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Understanding the Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid addiction is a critical public health issue, affecting millions worldwide, with increasing opioid overdose rates. In fact, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2012 World Drug Report, 26.4-36 million people across the worldwide abuse opiates Understanding the opioid withdrawal timeline is essential for individuals seeking to break free from the grip of opioid dependency. This comprehensive article aims to provide a detailed overview of each stage of the withdrawal process, offering insights and guidance to those embarking on this challenging but transformative journey.

What is Opioid Withdrawal?

Defining Opioid Withdrawal

An opioid withdrawal period is a complex physiological and psychological process that occurs when an individual dependent on opioids suddenly decreases or stops their use. This opioid dependence is a result of prolonged opioid use, where the body and brain become accustomed to the presence of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms emerge as the body attempts to recalibrate and function without the opioids.

The Physical and Psychological Impact

The withdrawal process impacts both physical and mental health. Physically, it can cause a range of symptoms, from flu-like conditions to severe gastrointestinal distress. Psychological symptoms include mood disturbances, anxiety, and intense drug cravings. These symptoms can be daunting and are often the primary reason individuals find it difficult to cease opioid use.

Early Stages of Withdrawal

Initial Physical Symptoms

The early stages of opioid withdrawal syndrome generally begin within hours of the last dose or last use. Early symptoms include muscle aches, which can be intense and debilitating, affecting the individual’s ability to engage in normal activities. Alongside this, symptoms like restlessness and anxiety begin to surface, significantly impacting mental well-being.

Onset of Emotional and Comfort-Related Symptoms

As the early stage progresses, symptoms like insomnia and excessive sweating increase discomfort. Insomnia particularly exacerbates other symptoms due to lack of rest and recovery. Emotional disturbances such as anxiety and agitation also intensify, which can be distressing and challenging to manage.

Peak Withdrawal Symptoms

The Height of Physical Discomfort

During the peak of withdrawal, symptoms reach their maximum intensity. This typically includes severe gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration if not properly managed. Other symptoms like increased heart rate and high blood pressure can pose significant health risks.

Psychological Challenges

This period also represents the peak of psychological distress. The intense cravings for opioids, coupled with feelings of depression and anxiety, make this phase particularly challenging. Effective management of these symptoms is crucial to prevent relapse and ensure the safety and well-being of the individual.

Extended Withdrawal Symptoms

Navigating Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) can persist for weeks or months after the acute withdrawal phase. These symptoms include mood swings, ongoing cravings, and sleep disturbances. Managing these long-term symptoms requires a combination of lifestyle changes, counseling, and sometimes medication.

The Long-Term Recovery Process

Extended withdrawal signifies the need for a long-term recovery plan. This includes continuous support and monitoring to manage the fluctuating intensity of symptoms. A focus on mental health and emotional well-being is crucial during this phase.

How Long Different Opioids Stay in Your System

The duration that different opioids remain in your system varies significantly depending on the specific drug, its half-life, and individual factors such as metabolism, body mass, age, hydration level, physical activity, and overall health. Understanding how long these substances stay in the body is important for both medical treatment and understanding the detoxification process. Below are details on some popular opioids:

  • Fentanyl:

    Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid, much stronger than many other opioids. Due to its potency, it’s often used in medical settings for pain management. The half-life of fentanyl is relatively short, about 3 to 4 hours, but this can vary based on the method of use. However, fentanyl can be detected in the body for longer periods: up to 3 days in urine, up to 48 hours in blood, and several days to weeks in hair.

  • Oxycodone:

    Oxycodone is a common prescription opioid commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain. It has a half-life of about 3 to 4.5 hours, meaning that it takes this amount of time for half of the drug to be eliminated from the body. Oxycodone can generally be detected in urine for up to 4 days, in blood for 24 hours, and in hair for up to 90 days.

