For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:
Don't Wait. Get Help Now
All calls 100% confidential and free

The Risks Of Quitting Opiates Cold Turkey

Published on April 7, 2021
Quitting Opiates Cold Turkey | Side Effects, Dangers, And Risks

Quitting opiates and opioids all at once, or cold turkey can cause severe opioid withdrawal. Opioid withdrawal can be a difficult, uncomfortable, and even life-threatening experience with many side effects.

Opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin are commonly prescribed to fight chronic pain. However, these substances can cause chronic problems of their own, including dependency and withdrawal.

If you are thinking of quitting opiates, you may benefit from a structured opioid addiction treatment program.

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid drugs can be habit-forming, changing how your central nervous system works. When you are physically dependent on an opioid, your body needs the drug to work properly. 

Once the opioid receptors in your brain are deprived, withdrawal starts as the body is forced to work without the drug.

Withdrawal is nearly inevitable with or without treatment. However, quitting cold turkey can cause more intense and painful withdrawal. Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • chills
  • muscle aches
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • opioid cravings
  • cold flashes
  • insomnia
  • dysphoria 

Severe Opiate Withdrawal

Intense symptoms of opiate withdrawal happen more often in patients who quit cold turkey. The body has a more severe reaction to the sudden stopping of drug use. Severe symptoms include:

  • vomiting
  • goosebumps
  • runny nose
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • increased heart rate (tachycardia)

These symptoms can make the risk of relapsing higher. You may feel like taking opioids again is the only way to escape these uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. In the long-term, however, you may only be prolonging the cycle of substance abuse and dependency.

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Depending on the opioid you were taking, your withdrawal timeline may vary. Short-acting opioids, like forms of hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine can cause intense withdrawal symptoms sooner. 

Long-acting opioids, including long-lasting oxycodone, oxymorphone, and fentanyl, may take longer to cause withdrawal.

Physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as nausea, muscle aches, and cold flashes, usually last for up to 10 days after your last dose. They are usually at their strongest about 2 or 3 days after they start. This stage of withdrawal can be difficult to get through without treatment.

Psychological symptoms can last much longer. You may crave opioids or have sleeping problems months after your last dose, which can affect your mental health long-term. Even after physical withdrawal stops, cravings could still lead to a relapse down the road.

Relapse & The Risk Of Opioid Overdose

When quitting cold turkey, the risk of relapse can be constant. Withdrawal may be hard to handle, or the chronic pain you were originally taking opioids for may have come back. 

Taking large amounts of painkillers after not taking them for a while may increase your risk of an overdose.

Opioid overdose is often defined by severe respiratory depression or slowed breathing. This can prevent oxygen from reaching vital parts of the body and can be life-threatening. Other symptoms of opioid overdose include unconsciousness and heavy sedation.

Naloxone can reverse the dangerous effects of an opioid overdose, but overdoses still require immediate medical attention. Call for help right away if you see these signs in yourself or a loved one.

Managing Your Opioid Detox Process

A detoxification or detox is necessary to quit substances that cause physical dependence, including opioids. If you are physically dependent on opioids, you will almost certainly go through withdrawal during detox as your body learns to function without the drug again.

If you quit cold turkey, your opioid detox process will likely be difficult. You may not have access to proven treatments for withdrawal, such as buprenorphine and methadone, as these substances are also opioids.

A medical detox program at a treatment center can improve your chances of recovery. Your withdrawal symptoms will be monitored and managed. A gradual treatment plan involving tapering, or the gradual reduction of doses, may be recommended instead of quitting cold turkey.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Quitting opiates cold turkey can be risky, especially at home. If you are worried about going through opioid withdrawal, you don’t have to quit on your own.

Dedicated treatment facilities can make the withdrawal process more manageable. A number of inpatient or outpatient plans can be arranged to fit your specific needs. Tapering schedules, support groups, intensive therapy, and other options can help you recover in a safe setting.

To find the best treatment for opioid use available to you, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - Opioid Withdrawal Management in the Acute Care Setting: Quick Treatment Tips
Kaiser Permanente - Opioid use and safety
National Centers for Biotechnology Information - Opioid Withdrawal
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription Opioids DrugFacts
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Opiate and opioid withdrawal
Portico Network - Opioid Advice: Detection and Management of Acute Opioid Withdrawal in Non-Pregnant Patients Prescribed Opioids for Chronic Pain

Questions About Treatment?

100% confidential. We respect your privacy.