Opiate Withdrawal : Timeline and Symptoms
Before we go into learning more about the symptoms, addiction, and detoxification, it is best to learn a bit more about opiates themselves. Opiates are medications or drugs that are derived from opium. The most common of these drugs include buprenex, heroin, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, vicodin, vicoprofen, oxycontin, naloxone, lorcet, and demerol. Even when used in a medical setting or prescribed by a physician, opiate withdrawal can and often does occur.
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The sad news is that around nine percent of the entire population will become dependent on some type of opiate whether it is due to the overuse of their prescribed medication or purchasing a drug on the street such as heroin. The main reason addiction occurs is that once your body builds up a tolerance of the drug, the more of the drug is needed to experience the same effect. The main problem, even if a person wishes to stop taking the medication, opiate withdrawal symptoms will occur which often makes them seek out the drug to stop withdrawal issues.
Early Addiction symptoms include:
- Increased tearing
- Aches in muscles
- Runny nose
However, this is just the beginning. There are later symptoms that are classified as opiate withdrawal symptoms. If you have a friend or family member that is experiencing such early signs of addiction, it is in yours and their best interest to seek medical help as soon as possible.
The main reason many can easily become addicted to opiates is the fact that the use of such drugs brings about a euphoria or sense of well being. Physicians prescribe these drugs to treat patients that are in pain, however, the drug does become tolerated quickly by the body which means that the need for higher doses to relieve the pain often occurs. As the “well being” feeling begins to leave their body, the urge to acquire more of the drug becomes stronger. Some doctors will notice the addiction habits and will just stop prescribing the medication, which causes those that require that feeling whether physically or mentally will seek other ways of obtaining the drug such as visiting more than one doctor to get prescriptions or by purchasing on the street.
Due to the fact that tolerance levels increase, individuals can easily overdose on opiates which can be very dangerous and can lead to respiratory issues or even fatality.
Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Opiates affect the body in three main ways, which aids in bringing on opiate withdrawal. These include the affect on the brain stem that controls different functions in the body like the heartbeat and breathing. This means that the drug can bring on less coughing but breathing slower. The limbic system controls emotions and can create various feelings especially relaxation and pleasure. The last effect is on the spinal cord which has the function to send messages from the brain to the body and then back again. This is how opiates work to reduce pain in parts of the body.
The longer a person uses an opiate, the body begins to be desensitized to any opioid. This means the body will require more and more of the same drug in order to reduce the pain or to feel the pleasant or euphoria feeling. This is when physical dependence takes hold and becomes very dangerous of overdosing.
Along with this, even if your doctor has prescribed the medication and you are have been taking it for months or even years the drug changes the way your nerve receptors work in your brain, thus these receptors also become very dependent on the drug.
As mentioned earlier, there are a few signs that someone is addicted to some type of opiate, but in many cases, if you are not aware of the person using such medications, you may only believe these to be mood swings or even allergies or the common cold. The true issues begin to occur when opiate withdrawal begin to show themselves.
The most common opiate withdrawal symptoms include :
- Goose bumps
- Pupils will be dilated
- Cramping in the stomach and abdominal area
- Nausea and even vomiting.
The only true way to know if a person is having opiate withdrawal symptoms is by visiting a physician. A doctor will begin by performing a physical exam and of course ask questions regarding their medical history and drug use. Too many times, patients especially those that have purchased the drugs on the street will not be as willing to disclose this information. At this time, the patient will need to have blood and urine tests taken in order to confirm that they are using or are having withdrawal symptoms due to using opiates. A few of the tests performed can and will normally include liver function tests known as CHEM-20, and other blood chemistry’s along with complete blood count which will measure the white and red blood cells as well as platelets which is needed for the body to help the blood clot.
Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
When you look at opiate withdrawal, the physical symptoms may not last as one might expect; however, for the person going through the withdrawal may feel like being in a never ending nightmare.
Most research shows the opiate withdrawal timeline in a specific order. What everyone must remember is that every person is completely different and so can the timeline be different from one person to another.
The truth is that the only thing scientist can do is point out the different symptoms of the process of opiate withdrawal. Of course, for those going through the process may be very difficult for those to explain as they often cannot really comprehend dates or time.
