Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

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Data gathered by the U.S. National Library of Medicine show an estimated nine percent of Americans abuse opiate drugs within any given year. Along with heroin, everyday prescription pain medications, such as Dilaudid, hydrocodone and Oxycontin all fall in the opiate drug category. Considering how easy it is to get a hold of prescription drugs, it’s no wonder abuse rates run so high.

For opiate addicts wanting to kick the habit, the dreaded effects from opiate withdrawal can bring on unbearable symptoms. For many people, these symptoms can make it all the more difficult to stop using. Fortunately, the body does go through specific symptom stages known as the opiate withdrawal timeline.

Whether attempting detox on your own or through a treatment facility, recovering addicts can take some comfort in the opiate withdrawal timeline and know there is an end in sight.

The Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

timeline opiate withdrawal

Though it can seem like they last much longer, the physical symptoms of withdrawal last about a week.

Once the body becomes physically dependent on opiates, withdrawal effects will occur every time a person decreases dosage amounts or stops taking opiates altogether. Once a person stops using, withdrawal symptoms result from the healing processes taking place in the body. The opiate withdrawal timeline enables recovering addicts to gauge their progress as they move through the detox stage.

As opiates affect different people in different ways, some people may experience different symptoms or even longer withdrawal periods. The severity of the addiction combined with the type of drug used ultimately determines the length of the withdrawal period and the severity of symptoms a person will experience.

The First Stage

Also known as the acute withdrawal period, the first stage of the opiate withdrawal timeline starts within the first 12 to 36 hours after a person’s last dose of opiates. Symptoms peak around the three-day mark, which can last for up to five days. Symptom severity starts to lessen after a person hits the 72-hour mark.

Symptoms experienced during the first stage of the opiate withdrawal timeline include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia

The Second Stage

Long-term opiate use depletes the brain of needed endorphin chemicals. Endorphins help regulate a person’s moods and overall sense of well being. The brain starts the process of restoring endorphin levels back to normal during the second stage of the opiate withdrawal timeline.

Extreme feelings of depression become the most distressing symptom experienced during this stage, which often drives recovering addicts back to using. This stage typically lasts for about two weeks.

Symptoms experienced during the second stage include:

  • Extreme depression
  • Leg cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Chills
  • Goose bumps
  • Pinpoint pupils

The Third Stage

The third stage of the opiate withdrawal timeline brings on somewhat milder symptoms than the previous two, though this stage can last as long as two months depending on a person’s condition. Unlike the other two stages, psychological symptoms predominate most of the third stage.

Symptoms commonly experienced at this point include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness

Not everyone will go through a third stage, but many do. Even after this stage ends, some people may still experience a pervasive sense of discontent for months, and in some cases years to come.


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