  • Heroin:

    Heroin is a short-acting opioid with a very short half-life of about 30 minutes. However, it breaks down into morphine, which can linger in the body for longer. Heroin can be detected in urine for up to 3 days, in blood for up to 6 hours, and in hair for up to 90 days. It’s important to note that heroin’s rapid departure from the bloodstream is one reason why it’s highly addictive, as users often re-dose frequently.

  • Hydrocodone:

    Hydrocodone is another opioid commonly prescribed for pain relief. Its half-life is around 3.8 hours on average. In terms of detectability, hydrocodone can be found in urine for up to 4 days, in blood for up to 24 hours, and in hair for up to 90 days.

  • Morphine:

    Morphine is a naturally occurring opioid used for pain relief and is often considered the benchmark against which other opioids are measured. It’s considered to be a short-acting opioid, with a short half-life, typically around 2 to 4 hours, meaning the body metabolizes and eliminates half of the drug within this timeframe. However, morphine can be detected in the body for a longer period after its effects have worn off. In general, morphine is detectable in urine for up to 3 days, in blood for up to 12 hours, and in hair for up to 90 days. The exact duration can vary based on several factors, including dosage, frequency of use, and individual differences in metabolism.

Psychological Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

Mental Health During Withdrawal

Withdrawal can take a significant toll on mental health, leading to symptoms like anxiety, depression, and mood swings. These psychological challenges require as much attention and care as physical symptoms.

Coping Strategies and Support

Addressing the psychological aspects of withdrawal involves therapy, support groups, and possibly medication. Activities that promote mental well-being, such as mindfulness practices, can also be beneficial.

Physical Health During Withdrawal

Importance of Physical Well-Being

Maintaining physical health is crucial during the withdrawal process. This involves proper nutrition, hydration, and rest. The physical strain of withdrawal can be alleviated through attention to these basic health needs.

Balance of Activity and Rest

Engaging in light exercise can improve mood and overall health, but it must be balanced with adequate rest. This helps the body to recover and reduces the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.

Support Systems and Resources

The Role of Personal and Professional Support

A strong support system, including both personal relationships and professional resources, is essential during withdrawal. This support can come from various sources, including healthcare professionals at a detox program or treatment center, support groups, and loved ones.

Accessing and Utilizing Resources

Utilizing available resources can significantly impact the success of the withdrawal process. This includes counseling, therapy, and community support programs.

Relapse Prevention

Developing a Comprehensive Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan is a vital component of long-term recovery. This plan should include strategies for dealing with triggers, ongoing support, and regular self-assessment.

Continuous Care and Adjustment

Regular monitoring and adjustments to the relapse prevention plan ensure its effectiveness. This often involves ongoing therapy and support group attendance and choosing the right treatment options and treatment program at a rehab facility.

Life After Withdrawal

Building a New Life Post-Withdrawal

Life after opioid withdrawal offers the opportunity to rebuild and create a new, healthy lifestyle. This involves establishing new routines, rebuilding relationships, and setting personal and professional goals.

Ongoing Efforts for Sustainable Recovery

Continued efforts in therapy, support group participation, and sometimes medication are key to maintaining recovery. Staying vigilant against relapse and actively engaging in personal growth are crucial for long-term success.

What to Expect from an Opioid Detox Center

Entering an opioid detox center is a significant step in the journey towards recovery from opioid addiction. Detox centers provide a structured and medically supervised environment where individuals can safely withdraw from opioids. Understanding what to expect from an opioid detox center can help prepare individuals for the process and alleviate some of the anxiety associated with seeking treatment.

  • Initial Assessment:

    Upon entering a detox center, the first step is typically a comprehensive assessment. This assessment includes a medical examination, mental health evaluation, and a detailed discussion of your substance use history. The purpose is to understand your specific needs and develop a personalized detox plan that addresses your physical and psychological health.