The best timeline from scientists as accurately as possible is below:
1st and 2nd Day
Of course, these two days are the hardest to make it through as it is with any addiction. The truth happens to be that this is also the same time period where relapses can occur. After a person has taken their last dose twelve hours ago, the withdrawal symptoms will be begin while some may notice agitation even before the 12th hour of no drugs. The very first withdrawal sign is pain and aches in muscles. Your muscles are not use to feeling any type of anything but a numb feeling so once the withdrawal begins, it can be extremely painful as your body begins to have feeling again.
Most individuals going through will also begin to profusely perspire during the same time period as well as experience no appetite, insomnia, and diarrhea. One of the worst symptoms is anxiety which can actually cause panic attacks. Other less annoying symptoms include cold like or flu like symptoms such as a runny nose.
3rd through 5th Days
In the majority of cases, the extreme pain is just about completely gone, but of not entirely. Those that are suffering from opiate withdrawal will still have a few problems keeping solid foods down but you will have to force yourself to eat as your body needs the nutrients in order to help with the healing process of your body. Diarrhea should slow down but in most cases it is due to the fact that many are not eating and therefore have no need to have bowel movements. Another reason to force yourself to eat solid foods.
During this time, you will also have shivers, goose bumps, stomach cramps, abdominal cramps, and yes even vomiting. Even with that said, you need to eat even if you can only get down a few pieces of fruit or try yogurt.
6th and Beyond
In the majority of cases, physical symptoms of withdrawal will be gone, but yo still may have issues with eating. You may also have some anxiety and feel sick to your stomach from time to time.
Now, comes the hardest part of all. You must change your lifestyle. You will need to become active, stay clear of areas that remind you of using the drug even if that includes close friends. Keep your mind busy on productive activities such as exercises or cleaning your house. You need to create a new outlook on life and change your overall mood.
How Long does Opiate Withdrawal Last?
In the last section, we discussed mainly the physical opiate withdrawal symptoms; however, there is actually a second stage that is known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome often referred to as PAWS. During this withdrawal stage most physical symptoms are not as apparent; however, psychological and emotional withdrawal symptoms are at their worst.
This stage of opiate withdrawal happens due to the chemistry of the brain slowly returning back to normal. As the brain gets better the levels of the chemicals will fluctuate as they return to normal which brings on the next stage of opiate withdrawal.
Just as mentioned above, everyone is different but many of this stage of withdrawal are close to the same.
The common withdrawal symptoms found in this stage include anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, agitation, unsettled energy, less enthusiasm, unsettling concentration, and problems with sleeping.
The worst part is that the feelings are close to being on a roller coaster with the symptoms changing quickly. In many cases, the symptoms can go away for weeks and then return all over again. The good news is that the length of time that the symptoms are gone will begin to last longer and longer and will not be as intense.
In the majority of cases, the symptoms will only last a few days after you have gone through the first stage of opiate withdrawal. There are no scientific evidence of triggers that bring on the 2nd stage symptoms. You may wake up feeling great while another day you may feel the symptoms stronger than ever.
By scientific evidence, this stage of opiate withdrawal can last up to two years.
Detoxing from opiates is mainly just handling the symptoms that are associated with the stopping of the use of the drug. There are a few over the counter medications you can use for such symptoms as diarrhea like Imodium, Dramamine for upset stomach, and even Tylenol for pain. There are other alternatives such as herbal medications and acupuncture that will work for some individuals.
Above all else, you should be seen by a physician according to your addiction. Many individuals must be hospitalized for the severe emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms that can easily cause a person to relapse. Medically, you can receive medications under the supervision of a doctor such a Methadone, naltrexone buprenorphine. Above all else you will need to join a support group that will help you stay straight and give you common friends that are battling the same addictions.
You must be able to ask for help on those days that the world seems like it is crumbling all around you and you need that opiate in order to survive. You can find such help through organizations such as narcotics anonymous. In addition, be very honest with your own self. You are going to have good and bad days and will need to face these issues and learn to share your feelings with others.
Avoid people or places where you normally would find the drug of choice which will only give you the idea of relapsing. Also, live one day at a time. At the end of the day, state “I made it through another day through my opiate withdrawal.”
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