What Happens During Opioid Detox and Withdrawal?

The opioid crisis in the United States has been declared a national emergency. The CDC estimates that 130 people per day die from opioid-derivative overdoses. Although these drugs are incredibly useful for alleviating both chronic and acute pain, opioids are one of the most addictive substances on the planet. The drugs rewire entirely the brain’s neural pathways associated with risk, reward, pleasure, and pain. Without outside intervention and support from trained medical professionals, it is painful and challenging for someone to quit opioids cold-turkey without help from addiction specialists.

What is an opioid detox?

Opioid Detox and Withdrawal

When a person becomes dependent and addicted to a substance like an opioid, and they quit, their body will go through a detox period where it tries to rid itself of the substance. The detox stage in addiction recovery is crucial for people to reach sobriety. Unfortunately, detoxing entails withdrawal symptoms that can vary in length and intensity. For many people who struggle with substance abuse, the withdrawal timeline is excruciating and a daunting, uphill battle. Detoxing from drugs like opioids in a licensed rehab facility can give patients the tools and resources they need to overcome this hurdle and reach sobriety.

Why are opioid drugs so addictive?

There are naturally occurring opioid receptors in the human brain. Opioid drugs like Vicodin, Fentanyl, heroin, and morphine will bind to these receptors, inducing a feeling of calmness and euphoria while also blocking feelings of pain. Unfortunately, the brain quickly becomes used to these drugs binding to the opioid receptors. Shortly after starting opioids, the person won’t be able to feel “normal” without having the drugs in their system. This can happen to people who have taken legally prescribed opioid medications. If a person who is dependent on opioids stops taking the drugs, they can experience painful withdrawal symptoms in as little as six hours after last use.

What happens during opioid withdrawal?

For most people who are addicted to opioid painkillers, withdrawal symptoms will occur between six and twelve hours after their last dose. Symptoms involved in opioid withdrawal are physical, emotional, and psychological. For people recovering from opioid addiction, the withdrawal timeline and the severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary.

How long is the opioid withdrawal timeline?

Opioid withdrawal severity and duration will depend on the following factors:

  • How long the person has abused drugs
  • If they are a polydrug abuser
  • Which opioids they’ve abused and the drug’s half-life
  • The patient’s underlying physical and mental health

The withdrawal timeline will vary for each individual. But people who’ve abused opioids for a long time are at risk of experiencing a longer withdrawal timeline than average. For most, the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal will peak around the five-day mark before subsiding in about two weeks. However, the emotional and psychological symptoms of opioid withdrawal can last for months. Cravings for the drug may sometimes never go away, and for these patients, they will need ongoing support and resources to maintain their sobriety.

What are the physical symptoms present in opioid withdrawal?

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Insomnia

The withdrawal timeline for shorter-acting opioids, like heroin, typically peaks in three days before subsiding, before chronic, emotional symptoms begin to make an appearance.

What are the emotional or psychological symptoms present in opioid withdrawal?

  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression
  • Dysphoria
  • Intense cravings to use opioids

These chronic, emotional symptoms can last for months after cessation. It takes the body and the brain a while to adjust to previous baselines when a person abuses opioids for months or years. While the physical and emotional symptoms present in opioid withdrawal do not last forever, these symptoms can be so intense and distressing to the person experiencing them that the risk of relapse is quite high. Quitting opioids cold-turkey, without any professional assistance can make withdrawal symptoms more intense and longer-lasting.

What can an opioid rehab facility do to alleviate the pain and discomfort of withdrawal?

Currently, there are more than 14,000 drug addiction treatment facilities in the United States. The opioid crisis has reached epidemic proportions, and rehab facilities have the tools necessary to combat addiction to opioids. Quitting cold-turkey, without support can set someone up for failure. People who use the services of a rehab facility to overcome addiction to opioids experience much higher success rates than those who do not seek professional help.

Attending a licensed rehabilitation facility for opioid addiction has many benefits. Users are in a safe, supportive, and drug-free environment. They are in a serene place where they aren’t exposed to outside triggers that have compelled or enabled them to use drugs. During the detox and withdrawal period, patients have 24/7 access to trained medical professionals who can alleviate some of the pain involved in opioid detox. Patients can be put on a tailored, tapering off schedule or given opioid replacement drugs like methadone. These medications reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and can alleviate some of the cravings associated with opioid withdrawal.

In a rehab facility, patients also have access to mental health treatment. They can work with licensed and trained drug abuse counselors and therapists, where they are given the tools necessary to maintain sobriety once they leave the treatment facility. Attending rehab also gives patients access to a team of medical professionals who can fashion a customized aftercare plan for the patient. Patients who have access to aftercare maintenance tools and resources can significantly lower their chances of relapse. For many who’ve been stuck in a cycle of drug abuse for months or years, they need help learning how to take care of themselves outside of rehab without turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress.

Are you struggling with an addiction to opioids? You’re not alone, and there is help available. The caring representatives at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health are standing by to answer your questions. Please contact Mission Harbor today to learn more about how their rehab facility can help you overcome opioid addiction and reach sobriety.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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