote. While buprenorphine activates the opioid receptors in the brain, stopping withdrawal symptoms, naloxone prevents the person from experiencing a high and becoming addicted to Suboxone.
  • Clonidine: Clonidine can help treat opiate withdrawal syndrome symptoms, such as anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping. According to JAMA, research shows that it is effective in detox programs and eases symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

During detox, doctors may also administer other medications to help alleviate specific symptoms. Depending on a person’s needs, they may receive sleep aids, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or over-the-counter medications to treat nausea.

Related Topic: Ibogaine treatment centers

If you or a loved one wants to learn more about the opioid detox process or needs detox care for opioid addiction, contact The Recovery Village today. Our representatives can answer your questions and guide you toward treatment in your area. Your call will be confidential, and you don’t have to commit to a program to learn more about treatment options.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.