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Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

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If you or someone you care about is addicted to opioids, the road to recovery can seem daunting indeed. Detoxing from opioids without medical support is guaranteed to cause a number of incredibly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are the result of significant changes that have occurred in the brain’s chemistry.

Although prescription opioids can be effective pain relievers for those dealing with severe injury or illness, prolonged and repeated use of these drugs causes the brain and body to become dependent. Once dependency is reached, widespread distress occurs whenever abstinence is attempted.

Many people who are addicted to opioids make at least one effort to quit on their own. They might try to ration or limit their drug use, or they may try going “cold turkey” by simply stopping outright. However, no matter how strong a person’s resolve may be, the pain of physical withdrawal often causes a quick return to opioid use.

At Recovery Bay, our medically assisted detox program is designed to make this process much easier. Not only are we able to mitigate the physical effects of withdrawal, but we also offer support for the psychological discomfort that detoxing causes as well. Our medically assisted detox sets the stage for successful recovery by making this process manageable and significantly less painful.

Additionally, it allows patients to seamlessly transfer into extended drug addiction treatment so that there are never any gaps or delays in essential care. Understanding why the brain and body respond to opioid detox like they do highlights the extraordinary importance of seeking professional detox support.

What Causes Opioid Withdrawal?

All drugs act on the body’s central nervous system (CNS) and its reward center. This portion of the brain releases powerful neurotransmitters or “feel good” hormones whenever good behaviors are performed. Designed to encourage healthy, life-supporting actions, the brain’s reward center naturally releases neurotransmitters in response to physical exercise, the completion of challenging tasks, and efforts to engage with others socially.

When people take opioids, they get the relaxation and feelings of euphoria that beneficial behaviors typically trigger, due to intense dopamine surges. Not only do opioids make them feel extremely good by forcing the release of more dopamine than they would normally experience, but their brains characterize opioid use as a beneficial behavior. This sets the stage for repeated use as people discover that returning to opioids will invariably make them feel better.

Repeated drug use of any type wears the brain’s reward center out. With heavy and prolonged drug use, important neurotransmitters like dopamine may be produced in abundance, or they may not be produced in adequate amounts. This is known as neurotransmitter burnout and it represents total chemical dependence or full-blown opioid addiction.

Given that dopamine controls more than positive emotions, all of the systems and processes throughout the body that are reliant upon this neurotransmitter struggle during detox. Dopamine is responsible for keeping people motivated and focused. It also plays a role in smooth muscle control, balance, coordination, and more. Absent of opioids, the brain and body may not have enough dopamine to maintain a variety of normal processes.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

There are many different opioids that people can become physically dependent on. Some opioids are short-acting or provide a relatively short-duration high. Others are long-acting and have a much longer effect on how a person feels and functions. The opioid withdrawal timeline can vary from person to person depending upon a variety of factors. These include:

  • The type of opioid being used
  • The person’s general health at the time of detox
  • The length of addiction
  • Whether any other substances are being used

and more. However, the symptoms or side effects that nearly all long-term opioid users will experience when abstaining include:

  • An elevated heart rate
  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Elevated anxiety levels
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Sweating
  • Chills

These symptoms may last longer for some people than others, and they may be far more intense.

How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?

Heroin is a relatively short-acting opioid. For heroin users, initial withdrawal symptoms can present within just eight to 12 hours after a person’s last use. These symptoms peak within just 24 to 72 hours, and they’ll gradually decline over the next several days. For heroin users, physical withdrawal symptoms typically last seven days or slightly longer,

However, morphine and other short-acting opioids such as immediate-release hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl can cause withdrawal symptoms anywhere between eight and 24 hours of last use. Moreover, the withdrawal symptoms for these drugs can last up to 10 full days. For methadone and controlled-release versions of hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl, withdrawal symptoms may not appear for up to 36 hours after a last dose, but they can last for two full weeks.

Complications During Opioid Detox

Detoxing from opioids in a professional rehab facility is always the safest and easiest choice. With medically assisted detox, the symptoms of withdrawal are constantly monitored and managed, and various treatments and therapies are employed. These interventions can alleviate discomfort, keep patients’ vital signs stable, and expedite toxin removal. 

Although opioid detox is largely believed to be unpleasant but unlikely to prove deadly, in some instances, unmanaged opioid detox can result in permanent physical injuries and even death. Among some of the potentially fatal risks of detoxing alone are:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Hypernatraemia (high blood sodium)
  • Heart failure

When “going cold turkey”, people also have an incredibly high likelihood of giving up. Absent of the natural, pain-relieving benefits provided by normal neurotransmitter production, the already uncomfortable process of abstinence may seem unbearable to the recovering addict. Given that dopamine plays an important role in keeping people motivated, the absences of this particular neurotransmitter can make it especially hard for recovering opioid users to stay the course. 

Treatments Options for Opioid Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms are among one of the biggest causes of relapse among those in opioid recovery. With medically assisted detox, various medications can be used to alleviate or prevent detox-related discomfort. During detox, the primary focus is on the stabilization of patient vital signs and the limiting of pain.

There are multiple medications for opioid recovery that can be used in a long-term capacity. These medications affect the same portion of the brain, without causing people to feel high. Among these are methadone and buprenorphine.

There are also medications like naltrexone which are designed to block opiate receptors within the brain and help prevent relapse. This helps trick the brain so that using opioids no longer produces feelings of being high. As the opioid withdrawal timeline nears its end, patients can start discussing their long-term treatment programs with their rehab support teams.

Ultimately, long-term opioid recovery typically requires physical, psychological, and social interventions. At Recovery Bay, we offer patients individualized detox support and long-term recovery plans. We help each client establish their goals, and learn more about the benefits and potential drawbacks of each treatment method.

We work hard to ensure that everyone gets the type and level of care they need for learning new and healthier coping skills, and establishing solid foundations for lifelong sobriety. If you or someone you love is battling opioid addiction, we can help. To get started, call us today.