The opioid withdrawal timeline is shorter than that of stimulant withdrawal but can be difficult to weather in its own way. The drug abused (and its dose) may alter the length of the withdrawal syndrome somewhat. Generally, the entire process takes somewhere between seven and ten days, although it can be longer in some cases.
Short- vs. Long-acting Opioids
According to Harvard Medical School, a person may experience a shorter or longer withdrawal syndrome based on the intensity of the drug and its length of effectiveness. “Short-acting opiates tend to produce more intense but briefer symptoms. The effect of a single dose of heroin, a relatively short-acting drug, lasts 4-6 hours, and the withdrawal reaction lasts for about a week.” However, drugs like long-acting hydrocodone tablets or Oxycontin (the brand name medication containing oxycodone) can cause less intense symptoms that may linger more than the standard week-and-a-half.
Depending on what type of drug you were taking, how high the doses were, and how frequently you took it, you may have a longer or a shorter withdrawal syndrome. It is important to remember, though, these factors will likely only affect the withdrawal length by a few days.
Withdrawal Symptoms and Length
There are three main stages of opioid withdrawal: the early, middle, and late.
- Early stage
- During the first stage, the individual will likely experience the most intense effects including muscle and bone pain, tearing of the eyes, runny nose, sweating, and insomnia.
- “Symptoms usually start within 12 hours of last heroin usage and within 30 hours of last methadone exposure” (NLM).
- These symptoms will start to subside somewhat after about two days.
- Middle stage
- The middle stage will often last a bit longer than the early stage and consists mostly of the gastrointestinal effects like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
- Symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and insomnia may continue into the middle stage.
- This section of withdrawal often lasts from two to four days.
- Late stage
- The late stage of withdrawal is the most unpredictable. It is usually characterized by lingering symptoms from the early and middle stages which make it difficult for the individual to fully return to their life.
- Someone in this stage should continue to take things slow and not try to rush back into work, school, and other responsibilities as too much stress could cause symptoms and especially cravings to flare up again.
- The late stage can last from one to four days and sometimes longer depending on the individual. A person should gauge themselves when trying to decide if they are ready to return to their full schedule.
In general, opioid withdrawal should last a week or so. If it continues into the second week without the symptoms subsiding at all, you should consult your physician. Attending treatment can also make the withdrawal symptoms themselves less intense if not shorter in length. You can expect to be mostly over opioid withdrawal halfway into the second week and completely free of symptoms after 14 days.