Why is the Opiate Withdrawal Duration Different for Everyone?

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People who use opiate drugs on a long-term basis will likely experience more than a few unwelcome changes over time. Both prescription opiates and illegal opiates work by interfering with the brain’s most basic chemical processes. Opiate withdrawal results from the drug’s ability to interfere with the brain’s chemical system.

Opiate withdrawal periods typically follow a certain course; however, opiate withdrawal durations can vary from person to person. As everyone’s body responds to opiates in different ways, a range of factors influence opiate withdrawal duration for any one person.

What Causes Opiate Withdrawal?

opiate withdrawal duration

Opiate withdrawal is caused by a dependency on the drug.

By the time a person makes the decision to stop taking opiates, the brain and body have developed a physical dependency on the drug’s effects, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. As the brain becomes more dependent on opiate effects, needed amounts of the drug must be present at all times to maintain normal levels of function throughout the body.

Opiate withdrawal durations correspond with the degree of brain chemical imbalance caused by chronic drug use. Once the brain becomes accustomed to functioning without the drug’s effects, withdrawal symptoms start to subside.

Factors Affecting Opiate Withdrawal Duration

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can take any number of forms, both physical and psychological. Symptoms to expect include –

  • Sleep problems
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Depression symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Any one person may experience more severe symptoms in one area versus another, depending on his or her individual circumstances. Likewise, opiate withdrawal durations for any one symptom-type can also vary.

Physical/Psychological Make-Up

As chronic opiate use disrupts a person’s overall physical and psychological health status, someone with a pre-existing medical and/or psychological problem will likely experience more withdrawal severe symptoms in the affected areas. Opiate withdrawal duration can also run longer as a result.

Tolerance Levels

Brain and body tolerance levels have a considerable bearing on opiate withdrawal durations. In general, the higher the tolerance levels the longer the opiate withdrawal duration period. People coming off chronic, long-term opiate addictions can actually experience withdrawal aftereffects for years into the recovery process.

Length and Frequency of Drug Use

Length and frequency of drug use probably carry the most weight in terms of how long a person’s opiate withdrawal stage will last. In effect, opiates damage brain cell structures over time, which makes it even more difficult for cells to function in the absence of the drug. The more often a person uses and the number of weeks, months or years of use determine the degree of damage that’s present.

Addiction Factors

Once addicted, a person can expect to experience ongoing drug cravings during the withdrawal stage. For heavy users, drug craving withdrawal effects can persist long after the detox stage ends.

Detox Method Used

A person can approach opiate detox in one of three ways –

  1. Going “cold turkey”
  2. Tapering or weaning
  3. Medication therapies

The “cold turkey” approach will likely bring on the longest (and most uncomfortable) opiate withdrawal duration. Gradually tapering or weaning of opiates can help reduce withdrawal severity; however, the actual withdrawal duration is longer.

Medication therapies offer the best approach for someone coming off a chronic addiction as these medications actually mimic opiate effects. In turn, withdrawal durations are shorter and less uncomfortable.


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