The Stages of Opiate Withdrawal - Philadelphia Drug Treatment Centers

If you're thinking about getting help to overcome an opiate addiction, you may be wondering about the stages of opiate withdrawal. Here are some answers from Philadelphia Drug Treatment Centers.

Dependence and addiction aren't the same thing. While addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using drugs despite the negative consequences they're causing in your life, dependence is purely physical, characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using. The stages of opiate withdrawal can be excruciating.

Trying to detox from heroin or prescription painkillers on your own is unlikely to be successful due to the intensity of withdrawal. Most people who detox without professional help don't know how to deal with opiate withdrawals and quickly turn back to drugs simply to end the discomfort.

But withdrawal doesn't have to be a nightmare. Medical detox offered through a high quality treatment program can help you withdraw safely and comfortably. During medical detox, medical professionals administer medications as needed to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and shorten the opiate withdrawal duration.

The Top Three Stages of Opiate Withdrawal

Not everyone will experience every symptom associated with opiate withdrawal, and the symptoms can range in intensity from mild to severe. These are the three general stages of opiate withdrawal:

Stage One: Early Withdrawal

The first stage of opiate withdrawal typically begins between seven and 14 hours after the last dose. Common symptoms associated with this first of the stages of opiate withdrawal include insomnia, agitation, sweating, restlessness, yawning, and anxiety.

Stage Two: The Peak

Around 36 to 48 hours after the last dose, more severe symptoms will likely set in. These include abdominal cramps and diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, and an elevation in body temperature. When this stage peaks--typically after a few days to a week or so--the most traumatic part of withdrawal is over.

Stage Three: The Final Stage

Typically starting around the fifth to seventh day after the last dose, the final stage of withdrawal involves a lessening of physical symptoms. But psychological effects, such as anxiety, confusion, and mood swings, can last considerably longer. Cravings, too, will likely last for weeks or months after detox.

The opiate withdrawal duration varies, depending on a number of factors including:

  • How much of the drug is in your system at the time of detox.
  • How long you've been dependent.
  • Your age.
  • Your general state of physical and mental health.

The question of how to deal with opioid withdrawals comes down to medication, which can help relieve abdominal and muscle cramps, reduce nausea, and treat insomnia, anxiety, and depression as well as shorten the duration of detox.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Dependence

Depending on your preferences, needs, and circumstances, you may not need to endure withdrawal at all. Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, has been shown through research to be more effective for treating opioid dependence--and addiction--than medical detox. It does this by preventing the onset of withdrawal altogether while helping to normalize brain function and reduce cravings and compulsive behaviors.

The medications approved by the FDA for MAT are:

  • Buprenorphine, which can be prescribed and taken at home.
  • Methadone, which must be taken at a clinic or a doctor's office.
  • Suboxone, which has been proven successful but which can only be administered after medical detox.

Choosing MAT over detoxing fully from opioids keeps cravings at bay, which improves the chances of successful recovery and helps you stay on an even keel through treatment and beyond. Kicking an opioid habit isn't easy, and in the early weeks and months of recovery, there's a lot to learn. It takes time to develop the skills and strategies you need to cope with triggers like cravings and stress, and not having to cope with cravings and other effects of detoxing from opiates helps to ensure your long-term success in recovery.

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