Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms and Signs
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What Is Opioid Withdrawal?
Opioids refer to a class of drugs, commonly prescribed to manage and treat pain. They include both opiates (derived from the opium poppy like codeine, morphine, opium, and heroin) and synthetic opioids like methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, which have similar effects. Prescription opioids include:
- Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen)
- Oxycontin (oxycodone)
- Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
Opioids attach to the brain’s receptors on nerve cells, the spinal cord, and other parts to block pain signals that the body is sending to your brain. Opioids also trigger the brain to release dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good.
Opioid drugs, like morphine or oxycodone, can help with pain for surgical wounds and severe injuries. Some individuals also use illegal forms of opioids, like heroin. Prescription opioids are generally safe to use for a short period and as prescribed by your physician.
Although they are useful to treat pain, these drugs can lead to addiction and physical dependency.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that about 2.1 million persons in the U.S. and between 26.4 million and 36 million persons worldwide abuse opioids. If there is a need for you to quit using long-term opioids, best speak with your doctor. To safely quit, you will need to taper down the drug slowly over time under close medical supervision.
If you quit or reduce the amount of opiates you are taking, you may start experiencing physical opiate withdrawal symptoms. This is particularly true when you have been using at high does for over a few weeks.
Numerous body systems become altered when you take opioids in large amounts for prolonged periods. Opiate withdrawal symptoms occur because your body requires some time to adjust to no longer having them in your system.
Opioid withdrawal and opiate withdrawal symptoms can be grouped as mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe. Your doctor can determine this by assessing your use history and symptoms. Diagnostic tools like Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale can also be used.
What Are The Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms?
The symptoms experienced depend on the withdrawal level that you are experiencing. Furthermore, multiple factors influence how long you will experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. Due to this fact, every experience of opiate withdrawal symptoms is unique. However, there is usually a timeline for the progression of the symptoms.
Early withdrawal symptoms usually start within the first 24 hours of you quitting the drug, and they include:
- Muscle aches
- Lacrimation (eyes tearing up)
- Excessive sweating
- Runny nose
- Yawning very often
- Inability to sleep
Later withdrawal symptoms, which can become more intense, start after day 1 or so. They include:
- Goosebumps on the skin
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils and possibly blurry vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
Although very excruciating, painful, and unpleasant, symptoms typically begin to improve within 72 hours. After a week, you should begin to witness a marked decrease in acute opiate withdrawal symptoms. Also, babies born to addicted mothers or who used opioids during pregnancy often experience withdrawal symptoms too. These may include:
- Digestive issues
- Poor feeding
It is important to keep in mind that different drugs stay within your system for different durations and this can influence withdrawal. The duration of your withdrawal symptoms depends on your use frequency and addiction severity, as well as individual factors such as your overall health.
For instance, heroin is usually eliminated from your system faster, and withdrawal symptoms will begin within 12 hours of the last dose. If you have been using methadone, it may take up to 36 hours for symptoms to manifest.
Some experts highlight that recovery requires at least 6 months of total abstinence, during which users may still experience withdrawal symptoms. This is often referred to as “protracted abstinence.” It is vital to discuss ongoing symptoms with your medical care provider.
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
Opiate withdrawal symptoms can last between a few days and over 2 weeks. For most individuals, the worst symptoms get better after a few days.
If you are given a drug by your physician to reverse an opioid overdose, your opiate withdrawal symptoms may come faster and feel much worse. These drugs may also alter your heart rate or blood pressure, requiring medical attention.
What Causes Opioid Withdrawal?
When opioid medications are taken for a prolonged period, the body becomes desensitized to its effects. Over time, the body will require increased doses of the drug to achieve similar effects. This can become very dangerous and increase the risk of accidental overdose.
Longer use of opioids and opiates alters the way the nerve receptors work in the brain, and these receptors develop a dependency on the drug to function. If you begin to experience some physical symptoms after quitting an opioid medication, it could be an indication that your body has become dependent on the substance. Withdrawal symptoms are your body’s physical response and reaction to the drug’s absence.
Most people become dependent on opioid drugs to avoid the pains of opiate withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, the concerned individuals are not even aware that they have become dependent. They may mistake opioid withdrawal for flu symptoms or another condition.
Opioid Withdrawal Diagnosis
Your physician may diagnose opioid withdrawal based on your opiate withdrawal symptoms and a physical examination. A urine test can also be performed to identify which drugs you have used.
The American Psychiatric Association has four criteria for withdrawal:
- You’ve stopped or cut back after heavy opioid use for several weeks or more, OR you’ve received an opioid antagonist, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids, such as naloxone.
- You have three or more withdrawal symptoms within minutes or days of stopping, cutting back, or getting the antagonist.
- These symptoms cause serious problems with your daily life.
- The symptoms aren’t happening because of another medical condition or mental disorder.
The Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scale test can also give your physician an idea of the severity of your case. It involves eleven common symptoms. Each symptom is assigned a score, and they are summed up for a total of up to 47.
Opioid Withdrawal Treatment
Opioids are hard to quit safely. This is why it is recommended that those that want to quit should seek medical assistance.
Your doctor may:
- Prescribe drugs, like buprenorphine or methadone that make your opiate withdrawal symptoms easier to manage and help with cravings. Your physician will prescribe smaller doses for you over time until your urge for the drug diminishes
- Prescribe drugs to help settle the stomach especially if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting. They will also recommend more fluid consumption to replace the water lost by the body, avoiding dehydration.
- Prescribe drugs to help control your blood pressure if it’s fluctuating because of withdrawal
Some other things that may help you through your opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
- Moderate exercise, like walking
- Plenty of water or other fluids
- Small, frequent meals
Opioid Withdrawal Complications
Opioid withdrawal is not usually life-threatening; however, you have other underlying health conditions, the effects can create catastrophic circumstances. For example, higher blood pressure or pulse can lead to complications if you have a heart condition.
Other opioid withdrawal complications include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration, heart failure, and hypernatremia.
- Bleeding or leaking amniotic fluid in pregnant women.
Detox Treatment Center at Emerald Isle
If you are struggling with opioid withdrawal, Emerald Isle can help.
Reach out to us today to learn more about our detox treatment programs.
We aim to improve the quality of life of individuals struggling with opioid addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.
We do not offer a guarantee but you are sure to get the treatment and support that your addiction requires.