Opioid Withdrawal & Detox

Last Updated: November 14, 2023

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are a natural part of the detox process, but these symptoms may need to be managed with medication or supervision by a medical professional.

Opioid withdrawal can be uncomfortable at the very least and dangerous at the worst. Withdrawal is characterized by symptoms that occur when a person stops taking opioids after using or misusing them for an extended time. 

Common opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Yawning
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Anyone experiencing detox should consult with healthcare experts to do it as safely as possible. Orlando Recovery Center has resources to help people in the Orlando area with opioid withdrawal.

What Effect Do Opioids Have on the Body?

Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the central nervous system. When this happens, the opioids activate these receptors and suppress neurological signals. This has many effects, including a change in a person’s response to pain and how pain signals are transmitted. 

At the same time, opioids can also trigger a flood of dopamine in the brain, which can cause a euphoric high. When the brain is repeatedly exposed to the effects of opioids, it is possible to develop a substance use disorder.

What Causes Opioid Withdrawal?

Opioid addiction is a chronic diagnosable disorder with specific withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms are the body’s response to the absence of opioids. 

As you continue to take an opioid, it will gradually make your brain’s opioid receptors less responsive, and your brain will become dependent on the opioid’s effects to function normally.

With dependence, someone using opioids will go through withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop suddenly. Even if someone takes opioids exactly as prescribed, their doctor may taper down the dosage schedule gradually rather than advising a patient to stop because of the potential for withdrawal.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms 

Some early symptoms of opioid withdrawal can include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

Later symptoms of withdrawal from opioids can include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

The symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but detox is a necessary part of addiction treatment and recovery. 

How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?

Just as the severity of opioid symptoms can differ depending on the person and their history with opioids, so can the detox timeline. Some factors determining the length of opiate withdrawal include:

  • The type of opioids used: Longer-acting opioids may have longer withdrawal timelines.
  • The specifics of drug usage: This includes the dosage someone used regularly, how often they were using it and how long they’d been using it.
  • Other drug use: The presence of another substance may complicate the opioid withdrawal process. 

Although specific details will differ in most people, the initial phase of opioid withdrawal will begin anywhere from 8–48 hours after the most recent drug dose. 

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal is different for everyone, but an example withdrawal timeline may look like the following:

  • Days one to two: The early-stage symptoms of opioid withdrawal will occur, such as anxiety, teary eyes and a runny nose. Many people may begin to see more severe opioid withdrawal symptoms immediately after this period. For example, they may experience more pain, diarrhea and sleep disturbances. Anxiety may worsen, and some people may have panic attacks.
  • Days 3–10: Many people will see improvement during this period. They may still experience some mild symptoms, but the worst is typically over by this time. Most individuals going through detox from opioids will find that their symptoms are significantly better within the first week.
  • Days 10+: Beyond 10 days, some people may have ongoing symptoms that linger for weeks or months. These are usually a result of the changes that opioids make to the brain’s neurotransmitters and are emotional and psychological. For example, it may take time for the brain to recover and experience pleasure normally.

Potential Complications of Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal can be very uncomfortable. While it’s not typically life-threatening, it can lead to possible health complications. These are primarily related to the physical and psychological distress it can cause and the potential for relapse. 

Some complications of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance: Many symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as sweating, vomiting and diarrhea, can lead to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. This can become serious if not addressed.
  • Malnutrition: Nausea, vomiting and a lack of appetite can lead to malnutrition in people going through withdrawal, further compromising their health. This malnutrition is typically temporary and only dangerous if underlying malnutrition is already present.
  • Psychological distress: Withdrawal’s emotional and psychological stress can be extreme. Symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness and depression. In severe cases, there could even be a risk of suicidal ideation or behavior.
  • Relapse and overdose: A significant risk of opioid withdrawal is the strong temptation to use again to relieve the symptoms. This can lead to relapse. Importantly, tolerance to opioids decreases rapidly during withdrawal. If a person uses the same amount of drug they were accustomed to before withdrawal, it can result in a potentially fatal overdose.
  • Worsening of other conditions: Opioid withdrawal creates a certain amount of emotional and physical stress. This can worsen underlying medical conditions.

Can You Die From Opioid Withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal is typically quite unpleasant but is only sometimes fatal in healthy people. The complications it can cause, however, are potentially lethal. For example, dehydration in someone who already has underlying health problems or increased malnutrition in someone who is already malnourished could be fatal. Someone concerned about the potential dangers of opioid withdrawal should speak with a doctor about their individual risk factors and the dangers they face.

Managing Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

A medical detox facility is a rehab center where someone can go through opioid withdrawal in a safe, comfortable setting. Some medicines approved specifically for opioid withdrawal can be provided to patients. Other medications can be used to treat symptoms as they arise. Medications that may be used during an opioid detox include:

  • Methadone: This drug can be used to prevent withdrawal symptoms. It’s sometimes used as a long-term opioid maintenance drug, and some people continue taking it for long-term management during recovery.
  • Buprenorphine: This drug can treat opioid withdrawal and shorten the opioid withdrawal timeline. Buprenorphine is sometimes used as a long-term opioid maintenance therapy, like methadone.
  • Suboxone: This drug is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. It relieves withdrawal symptoms and helps keep people from overdosing on opioids by decreasing the effectiveness of other opioids.
  • Clonidine: This drug can be used to treat symptoms of cravings during opioid withdrawal.
  • Naltrexone: This drug can be used once opioids completely leave the body. If a relapse occurs while the person is taking this drug, the opioid will not produce the intended effects, therefore preventing potentially dangerous or fatal side effects. 
  • Lucemyra: This drug was recently approved to help treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. It can lessen symptoms’ severity and is approved for up to 14 days of use.

Can I Detox From Opioids at Home?

Typically, opiate withdrawal isn’t life-threatening, but complications can arise without medical care. Some people can go through opioid withdrawal at home, but this may depend on the use of medicine and a strong support system. This is the most difficult way to detox from opioid use, and people should check with their doctor about potential safety risks specific to them as an individual. It’s recommended to follow an outpatient protocol for opioid withdrawal or to consult a medical drug detox facility and check in to an inpatient program.

Choosing Where to Detox in Orlando

Many opioid detox options are available in the Central Florida and Orlando area, but for the safest and most comfortable environment, we recommend a medically supervised detox program at our Orlando, Florida, drug rehab. We offer inpatient and outpatient programs, so you can enroll in treatment as soon as you’ve completed detox. Our accredited Orlando facility is located just outside downtown Orlando. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to confidentially speak with a certified professional about your recovery journey.


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U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, May 2020. Accessed November 28, 2021.

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