  • Safe and Monitored Detoxification:

    The core of the detox process is allowing your body to rid itself of opioids while managing the symptoms of withdrawal in a safe and supportive environment. Medical professionals monitor your vital signs and overall health throughout the detox process. They may administer medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and address any co-occurring mental health conditions.

  • Medication Management:

    Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a highly effective approach for treating opioid use disorder. MAT combines the use of FDA-approved medications with counseling and behavioral therapies. The goal of MAT is not only to help with the detoxification process but also to provide a holistic approach to treatment, addressing the underlying causes of addiction and supporting long-term recovery.

    The medications used in MAT work in various ways. Some, like methadone and buprenorphine, act as opioid agonists or partial agonists, which help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings without producing the same “high” as other opioids. Others, like naltrexone, are opioid antagonists, blocking the effects of opioids at the receptor level. These medications help to normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and stabilize body functions without the negative effects of the abused drug.

  • Support and Counseling:

    Detox is not just about physical withdrawal; it also involves addressing the psychological aspects of addiction. Detox centers provide support and counseling to help you cope with the emotional and mental challenges of withdrawal. This might include individual therapy, group therapy, and educational sessions about addiction and recovery.

  • Comfortable Environment:

    Detox centers aim to create a comfortable and calm environment to help ease the stress of withdrawal. Rooms are typically designed to promote rest and relaxation, and centers may offer amenities like comfortable bedding, nutritious meals, and recreational activities.

  • Continuous Monitoring and Support:

    Throughout your stay, you will be continuously monitored and supported by medical and mental health professionals. This ongoing care is crucial for managing the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal and for laying the groundwork for successful long-term recovery.

    Entering an opioid detox center is a courageous step towards overcoming addiction. These centers provide the medical, psychological, and emotional support needed to safely and effectively begin the journey to recovery. By understanding what to expect, individuals can approach this critical phase of treatment with greater confidence and a clearer sense of purpose.

Recover at Safe and Sound

Navigating the opioid withdrawal timeline is undoubtedly challenging, but it also marks the beginning of a transformative journey towards healing and recovery. Understanding each stage of withdrawal, coupled with the right support and resources, significantly increases the chances of successful long-term recovery. Life after withdrawal presents an opportunity to rebuild a healthier, more fulfilling life, free from the constraints of addiction. Remember, the path to recovery is not a straight line; it’s a journey of continuous growth and self-discovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with opioid addiction or withdrawals, get in touch with Safe and Sound Treatment.


To minimize the risk of relapse, it’s important to continue with any prescribed medications or therapies as recommended by healthcare professionals. Engaging in support groups, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding triggers, and developing new coping mechanisms are also key. Regular self-reflection and setting personal goals can provide direction and a sense of achievement in recovery.

Family and friends can play a vital role in supporting a loved one after opioid withdrawal. Offering emotional support, understanding, and patience are crucial. It’s also beneficial to educate themselves about addiction, addiction treatment, and recovery to better understand the challenges their loved one is facing. Encouraging healthy habits, participating in therapy sessions, and being vigilant for signs of potential relapse can also be helpful.

Opioid addiction can have long-term health effects, including changes in brain function, hormonal imbalances, and increased risk of certain medical conditions. However, many of these effects can improve over time with sustained recovery. Regular medical check-ups and a healthy lifestyle are important to manage any ongoing health issues from drug use.

Rebuilding life socially and professionally after opioid addiction involves taking gradual steps. Socially, it might mean reconnecting with old friends or making new connections in support groups or community activities. Professionally, it may involve returning to previous employment, seeking new job opportunities, or pursuing education and training. Setting realistic goals and taking small steps toward achieving them can be a productive approach.

Mental health treatment is a cornerstone of long-term recovery from opioid addiction. Many individuals with substance use disorders also have co-occurring mental health conditions that need to be addressed. Ongoing therapy, counseling, and sometimes medication are essential to manage these conditions. Mental health treatment helps individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms, understand and manage emotions, and build resilience against relapse.