How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms and PAWS Last?
For most people who are dependent on opiate-based drugs for normal function, withdrawal is one of the scariest concepts imaginable. Reducing or skipping regular “fixes” often results in a myriad of symptoms, including muscle aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, and dozens of other symptoms. This is one of the most common reasons why most people who are addicted to opiates find it difficult to quit, despite the many dangers presented by opiate abuse.
Withdrawal symptoms often start after one or two skipped doses, with the worst of symptoms developing in about 3 days after the last fix. PAWS, short for Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, afflicts about 90% of opiate users up to four months after getting clean.
So, how long do opiate withdrawal symptoms and PAWS last? Many people looking to overcome opiate addiction often wonder how long these symptoms will last and how best to overcome them. A number of factors determine the duration of symptoms since our basic biological and psychological mechanisms are tweaked differently. In this article, we take an in-depth look at some of the factors that determine the duration of withdrawal symptoms and the average duration as relates to some common opiates.
What are Withdrawal Symptoms?
Before we delve into the intricacies of symptom duration, it is important to understand what withdrawal symptoms are. Withdrawal symptoms encompass a wide range of negative reactions by the body when an opiate user reduces or skips their daily dosage. Opiates interfere with the body’s perception of pain and the mechanisms that control emotions such as joy and happiness.
The body is naturally equipped with its own supply of opiate chemicals – called endogenous opiates – which help us to tolerate certain levels of pain. When you take in opiates as prescription medicine or otherwise, they multiply the effect of endogenous opiates, resulting in sustained pain relief. With time, the body becomes tolerant and may require you to consume additional quantities of the opiates for the same high.
With prolonged use, the body initiates a mechanism commonly referred to as the Goldilocks Principle. This basically means that since the body is receiving too much stimulation from endorphins, the best way to stabilize the situation is by cutting down the production of endogenous endorphins. Once this happens, the body eventually stops producing its endorphins and becomes fully dependent on the drugs.
When you stop taking the opiates, the body responds violently with muscle cramps, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, cold sweats, Restless Leg Syndrome, and a list of other withdrawal symptoms.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Another common side effect of withdrawal is usually psychological in nature. While it is common for people to experience psychological symptoms during the acute phase of withdrawal, a large number also experience these symptoms months after the initial acute phase of withdrawal is over. PAWS typically occurs 5-6 months after withdrawal, though it can occur earlier. It is normally characterized by renewed cravings, cognitive and emotional difficulties, stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
Duration of Withdrawal Symptoms and PAWS
It is always important to realize that every individual is wired differently. When detoxing from an opiate addiction, the acute phase of withdrawal may last for up to a month on average. PAWS, which is the longest phase, may appear months after your last opiate dose.
Individual differences in body biochemistry may directly determine the length of most withdrawal symptoms. Some people have the ability to recover quicker than others, depending on individual genetics, health, age, and general wellbeing. The presence of other health issues may greatly affect the length and severity of withdrawal symptoms.
The type of opiate being taken also directly affects the duration of withdrawal symptoms and PAWS. While all opiates have the same basic molecular structure, most of them have small variations that enable them to impact the body differently. For instance, OxyContin withdrawal symptoms often last about 4-5 weeks, with many individuals experiencing PAWS months later. On the other hand, symptoms from a heroin detox typically last about 10 days, mostly because heroin is a short-acting opiate.
The duration of withdrawal symptoms and PAWS also depends on the dosage of the drug and frequency of consumption. People who were on higher doses of opiates will often need a longer duration to come off the drugs. Such individuals will also experience longer withdrawal symptoms following a detox regimen. For instance, when coming off 100mg of Hydrocodone-based medications such as Vicodin, individuals will often experience withdrawal symptoms for up to five weeks (based on a tapering schedule of 10% per day).
Managing Withdrawal Symptoms and the Effects of PAWS
The key point to remember when detoxing is to stay strong during and after the detox, irrespective of the duration of PAWS and other withdrawal symptoms. A strong mindset is one of the most critical aspects of a successful detox, so it pays to be mentally prepared before starting the detox. Do a thorough assessment of the damage your addiction has caused to your family, friends, workmates, and yourself. This will help you make a strong mental resolve and strengthen your will as you ride out the wave of withdrawal symptoms.
If you can, always opt for a slow taper as opposed to going cold turkey. While a quick fix may appear enticing at first, withdrawal symptoms are usually at their worst through this method. Additionally, people who use this method are more likely to relapse or experience PAWS and other psycho-social problems in future.
When detoxing, always ensure your mind and body are well taken care of to help mitigate the effects of withdrawal symptoms. Eat a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to help stock up on essential vitamins and herbs. Always drink lots of water and energy drinks to help replenish your body at the cellular level.
Another good way to counter withdrawal symptoms is by supplementing your diet with withdrawal aids such as CalmSupport. CalmSupport is an opiate withdrawal aid that is trusted by thousands of people looking to reduce the impact of withdrawal symptoms. This withdrawal aid contains tons of benefits for users, including vitamins in their active forms and organic herbs that are quickly absorbed in the gut for trusted relief. In addition to the withdrawal aid, the CalmSupport team offers valuable help for users, including a Lifestyle Guide written by the company's founder Ryan Donnelly, who himself has been clean from opiates for 7 years. The guide is for people looking to get clean with minimal side effects.
Finally, look for the support of a family member, friend, or a local support group to help see you through those tough times with withdrawal symptoms. Such support goes a long way in helping you stay clean and lead a long, healthy, addiction-free life.