Stages of Drug Withdrawal

Written by Chloe Nicosia

What to expect at each stage of drug withdrawal

If the thought of quitting opiates scares you, knowing what to expect during the stages of drug withdrawal can make the experience more endurable. One of the scariest things about entering rehab is the thought of going through withdrawal. Anyone who is addicted to drugs has experienced the first twinges of withdrawal as their medication wears off. The intense desire to avoid that feeling is one of the driving factors that lead drug abusers into outright addiction. The first step to overcoming opiate addiction is finding out what happens during each of the stages of drug withdrawal. Once you know what to expect, rehab seems more manageable and long-term recovery becomes a much more achievable goal.

One of the most common questions among those considering rehab is “How long do opiate withdrawal symptoms last?” Opiate withdrawal is a three-stage process. During each stage, addicted individuals experience some form of withdrawal symptoms. Here is how each stage works:

The stages of drug withdrawal

When you use opiates or other drugs for a prolonged period of time, your body becomes accustomed to the influx of drugs. It adjusts production of certain substances, such as dopamine or endorphins, so you system actually needs an infusion of drugs in order to function properly. When you stop taking drugs, your body goes through three main stages of withdrawal: the early or onset stage, the peak stage, and the post-acute stage. Timetables for withdrawal symptoms vary according to the class of drugs used.

The timetable for opiate withdrawal is as follows:

  • Early withdrawal stage – The onset of the first physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal generally starts within eight to sixteen hours of your last dose of opiates, growing in intensity as time passes.
  • Peak withdrawal stage – Opiate withdrawal symptoms become abruptly more severe around thirty-six hours after the initial onset of symptoms. During this peak stage, which can last between two to four days, physical symptoms are at their strongest.
  • Post-acute withdrawal stage (also known as PAWS) – Seven to ten days after detox from opiates begins, the physical symptoms of withdrawal begin to ease. Individuals will still face psychological cravings and emotional symptoms for several months or even years after they have completed detox.

How to deal with withdrawals

If you’re wondering how to deal with withdrawals without having to live through uncomfortable and even agonizing symptoms, the most effective solution involves the use of medication administered during a medically assisted detox. When you enter an addiction rehab treatment center, addiction specialists can administer medications that relive some of the worst symptoms of opiate withdrawal. The particular medication used depends on the particular drug you are stopping, the length of time you have been addicted, and the severity of your addiction, among other factors.

Some of the medications used to manage the withdrawal symptoms of opiate addiction include:

  • Clonidine – Reduces the intensity of a variety of withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, muscle cramps, agitation, and runny nose.
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex) – A partial opiate agonist that reduces symptoms so you don’t feel sick from withdrawal. It works without producing the euphoria that causes users to become addicted to heroin or other opioids.
  • Methadone – Methadone may be used to treat opiate addiction on a long-term basis. A maintenance dose of methadone can be given every day as a substitute in place of more addicting opioids such as oxycodone or heroin.

Once you reach the post-acute stage of drug withdrawal, you will progress to addiction rehab and treatment. There you will engage in cognitive behavioral therapy to learn strategies and techniques for preventing relapses in the future.

If you would like some assistance finding an opiate addiction treatment program that offers the best chance for a lasting recovery for you or a loved one, BetterAddictionCare can help. Call 1-888-429-7690 today.