How Does Opioid Withdrawal Look And What To Expect

Opioids, also referred to as opiates or narcotics, are a classification of drugs used for the management of pain. They are also used recreationally for their incidental, psychoactive side-effects such as euphoria. There are an abundant number of opioids— both organic, derivative opioids and inorganic, opioid analogues. Their repeated use leads to dependence: the body requires the external introduction of opiates to function. Stopping the use of the drug, in turn, leads to opioid withdrawal.

What are common opioid withdrawal symptoms?

The physical symptoms of opioid withdrawals can last anywhere from several days to several weeks, depending on the individual. The psychological ‘need’, however, can last much longer.

Opioid withdrawal is generally marked by a variety of physical symptoms, including:

Going “cold turkey”, or immediately stopping the use of opioids, can have lethal withdrawal symptoms. Protracted vomiting can cause aspiration (fluid in the lungs) and pneumonia. Depletion of fluids can also result in electrolyte imbalance which can cause cardiac irregularity, leading to stroke or a heart attack.

What is opioid withdrawal syndrome?

‘Opioid withdrawal syndrome’ is a term that refers to the combination of symptoms that happen during withdrawal. They can range from mild to serious, potentially life-threatening conditions.

How long does withdrawal last?

The severity of withdrawal is predicated on the type of narcotic used, its dose, and duration of use. Heroin withdrawal, for example, begins 8 to 12 arrows after the last use of the drug and is signaled by anxiety and craving. Withdrawal will reach its peak 36 to 72 hours after the final dose, and will gradually subside over a 5 day period.

This timeline will, of course, vary according to from which narcotic the body withdrawals. Fentanyl, for example, has a rapid mechanism of action which corresponds with a rapid, acute withdrawal period.

What are opioid withdrawal treatment options?

There are a variety of treatment options available for opioid withdrawal syndrome. Although home remedies such as detox kits and drinks are easy to find on the internet, home remedies are NOT recommended for opioid detox due to the potentially dangerous side effects that can come with withdrawal symptoms.

What medications are used for opioid withdrawal?

Many of the medications available for easing the withdrawal process involve acting on the same receptors to which opiates bind. Note that the efficacy of these medications in treating opioid withdrawal is variable and should only be pursued via professional oversight.

Methadone is one such medication: it is an opiate receptor agonist, like all opium derivatives. However, it does not induce the same effects as more potent opiate-agonists such as heroin or fentanyl. It is also longer acting, allowing the body to “taper” and cycle off its reliance on the opioid. Other drugs work in a similar fashion, including Kratom, Naltrexone, and Buprenorphine.

There are also a variety of anticonvulsant medications available to help ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. These include Gabapentin (Neurontin) and Topiramate. Medications which ease anxiety and seizures are also used to treat symptoms. These medications include benzodiapem in the form of Lorazepam, Diazepam, and Ativan. Other medications used for the treatment of symptoms include anti-depression medication such as Trazodone.

Medically managed detox for opioids

Medically managed detox is the safest and most effective way to overcome opioid withdrawal symptoms and recover from an addiction. There are three methods that medically managed detox can take.

  • Inpatient treatment: Your detox and addiction recovery program takes place at a live-in facility. These programs last for several weeks to several months depending on the severity of the addiction as well as other patient needs.
  • Outpatient treatment: Your appointments take place at a clinic or center in the city you live in. Sessions may be half day to full day several times a week, depending on the recommendation of your care team. You return home at the end of every session.
  • In-home treatment: You do not need to book a long stay in an out-of-town treatment center or travel to an outpatient clinic with in-home treatment. With these programs, detox and aftercare programs take place entirely in your home.

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