Drugs on the table and a person suffering from one of the stages of opiate withdrawal symptoms

Opiates bind to certain receptors in the nervous system, relieving severe pain and helping some users feel more relaxed. This sense of relaxation sometimes compels people to take opiates even when they’re not needed for pain relief. Prolonged drug use of substances such as codeine, heroin, fentanyl, and oxycontin can cause a wide range of negative side effects, from dizziness and nausea to fatigue and respiratory problems. Opioid withdrawal syndrome is a condition that arises from opioid dependence. It requires immediate medical attention, as it can be life-threatening. Opioid use can also cause behavioral changes that make it difficult to keep your job or continue managing your responsibilities at home. If you’re ready to stop using opiates, it’s important to understand physical dependence and psychological changes that are likely to occur once you take your last dose. Keep reading to learn more about the stages of opiate withdrawal.



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Early Opioid Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms

The first stage of opioid withdrawal, early withdrawal, usually begins anywhere from a few hours to more than two days after your last dose of opiates. The timing depends on whether you’ve been using short-acting opiates or long-acting opiates. Short-acting opiates are eliminated from the body much faster than long-acting opiates, which means early withdrawal may begin within as little as six hours after taking hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone or another short-acting opioid medication. Opiate withdrawal signs from long-acting opiates may not begin for as long as 30 hours after your last dose.

Several physical and psychological symptoms occur during the early withdrawal stage. One of the most common psychological symptoms is a heightened state of anxiety.

Potential physical symptoms include the following:

  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Runny nose
  • Increased tear production

Peak Period During the Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

The peak period is the second stage of opiate withdrawal, and it typically begins within 72 hours after you take your last dose of opiates. It is a severe withdrawal, and its symptoms are usually at their worst during this stage, which may cause you to feel like you have the flu or another illness. During the peak period, you may experience ongoing nausea and vomiting, making drinking plenty of water and eating nutritious foods extremely important. If nausea makes it difficult to eat normal meals, stick with soup, pudding, mashed potatoes and other foods that are easy on the stomach and don’t require a lot of chewing.

You may experience the following opioid withdrawal symptoms during this stage:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Goosebumps and chills
  • Strong opiate cravings

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Late Opiate Addiction Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms usually peak within five days of taking your last dose of opiates, leading into the third opiate withdrawal stage: late withdrawal. During this stage, physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms begin to taper off. Although you may start to feel better during this stage, it’s important to be aware that some withdrawal symptoms can persist for weeks or even months after you stop using opiates. How long your symptoms persist depends on how long you have been using opiates, how often you used them and how well your body is able to eliminate each substance from your system.

Physical symptoms are likely to stop during this period, but you may continue to experience drug cravings, worsening anxiety and difficulty sleeping until opiates have been completely eliminated from your body.

Opiate Detoxification

Long-term Treatment

If you or a loved one are ready to stop using opiates, there are a few options for making the withdrawal process easier. One of those options is to enter a long-term treatment program that offers medically supervised detox. You can’t avoid symptoms of withdrawal entirely, but you can make the withdrawal process more comfortable by taking supportive opioid medications and receiving medical care from experienced professionals.

If you experience withdrawal symptoms, talk to a member of the healthcare team right away. Several types of addiction medicine are used to treat the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. If you have a headache, you may be able to control the pain with an over-the-counter painkiller. Loperamide and other antidiarrheal medications can help with any diarrhea or abdominal discomfort you experience, especially during the early opiate withdrawal and peak period stages. If you struggle with mental health issues like anxiety or depression during the detox process, a medical professional may be able to prescribe medication to help you control these symptoms.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

If you’re unable to enter a full-time long-term treatment program, an intensive outpatient substance abuse program is also an option. Intensive outpatient treatment provides the structure you need to focus on your sobriety, but you’ll be able to continue working or caring for your family while receiving therapy and other substance use disorder services. Once you complete the initial opiate detox process that will help treat withdrawal symptoms, you’ll gain new tools to cope with opiate cravings and remain committed to staying sober.


Doctor administering medication to a patient with chronic pain, alleviating acute withdrawal symptoms as part of a medical detox program.


The Importance of Professional Addiction Treatment Support

Some companies offer inexpensive home detox kits to people struggling with alcoholism and drug abuse. Although it may be tempting to use one of these kits to save money and speed up the detox process, doing so can be dangerous. It’s much safer to go through a medical detox program at a treatment center under the supervision of experienced professionals, as the withdrawal process can cause serious physical and psychological symptoms. You may not be able to safely manage these symptoms at home, increasing the risk of dehydration, seizures or other serious consequences.

Experienced professionals at treatment facilities can provide ongoing monitoring and intervene immediately if any of your withdrawal symptoms put your health and well-being at risk. Detoxing at home also leaves you without any structure or social support, increasing the risk you’ll relapse quickly. If you relapse, you’ll have to start the detox process all over again.

If you’re ready to break the hold opiates have on your life, you should start with the opioid addiction treatment program. At our beachfront drug rehab in NC, you’ll have access to addiction therapy program, support groups, long term substance abuse treatment, and other substance abuse services that can help improve your coping skills and avoid relapse. For more information about our detox programs, call Changing Tides at 252-715-3905.

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