Opiate Withdrawal Timeline and What to Expect (Day by Day)
Opiate addiction is a global problem that affects millions of people and their families around the globe. Countries lose millions of dollars annually to addiction-related issues such as petty crimes, joblessness, and hospital admissions. For instance, tobacco, alcohol, and drug addiction costs the U.S. taxpayer a combined total of $700 billion each year due to loss of productivity, crime, and health care costs (NIDA, 2015). America consumes the largest chunk of the world’s painkillers, making it the most afflicted country in terms of drug addiction.
Opiates are primarily prescribed for different types and severity of pain. While some can be prescribed for mild pain such as a toothache, others are prescribed for acute and chronic pain after surgery to help you cope with the recovery process. Opiates confer their painkilling qualities by acting on the central nervous system and changing the way the brain interprets pain signals transmitted via nerve endings. They enhance the production of dopamine, serotonin, and other chemicals in the brain which serve as our pleasure, mood, and motivation regulators (NIDA, 2008). They also suppress pain by imitating the role of endorphins, the body’s natural pain suppression hormones found within our nervous system.
Stopping Your Opiate Dose: Why The Withdrawals?
The fear of withdrawal symptoms is closely associated with the runaway drug addiction problem in the United States. People who muster the courage to quit their addiction frequently end up relapsing because of the severity of the symptoms or fear of the unknown. The development and severity of withdrawal symptoms will typically depend on several factors, including the duration of the addiction, the dose, the type of opiate, and individual differences.
Addiction and dependency develops when your central nervous system undergoes changes that affect how dopamine and endorphins are produced and utilized within the body. Because opiates mimic the action of endorphins, the brain reduces production of these chemicals, thus creating a dependency on the respective opiate. Therefore, when you miss your regular drug dose, the body responds by sending out distressed signals that manifest as the nasty withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal Symptoms: Timeline of Events
As mentioned earlier, the effect of withdrawals varies from one individual to another, depending on a combination of factors. Therefore, despite the fact that the occurrences of most withdrawal symptoms are standard within the population, the order in which these symptoms appear will vary among individuals. For instance, if you are used to taking high doses of an opiate like heroin frequently, you might start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as early as 10 hours after your last dose while someone else may start experiencing symptoms over 20 hours later. In other cases, an individual will report having gone through depression or other forms of mental problems years after they have quit their opiate addiction.
Still, the progression of many withdrawal symptoms will follow a general pattern. The following timeline describes the typical progression of withdrawal symptoms that most people experience while withdrawing from opiates.
This is usually the acute phase of the withdrawal, normally characterized by the harshest symptoms. It is also during this time that most people fall back to their addictive habits. Symptoms typically start showing anywhere within 12-24 hours, or even longer for drugs such as methadone. You will experience muscle pains, aches, and strains during this period since your formerly numbed muscles will be processing pain for the first time in a long time.
The pain will be accompanied by extreme sweating, loss of appetite, agitation, insomnia, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and cold-like symptoms like fever, runny nose, and cold chills. Panic attacks are also fairly common during this stage because of an anxious mood. This phase will last anywhere from one to five days, peaking around the third day.
This stage is less severe than the first phase since the body is working overtime to restore and balance endorphins, dopamine and other chemicals in the body while removing opiate residues from your system. The most common symptoms during this time include Goosebumps, abdominal and leg cramps, vomiting, chills and dilated pupils.
This phase will typically last between 3 days and 2 weeks though the symptoms tend to get less severe as you progress.
This is the least severe stage of withdrawal, which may last up to two months depending on individual differences and the biochemistry of the opiate. Still, you may experience eating difficulties during this time, accompanied by mild nausea. Otherwise, symptoms during this time tend to be psychological rather than physical. These include anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, depression, and, in some cases, hallucination.
Coping with Withdrawal Symptoms
Despite the debilitating nature of most withdrawal symptoms, with the correct mental and physical preparation you can overcome your addiction. Irrespective of how and where you want to carry out your withdrawal, it pays to be mentally prepared. This will be your biggest source of encouragement as you go through the process at home or at a rehab center.
If you plan to do it at home, ensure you stock your house with some basic items to last you at least two weeks. Ensure you are fully stocked with an adequate supply of fluids as most people tend to get dehydrated during the withdrawal process. Dehydration can be a serious health issue during withdrawals, especially when it happens to you at home. Look for water with electrolytes, fresh juice, and energy drinks to help you recover lost water.
Secondly, stock your cabinets and refrigerator with an adequate supply of good food or food ingredients, in case you decide to cook. On most days, you will find yourself having to force food down your throat because of lack of appetite. Still, ensure you eat a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, and light, non-fatty food for the duration of the withdrawal to help you replenish lost vitamins and minerals.
Thirdly, keep yourself preoccupied to help keep your mind off the withdrawal symptoms. Find a good movie, video game or take some time off work to relax during the process. If you can, take daily walks for up to an hour or take part in one or two sessions of yoga during your withdrawal. Yoga will help take your mind off some of the psychological withdrawal symptoms such as depression and agitation.
Lastly, use withdrawal aids such as CalmSupport to help you with the worst forms of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal aids are helpful in enabling your body to replenish some of the lost elements in your body. CalmSupport, for instance, contains active vitamins and herbs that are absorbed into the gut within a short time that help relieve stomach and abdominal pains, nausea, and other symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
Look for a good support structure before, during, and after your withdrawal. This can include friends, family, and your local support group who will encourage you to live a drug-free life. Always remember that despite the extent of pain associated with withdrawal symptoms, a life characterized by drug addiction and dependency is more painful for you and everyone around you.