Opiate Withdrawal Duration: What to Expect in Opioid Detox

The opiate withdrawal duration varies among dependent individuals, but medical detox can reduce the time it takes.

Opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers are highly addictive due to the extreme euphoria they produce, and opioid addiction in particular causes major problems with finances, relationships, health, and the law. But many people who want to end an opioid addiction find that when they stop, the opiate withdrawal duration is too long to bear, and the symptoms that set in feel far worse than the addiction. That’s why studies show that relapse rates among those who try to quit is 91 percent- 59 percent of whom relapse within the first week of detox. 

The opiate withdrawal duration varies, but in general, short-acting opioids, like heroin and some prescription painkillers, produce symptoms that set in eight to 24 hours after the last dose and last around four to 10 days. Long-acting opioids, like methadone and extended-release opioid medications, produce withdrawal symptoms around 12 to 48 hours after the last dose, and these typically last 10 to 20 days.

What Causes Opiate Withdrawal?

Opioids are highly addictive due to their extremely euphoric effects. Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using even though your use is causing problems in your life. Opiates produce powerful cravings, and changes in the brain’s physical structures and chemical functions affect your thought and behavior patterns.

Dependence on opioids is different from addiction. It’s characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using. Like addiction, dependence results from changes in brain function.

When you use opioids, they produce a massive dopamine rush. This brain chemical is responsible for the feelings of euphoria and wellbeing that opioids cause. In order to compensate for the unnaturally high levels of dopamine, the brain makes chemical adjustments to compensate. This leads to tolerance, which means you need increasingly larger doses of opioids to achieve the same effects a smaller dose once produced.

As you use larger amounts, the brain continues to adjust. At some point, brain function may shift so that the brain begins operating more comfortably when opioids are present. Then, when you stop using, normal brain function rebounds–some chemicals that have been suppressed become active again, and those that were increased are reduced back to normal levels. This swift change in brain function causes the onset of withdrawal symptoms. The opiate withdrawal duration depends on a few factors, such as your age, how long you’ve been dependent, how much of the drug is in your body at the start of detox, and your general state of physical and mental health.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Not everyone will experience all of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. The opiate withdrawal duration can range from a few days to several weeks. The most common symptoms of the early stages of opiate withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

The most common symptoms of the later stages of opiate withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal cramps and diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chills and goosebumps

While the symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be excruciating, they’re not particularly dangerous. But medical detox is nonetheless essential for successfully ending a dependence on heroin or prescription painkillers.

Medical Detox Shortens the Opiate Withdrawal Duration

Medical detox is supervised by medical and mental health professionals who administer medications as needed to help reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the opiate withdrawal duration. Some of the opiate withdrawal remedies include:

  • Methadone, which can relieve withdrawal symptoms, including cravings, without producing intense euphoria
  • Buprenorphine, which also reduces the intensity of withdrawal symptoms as well as shortens the duration of detox
  • Clonidine, which reduces symptoms like anxiety, muscle aches, agitation, and cramping

A variety of medications may be used to treat symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. High quality detox programs will also offer complementary opiate withdrawal remedies like massage therapy, acupuncture, restorative yoga, and nutritional therapy to improve your physical and mental health and sense of wellbeing.

Detox is Not Addiction Treatment

Addiction is far more complex than dependence and requires intensive therapy to successfully treat it. After detox, a high quality treatment program will utilize a variety of therapies to help you overcome your addiction to opioids.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.