How Badly Does Acute Withdrawal from Opioids Hurt?

In This Article

Opioids are a type of prescription drug that’s used to treat pain. That said, opioids are a class of drugs that also includes illicit drugs like heroin and opium. Aside from some opioids being legally prescribed and other being illicit to buy or consume, there are natural opiates (e.g., morphine and codeine) and synthetic opioids (e.g., hydrocodone and oxycodone). Natural opiates and synthetic opioids have similar effects and acute withdrawal symptoms.

Acute Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioids

While the acute withdrawal symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable to experience, they are typically not life-threatening. Anxiety, nausea, and vomiting are the most commonly reported opioid withdrawal symptoms that abuses experience in the first few days of discontinuing usage of opioid medication. Taking opioids for an extended period of time can cause physical dependence and addiction. The longer that one is taking an opioid medication, the more severe acute withdrawal symptoms may be.

Taking an opioid for more than a few weeks or taking multiple opioids in conjunction with each other at high doses can result in more pronounced acute withdrawal symptoms. Some opioid users are surprised to discover that they can experience acute withdrawal symptoms while still taking opioids; one’s body can become accustomed to a particular dosage, so tapering down can still present withdrawal symptoms. Your body may have developed a tolerance around a particular opioid dosage.

The higher the dosage of opioids that you have taken, the more severe acute withdrawal symptoms will likely be. Your body has opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. Opioids that you consume can attach themselves to these receptors in your body and cause opioid’s effects. These receptors are in your body already; the endorphin receptors owe their namesake to the fact that they were once thought of as endogenous (internal) morphine receptors. These endorphin receptors are responsible for the natural “runner’s high,” and naturally occurring endorphins can decrease pain, slow respiration, and lessen anxiety.

The opioids in your body, however, can’t deliver enough pain relief to dull the pain of a broken arm or slow respiration to the point of causing an overdose. Only the natural and synthetic opioids discussed above have the potency to affect the brainstem enough to completely stop breathing or alter the limbic system enough to cause feelings of deep relaxation. Over time, your body can get used to the relaxing effects of opioids and you may become desensitized to opioids effects, which requires you to take higher doses in order to stave off acute withdrawal effects.

Acute Effects Vary

Acute withdrawal from opioids can vary dramatically from individual to individual. Dosage and the amount of time that you’ve been taking opioids can also impact the type and severity of acute withdrawal symptoms that you experience. Typical within the first day of discontinuing or severely tapering your dosage of opioids, you could experience the following symptoms:

-anxiety
-restlessness
-insomnia
-yawning
-excessive sweating
-muscle aches

Symptoms can intensify or alter after the first day. Day two and day three of acute opioid withdrawal can present the following symptoms:

-nausea
-vomiting
-tachycardia
-diarrhea
-high blood pressure
-dilated pupils

Most people going through opioid withdrawal report that this second class of symptoms begins to gradually dissipate 72 hours to one week after initial withdrawal. Some users report that the acute withdrawal effects of an opioid-like heroin are extremely intense for the first 12 hours, but then the effects gradually abate. Methadone, on the other hand, has milder acute withdrawal effects that can take one to two days to manifest.

Opioid Recovery

Recovery from opioids can occur on an in-patient or out-patient basis, but in-patient treatment has the advantage of putting you in closer contact with mental health professionals and physicians. Addiction specialists can remind you that recovery is a long process. Case in point – opioid users may experience something called protracted abstinence, or a period that can last up to six months in which milder symptoms could occur and make recovery more difficult.

The difficulty with opioid withdrawal is that the symptoms are extremely painful and uncomfortable to experience, which is why many users wind up taking higher doses to stave off acute withdrawal symptoms. Remember, your body can form a physical dependency to opioids such that you need to take higher doses in order to achieve the same effect and prevent withdrawal symptoms like nausea and insomnia. In an in-patient setting, you may be prescribed Clonidine to help treat nausea and other symptoms. Call us today at 888-380-0342.

Just Believe Recovery is a fully licensed, Joint Commission accredited, comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment center located in Carbondale, Pennsylvania

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