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The Three Stages Of Opiate Withdrawal

Due to the addictive properties of opiates, the drugs may lead to withdrawal. Opiate withdrawal occurs in three stages.

Opiate Abuse And Withdrawal

Opiates are known as highly addictive substances and are commonly abused through both prescription and non-prescription use.

About 2.1 million people in the U.S. struggle with drug addiction related to prescription opiate abuse.

Opiate dependency due to long-term use can lead to withdrawal. When someone stops or tapers use of the drug, they can expect to undergo at least two or three distinct stages of opiate withdrawal as their body recovers from the drug.

Common opiates and opioids include:

  • oxycodone (Oxycontin or Percocet)
  • morphine
  • codeine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • methadone
  • heroin

Someone who has developed opiate dependence, and therefore a tolerance to the effects of the drug, may start to experience withdrawal symptoms within six to twelve hours after taking their last dose.

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How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last?

While certain symptoms of opiate withdrawal may begin within hours after the last dose, some of the symptoms that appear throughout the withdrawal process may continue for a week or more.

Psychological symptoms in particular, such as cravings and anxiety, may persist for weeks or months after stopped use.

Medical detox, or detox under medical care and supervision, generally lasts between five to seven days.

During this time, a person detoxing from the opiate or opioid drug will experience three generally distinct stages of withdrawal. These stages are distinctive based on the types of symptoms experienced, their intensity and how long they may be expected to last.

Timeline For Stages Of Opiate Withdrawal

The exact timeline for opiate withdrawal can vary from person to person depending on the specific drug that was used, method of use (injection, snorting, or smoking), how long the person used the drug and how much of it.

Additional factors, such as history of trauma, co-occurring mental health conditions, environmental and biological factors, and whether a person receives medical care during detox, may also affect the length and severity of symptoms a person experiences with opiate withdrawal.

The general timeline for opiate withdrawal may be divided up into three distinct stages: early withdrawal, peak period and late withdrawal.

The Three Stages Of Opiate Withdrawal

Stage 1: Early Withdrawal (six to 30 hours)

The first stage of withdrawal symptoms may begin within six to 12 hours after stopped use for short-acting opiates, such as heroin, or within 30 hours for long-acting prescription opiates.

Those that are undergoing this early stage of withdrawal may begin to experience a set of uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms. Symptoms that appear during this time can generally be expected to worsen over the next one to two days.

Early withdrawal symptoms:

  • joint, bone, and muscle aches and pains
  • insomnia
  • sweats
  • loss of appetite
  • racing heart
  • a runny nose
  • increased blood pressure
  • anxiety
  • fever
  • tearing up

Stage 2: Peak Period (72 hours)

Late withdrawal symptoms may be expected to set in about 72 hours after the last use of the opiate. It is within this stage that symptoms generally reach their peak, and can last for up to five days after they begin.

Several of the symptoms experienced during this peak period can appear flu-like, resulting in dehydration and a lack of appetite. In order to help a person keep their strength during this time, it’s important to maintain adequate levels of hydration and nutrition.

Because solid foods and fluids other than water may be difficult to stomach, those going through withdrawal are urged to drink plenty of water and opt for softer foods or liquid nutritional supplements, as these may be easier to ingest.

Late withdrawal symptoms:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • depression
  • goosebumps
  • chills
  • intense drug cravings

Stage 3: Late Withdrawal

It is in this third stage of opiate withdrawal that physical symptoms and some of the more intense psychological symptoms will generally begin to decline.

But rather than being in the clear, the person undergoing withdrawal—as well as loved ones around them—may still need to be cautious for persisting symptoms. The first few days following the general reduction of symptoms, especially, require gentle and patient care.

Opiate abuse and addiction can be complex, and may be be tied to psychological or emotional needs that make sustaining addiction recovery more difficult beyond the intense previous stages of detox.

While the chills and diarrhea of withdrawal have likely gone away by this point, drug cravings, as well as persisting feelings of anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and depression may still linger.

The length of time a person will experience these lingering symptoms can vary from person to person. While detoxing from the drug is the first step to overcoming opiate addiction, additional care may be needed in order to help the person maintain their abstinence from opiate use.

There are several treatment options that may be recommended following detox, including counseling, medication-assisted therapy (MAT), and residential care for addiction as recommended based on the needs of the individual.

If you are unsure of what treatment may be most appropriate or necessary following detox, coordinating with trained addiction treatment specialists may help you determine what course of treatment may be best for you or your loved one.

Medications To Assist In Opiate Withdrawal

Many people tend to be wary of the idea of using other prescription drugs to help treat symptoms of opiate withdrawal. However, professionals have found that medication-assisted therapy (MAT) can actually prove beneficial for many of those undergoing opiate detox.

Rather than serving as a replacement to the opiate or opioid drug, certain FDA-approved medications, like buprenorphine and naltrexone, may be used to help ease psychological cravings and withdrawal symptoms commonly experienced by those with opiate dependence.

Doctors may prescribe or recommend medications as needed to provide a safer and more beneficial experience that will support a person as they undergo the detox stages. Additional treatment may be needed to address the emotional and psychological aspects of the addiction.

Getting Support For Opiate Withdrawal And Addiction

Being willing to take the first steps to withdraw from opiate use is a positive move forward, and it’s not one that you need to take alone. Withdrawing from highly addictive substances like opiates can be a distressing and even dangerous process.

Choosing the option of medical detox, which involves going through withdrawal under medical supervision in a supervised inpatient setting, is generally considered the safest way to detox from opiates.

Whether you are struggling with opiate use or have a loved one fighting addiction, there is help available to ensure you do not have to go through this alone.

Our trained and compassionate staff can offer the resources and care you need within our drug detox program, and help you coordinate additional addiction treatment afterward as needed, including residential rehabilitation.

Contact our specialists at Vertava Health of Texas today to discuss opiate addiction treatment options that may be available for you today.

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