Understanding Opiate Withdrawal: Effects, Symptoms, And Treatment

Opioids or opiates are drugs used to treat pain. Opioids are derived from plants and synthetic drugs that have the same effects as opiates. The term narcotic implies either type of drug. If a person cuts back or stops using these medications after heavy use for a few weeks or more, they will have several symptoms. This is called opiate withdrawal. Opioid tolerance formulates quickly, with escalating dosage requirements. Tolerance to the different effects of opioids often develops unevenly. Heroin users, for instance, may become fairly tolerant to the drug’s euphoric and respiratory depression consequences but continue to have constipation and constricted pupils.

A minor opiate withdrawal syndrome may happen after only several days of usage—the severity of the syndrome gains with the size of the opiate dose and the period of dependence. Long-term consequences of the opiates themselves are minimal; even decades of methadone use occult to be well tolerated physiologically, though some long-term opiate users encounter excessive sweating, chronic constipation, drowsiness, peripheral edema, and decreased libido. Nonetheless, numerous long-term users who inject opioids have adverse effects from contaminants and pollutants and pulmonary, cardiac, and hepatic damage due to infections like hepatitis B, C, and HIV infection, which are spread by needle sharing and non-sterile injection methods.

What Is Opioid Withdrawal?

Opiate withdrawal occurs when you stop using opioid drugs after your body has come to depend on them to feel ok. It can influence you in numerous ways. Opioids attach to things known as receptors on nerve cells in your spinal cord, brain, and other regions to block pain messages the body sends to the brain. They also trigger the brain to discharge dopamine, a chemical that makes the person feel good.

Opioid drugs, like morphine or oxycodone, can help with pain when a person has surgery or has been injured. Unfortunately, many people also use illicit forms of them, like heroin. Prescription opioids are generally safe to use for a short time and as prescribed by the doctor. If a person needs to stop using long-term opioids, talk with the doctor. To do it safely, the person needs to take less of the drugs gradually over time as a medical team maintains a close watch over them.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Goosebumps
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Yawning
  • Widened pupils
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Belly cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Shaking
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures

These symptoms can show up within twelve hours after you use the last dose of the particular drug. Numerous people feel so bad that they can not give up the drug without assistance. How severe your symptoms depend on multiple things, like:

  • How long has the person been using the drug?
  • How long does the drug keep up in the system?
  • How healthy is the person?
  • Whether the person is quitting “cold turkey” or taking other medications to help them stop using opioids?

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

The signs can last a few days to more than two weeks. For several people, the worst signs get better after a few days. However, if a doctor gave you a drug to switch an opiate symptoms overdose, the withdrawal signs may come on faster and feel nastier. They also may result in changes in the heart rate or blood pressure that need medical attention.

Opioid Withdrawal Causes

Opioids include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxymorphone
  • Oxycodone

Over a period of time, the overuse can lead to opiate dependency in the body. The neurons in the person’s brain modify to the point where, without the drug, they do not work the means they should. The person might also become addicted, which is when you can not control the cravings for the drug despite the dangerous behavior. If the body does not get the drug it has come to depend on; the person goes into withdrawal.

Opioid Withdrawal Diagnosis

The doctor may diagnose withdrawal based on the symptoms and a physical exam. They might also conduct a urine test to see which drugs they have used. The APA (American Psychiatric Association) has 4 criteria for withdrawal:

  • The person has cut back or stopped after heavy opioid use for numerous weeks or more, or they have obtained an opioid antagonist. This drug reverses the effects of opiate withdrawal, like naloxone.
  • The person has three or more withdrawal signs within minutes or days of cutting back, stopping, or getting the antagonist.
  • These symptoms result in severe problems with daily life.
  • The symptoms are not due to any other medical condition or mental disorder.

A test known as COWS (Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scale) can give the doctor an idea of how severe the case is. It involves eleven common symptoms. Each is given a score and added up for a total of up to forty-seven.

Opioid Withdrawal Treatment

Because it can be challenging to give up opioids safely, several people should get opioid withdrawal treatment and a doctor’s help to quit the drug. They may:

  • Give the person drugs, like buprenorphine or methadone, that make the symptoms easier to deal with and assist with cravings. The doctor will give smaller doses until the person no longer needs them.
  • Give the person drugs to settle the stomach if they have diarrhea or vomiting, and recommend fluids to substitute the water the body’s losing.
  • Give the person drugs to control blood pressure if it is high because of withdrawal.
  • The person can deal with other symptoms, like headaches, fever, or joint pain, with standard OTC (over-the-counter) drugs like ibuprofen.

Some other things may help the person through:

  • Moderate exercise, such as walking
  • Plenty of water or other fluids
  • Small, frequent meals
  • Meditation or something else that allows the person to stay calm
  • A distraction to keep the mind off the symptoms, like talking with a friend

Opioid withdrawal syndrome is not generally life-threatening. But if you have other health situations, the consequences can lead to severe problems—the higher hazard of overdosing on an opioid after withdrawal due to the tolerance being lower. In addition, if the person starts using the opioid again, they will need a smaller dosage than usual.


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