Detoxing from opiates is an involved process. To do it right and safely, it’s important to get medical supervision and wean slowly off the drugs.
The severity of a person’s opiate addiction varies by person, but long-term use is considered any regular use after a few weeks. The number of people at risk for opiate withdrawal is growing daily in the United States. Around 4.3 million people report nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers and 1.9 million are addicted to pain relievers. In addition, 586,000 are addicted to heroin. Opiate use now grows at a faster rate than a decade ago; experts believe a push to prescribe more pain medications leads to more addictions. Some people who begin by misusing pain relievers gradually shift to heroin, because pills are more expensive and harder to find in many markets.
A person may not realize he is physically dependent on opiates until he misses his first regular dose. Some people occasionally use pain relievers or other opiates without developing dependence, but when their use becomes more regular, the body adapts to the drug. It’s not possible to know how much of an opiate it will take to get addicted. Addiction is a complicated disease with genetic and environmental factors. Some people are addicted at the first use, while others take longer. No matter how a person develops an addiction, the most effective treatment combines medical detoxification with psychological therapy. Clearing the body of physical toxins prepares a person for the effective part of treatment: the process of learning why drugs became a problem and how to keep from taking them in the future.
Opiate Detoxification and Withdrawal Symptoms
Opiate withdrawal symptoms begin as soon as 12 hours after last use. Major withdrawal symptoms peak at anywhere from 48 to 96 hours after last dose and subside after 7 to 10 days. All physical symptoms are usually gone within 8 to 12 days. Factors that affect symptom duration include the following:
- Overall health before and during use
- How often opiates were taken
- Dosage taken regularly
- Length of time opiates were used
- Individual metabolism
- Method of use (oral, injected, snorted, smoked)
Opiate addictions are rated on the clinical opiate withdrawal scale and may be mild, moderate, moderately severe or severe. People with severe addictions may experience some withdrawal symptoms for months after stopping use. Psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety may linger and require longer treatment stays.
Early signs of withdrawal include the following:
- Feelings of agitation and anxiety
- Muscle aches
- Increased tearing, watery eyes
- Runny nose
Once a person passes the initial stage, he may experience late-onset symptoms, including:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
- Goose bumps
There are ways to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and make the detoxification process more comfortable. Gradual opiate detoxification slowly reduces opiate use under a physician’s supervision. The time needed to complete the process varies significantly depending on the pace the patient is willing to endure and what a doctor is willing to approve.
Several medications also ease opiate withdrawal symptoms. Clonidine may be prescribed to reduce many symptoms, including anxiety, cramping, muscle aches, restlessness, sweating, tears and a runny nose. Clonidine eases symptoms by 50% to 75%. Buprenorphine and naloxone (Suboxone) also may be used to treat withdrawal symptoms. These are opiates without addictive properties and they may shorten the length of withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is another opiate used to treat symptoms; it is prescribed in pill form and releases gradually.4
Some people also benefit from medication-assisted treatment programs that use buprenorphine, naloxone or methadone to wean a person from opiates or as part of a maintenance strategy. These drugs are controversial because addiction treatment is such a personal process. While people with severe addictions may need medications to avoid relapse, others may prefer an abstinence-based treatment that offers the chance to be completely drug free.
Need More Information about Opiate Detox?
Are you battling an opiate addiction? Do you need more information about detox and treatment options? Our admissions coordinators can help. We offer answers and advice 24 hours a day through our toll-free helpline. Your recovery begins when you pick up the phone and call today.
 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved May 19, 2016 from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf.
 Maxwell, Carlisle J. (2015). The Pain Reliever and Heroin Epidemic in the United States: Shifting Winds in the Perfect Storm. Journal of Addictive Diseases. Retrieved May 19, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26106929.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2003). Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents (In Brief). What are risk factors and protective factors? Retrieved May 19, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/preventing-drug-abuse-among-children-adolescents/chapter-1-risk-factors-protective-factors/what-are-risk-factors.
 Case-Lo, Christine. (2015). What is Opiate Withdrawal? Healthline Media. Retrieved May 19, 2016 from http://www.healthline.com/health/opiate-withdrawal#Overview1.
 MedlinePlus. (2016). Opiate and opioid withdrawal. Retrieved May 19, 2016 from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000949.htm.