Opiate withdrawal is a condition that occurs from stopping prolonged use of opiates, such as painkillers (Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin) and/or street drugs such as heroin. When you’re trying to quit opiate addiction, it is important to understand what you’re up against, which means understanding the symptoms of opiate withdrawal, the timeline that these symptoms occur, and remedies that can help you fix your discomfort. Knowing and preparing for the battle ahead can help your success later on, and it can be comforting to understand what you’re going to be dealing with for the next few days.
Let me start off this guide by making it very clear that I am not a doctor. I am simply a young man who has been free of heroin addiction since 2012, and I have dedicated a good chunk of my time to helping other people get free of their own addictions. During the years that I have been helping others, I have seen many people die from this disease. It’s important to remember that you can and will succeed if you are dedicated to getting sober. For every person that I’ve lost, I’ve seen ten others get sober and have a fantastic life. If you follow the tools I give you on this website, you can and will be successful.
Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Depending on the amount of opiates you have taken and the frequency of use, some of your symptoms may be worse
than other. Although opiate withdrawal is not life threatening, it can be extremely uncomfortable and lead to the desire to continue use.
Lets start by examining some early symptoms of opiate withdrawal in detail:
Hot/Cold Flashes: This is usually one of the first symptoms that will begin to manifest after quitting opiates. The effected individual will feel rapid changes of body temperature, going from hot to cold and vice versa. Chills will turn into sweating, and it can be very difficult to get comfortable during this shift.
Anxiety: Another common side effect of opiate withdrawal is anxiety. After you stop using opiates, your brain stops producing adequate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are the main chemicals in your brain that produce happiness. Restlessness and irritability usually accompany the anxiety and can make things feel much worse than they really are.
Libido shifts: One of the peculiar symptoms of opiate withdrawal is extremely high and/or low libido. Intense, quick orgasms have been reported by both males and females.
Runny nose, salivation, and teary eyes: This is more of an inconvenience than anything and usually isn’t painful. Watery eyes happen quickly and are usually followed by increased saliva production and a runny nose.
Muscle soreness: During withdrawals, you may feel pain in your lower back and legs. This is a reaction to the decreased pain tolerance that comes with opiate addiction and is normal. The most common areas of pain are the back, legs, and arms, but this can vary depending on the type of opiate and the length of use.
Restless legs: Many say this is one of the worst symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Typically occurring at night, restless legs are the reason many call withdrawals “kicking” and can prevent you from getting sleep.
Dilated pupils: Maybe not the most severe symptom, but when you’re withdrawing it can be easy to tell due to your pupils being enlarged. You might experience sensitivity to light when this happens as well.
Other symptoms include: sneezing, yawning, lethargy, increased/decreased appetite, and mental fog.
As you can see, quite the laundry list of symptoms. It’s important to note, however, that rarely do all of these symptoms happen at once. This is great news, because it allows you to treat each individual symptom as it occurs. Before you are able to do this, it’s important to understand when each symptom will occur on a timeline of opiate withdrawal. So let’s move on to that.
Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
Understanding the timeline of opiate withdrawal will allow you to prepare for each symptom and tackle each one as they come. Depending on the half-life of the opiate you’re coming off of (different opiates last longer in the body), your timeline might be tweaked a little bit. For the most part, this will be identical for people coming off of pain pills (percocet, vicodin, dilaudid, oxycontin etc) and heroin. If you’re quitting suboxone or methodone, your time line is going to be more mild but last about twice as long.
Day 1 of opiate withdrawal: Starting about 12 hours after your last dose, the euphoria will start to wear off and you may begin feeling anxious and depressed. Some time later in day one, the first symptoms will start to show. Diarrhea, cold chills, and lethargy were the main ones for me.
Day 2: You will wake up feeling exhausted, like you didn’t sleep at all. Body aches and soreness will start to creep in, along with more anxiety. By this time your skin will be crawling and you will experience hot and cold flashes. Appetite might increase on day two as well, but for some it vanishes.
Day 3: Don’t worry, this is the height of your withdrawal and you will start feeling better shortly! By this time, cold chills will be at their worst, you’ll be sweating profusely, and it will be hard to sit still. Your skin will be crawling and pure misery will overtake your mind. Remember, you can’t give up now! This is the turning point in your withdrawals and quitting now will negate all the hard work you’ve put in to this journey.
At this time I suggest you go for a nice long walk at night. Why at night? Well this will be the hardest night for you to try to sleep. I want you to tell yourself that you are here for a reason, and that even though everything sucks right now, it will get better very soon. Walk for at least an hour and maybe listen to a good playlist while you’re walking. Go home and try your hardest to get a few hours rest. Whatever you do, don’t pick up!
Day 4 of opiate withdrawal: Congrats, you’re over the hump! You’re still miserable, I understand, but you’re going to start feeling better every day. Cold chills will still be there, but they will be more mild. You’re not gonna feel the best, but I encourage you to stick with it. Taking a hot shower or bath can really help alleviate symptoms.
Day 5: Still tired, groggy, and anxious, but the physical symptoms should be almost gone!
Day 6: Last night you had your first real nights rest! How great was that? Have yourself a big cup of coffee and go for a nice walk. You’ll start to notice energy coming back and your physical discomfort should be at the lowest part at this point.
Day 7 through 14: The only real symptoms at this stage are slight tiredness and maybe some anxiety.
Day 14 through 30: Your bowels should start working correctly again. I had terrible diarrhea up to this point and by day 30 I had my first solid bowel movement.
Day 30 through 90: Anxiety should be lifted and you’re now running at 90% capacity.
Day 365: Your body is now identical to how it was before prolonged use of opiates!
So there you have it, a complete opiate withdrawal timeline.
How long do opiate withdrawals last?
This is going to differ depending on a few things, such as how long you’ve been using, the type of opiate used, and amount that was being used. Generally speaking, opiate withdrawals last for about a week, and then post acute symptoms can last up to a few months.
Now that you know what you’re up against, I highly recommend you read my guide on opiate withdrawal remedies that you can try at home. In addition, there are other resources that can be found on this site that carefully overview different methods of treating opiate withdrawal, so I invite you to check all of those out as well.
The biggest thing is to never give up, and always move forward. You can and will beat this thing, I promise! Hang in there and if you need to talk you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org ?