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Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms | Detox & Treatment For Opiate Addiction

Published on February 25, 2021
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms | Detox & Treatment For Opiate Addiction

Opioids are powerful substances that can be habit-forming. Physical and mental reliance on opioids is known as opioid use disorder (OUD)

OUD is defined as chronic opioid use that causes discomfort, impairment, or harm. This can include physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction.

There are several different treatment options for opioid dependence, withdrawal, and addiction. As more research is done on the risks of opioid use, more methods can be developed to treat and prevent these risks.

Many of these treatment options may be combined to increase the chances of a successful recovery.

Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder is a condition that may require medical treatment. You may have a form of opioid use disorder if you:

  • have tried to stop taking opioids and failed in the past
  • constantly take more opioids than you intend to
  • experience opioid or opiate withdrawal when you try to quit

If untreated, OUD can lead to long-term health effects, including risk of a life-threatening opioid overdose. Many addiction treatment programs aim to help people struggling with an opioid addiction, dependence, or withdrawal.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal is an uncomfortable process that causes a wide range of symptoms. Ongoing withdrawal symptoms can lead to further opioid misuse and dependence.

Many symptoms of opioid withdrawal are similar to flu-like symptoms, and can include:

  • stomach cramping
  • diarrhea
  • restlessness
  • irritability 
  • anxiety
  • high blood pressure
  • cold flashes
  • muscle aches
  • severe cravings

The timeline of opioid withdrawal symptoms is likely to vary depending on the person and the type of opioid used. Withdrawal symptoms tend to peak around 72 hours after last use but can begin as soon as six to 12 hours after the last dose.  

Opioid Detox Programs

Drug detoxification, or detox, is often needed when you need to safely flush the drug out of your system. Detoxing usually means going through the withdrawal process. In cases of serious addiction, an inpatient detox with constant medical supervision may be needed.

If you have a physical dependence on opioids, withdrawal is nearly inevitable. During a detox program, your symptoms of opioid withdrawal will likely be tracked and managed to reduce your chances of relapse.

A drug detox can go on until the most severe withdrawal symptoms have passed. The timeline can vary depending on how severe the substance abuse was.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Substance use disorders can be countered by giving a patient FDA-approved medications. This is known as medication-assisted treatment or MAT. 

Several substances have been approved to help with the management of opioid withdrawal. These drugs bind to the same opioid receptors as proper opioids. They can reduce or reverse the effects of strong prescription opioids such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, codeine, and oxycodone.

While no form of drug use is completely safe, these substances usually have lower risks of drug abuse and dependence than opioids.

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is an opioid agonist. It can help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce opioid cravings. Buprenorphine is often given as a short-term addiction treatment. It is often more effective if started immediately after withdrawal symptoms appear.

Several FDA-approved buprenorphine products also contain naloxone, which is an effective opioid antagonist (blocker). This includes Suboxone.

Methadone

Methadone is an opioid agonist. It affects the same parts of the nervous system as opioids but has lower abuse potential. Methadone is effective in relieving opioid cravings and opioid withdrawal syndrome. 

Methadone is usually given in place of an opioid, and doses are gradually decreased over time. This is known as tapering. Tapering is usually safer than quitting all at once, or “cold turkey,” because it reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms and other side effects.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. It blocks other substances from binding to opioid receptors. Naltrexone can reduce the chances of relapse and reduce cravings for opioids.

Naltrexone may worsen withdrawal symptoms, especially if opioids are taken at the same time as naltrexone. Doctors prescribing naltrexone will often ask if you are still taking opioids.

Other Medications

Other medications can treat specific symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Loperamide can treat diarrhea, while clonidine can reduce blood pressure. These substances can be prescribed along with opioid antagonists and agonists.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

New treatments are constantly being developed and tested to fight substance use disorders. If you or a loved one struggles with a substance use disorder like OUD, it’s important to know all of the treatment options that are available to you.

To learn more about the treatment options that can work best for you, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

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

Harvard Health Publishing - Treating opiate addiction, Part I: Detoxification and maintenance
Indian Health Service - Opioid Withdrawal Support
Indian Health Service - Pharmacological Treatment | Medication Assisted Recovery
National Centers for Biotechnology Information: StatePearls - Opioid Use Disorder
National Centers for Biotechnology Information: StatPearls - Opioid Withdrawal
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription Opioids DrugFactsAbuse (NIDA)
U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Information about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

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