What’s the Average Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms Duration?

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Opiate withdrawal effects can be distressing and uncomfortable to say the least; this is especially the case for someone going through detox. Opiate abuse does a number on the brain’s chemical processes, creating widespread chemical imbalances, according to Bryn Mawr College.

After a certain point, chronic opiate users realize the only way to break an opiate addiction requires complete and ongoing abstinence. Unfortunately, the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration can make this step more difficult than many realize at the outset.

Addiction’s effects on the body can vary from person to person and so can the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration. Various factors influence how severe symptoms will be and how long they will last. As a general rule, the more severe the addiction the longer the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration will be.

Understanding the different stages that make up the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration can go a long way towards figuring how long the withdrawal process will last.

The Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome

The opiate withdrawal syndrome encompasses a set of symptoms that develop in cases where a person stops using opiates after a period of ongoing drug use. This syndrome results from brain chemical imbalances brought on by a slow deterioration of the cells that secrete neurotransmitter chemicals.

Over time, the brain becomes dependent on the effects of opiates to regulate the body’s processes. During the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration, the brain has to relearn how to regulate the body’s processes on its own.

The fear of experiencing a full-blown opiate withdrawal is the number one reason why so many addicts put off dealing with an addiction problem. Unfortunately, the longer a person puts it off the more difficult the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration will be.

In effect, the severity of the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration reflects the degree of damage done to brain cell structures and overall brain chemical functioning, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The only way to undo this damage requires complete and ongoing abstinence so the body can eliminate all traces of opiates from the system.

Factors Affecting Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms Duration

Opiate abuse affects the body as well as the mind, so the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration can play out in any number of ways in different peoples’ lives. Certain key factors do influence (for better or worse) opiate withdrawal symptoms duration for each person –

  • Tolerance levels
  • Frequency of drug use
  • Length of time using
  • Physical health
  • Psychological health

Tolerance levels have to do with how large a dose of opiates the brain requires in order to produce the desired “high” effect. In general, the longer a person has used opiates and the more frequently he or she uses the longer the opiate withdrawal period will be.

Both physical and psychological health factors also have a bearing on the severity of opiate withdrawal. Incidentally, long-term opiate abuse will actually predispose a person to developing both physical and psychological problems, which only works to extend the opiate withdrawal duration as well as worsen the severity of symptoms experienced.

Opiate Withdrawal Stages

opiate overdose

Opiate overdose can be fatal, especially if linked to alcohol use.

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, opiate withdrawal symptoms can develop in anyone who’s taken opiates on a regular basis for a week or longer. Once drug use stops altogether, the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration begins.

In most cases, opiate withdrawal consists of two, sometimes three separate stages, each of which has its own opiate withdrawal symptoms duration. Within each stage, the body’s repair mechanisms are at work on different levels. As the brain attempts to restore a normal chemical balance, withdrawal symptoms will persist until some degree of chemical equilibrium has been met.

Stage One

opiate withdrawal symptoms

Stage one of opiate withdrawal is always the hardest.

As anyone who’s gone through detox well knows, the most severe of symptoms happen at the outset during the first stage of withdrawal. Commonly known as the acute withdrawal period, the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration can last for up for five days.

Symptoms of withdrawal normally start to appear within 12 to 36 hours after a person has ingested his or her last dose of opiates. The most severe of symptoms take shape around the three-day mark, at which point symptom severity gradually decreases from there.

Symptoms to expect during this first stage include –

  • Problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep
  • Irritability
  • Hypersensitivity (taste, touch, sound, sight and smell)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe abdominal cramping
  • Chills
  • Leg cramps

Stage Two

The large amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals secreted during the course of an opiate addiction leaves the brain depleted unless more opiates are consumed. During detox, depleted chemical supplies not only trigger physical withdrawal effects but also psychological withdrawal effects.

During stage two, most of the symptoms experienced have to do with a person’s thinking and emotion-based functions. The opiate withdrawal symptoms duration at this stage can run for as long as two weeks.

Stage two symptoms may include –

  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Severe depression
  • Persisting insomnia
  • Flat affect or inability to “feel” or experience any form of emotion

While not the longest or most uncomfortable opiate withdrawal symptoms duration, stage two symptoms carry a misery all their own. The extreme feelings of depression experienced at this time can easily drive a person back to drug use.

Stage Three

Milder symptoms most distinguish the third stage of withdrawal from the previous two stages. Unfortunately, the opiate withdrawal symptoms duration for stage three can last for as long as two months.

Much like stage two, psychological-based withdrawal effects predominate during this period. Symptoms experienced typically take the form of –

  • Restlessness
  • Ongoing depression
  • Ongoing feelings of anxiety
  • Continued insomnia
  • Flat affect

While everyone will experience the first two stages of withdrawal, only chronic and/or long-term opiate users will go through stage three withdrawal.


The opiate withdrawal symptoms duration timeline provides a general estimate on how long you can expect to experience withdrawal effects. As some people will seek detox treatment and some people won’t, the type of detox method used can also influence how long a person’s withdrawal period will last.

In the case of chronic addiction, detox treatment programs may administer medication therapies, such as methadone or buprenorphine, which can greatly relieve much of the distress experienced during opiate withdrawal. Another method known as tapering or weaning off opiates, involves gradually (and slowly) reducing dosage amounts over time. While this method can help reduce the degree of withdrawal experienced, there will still be some discomfort along the way.

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