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Opioid withdrawal encompasses a range of symptoms that can vary in severity. These symptoms often include physical discomforts such as sweating, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal upset, as well as psychological distress like anxiety and insomnia. Recognizing these symptoms is vital for those undergoing or considering opioid withdrawal.

Opioid withdrawal is a challenging yet critical step toward overcoming dependence on these powerful substances during addiction treatment and recovery.

It manifests through a range of symptoms that can be both physically and emotionally taxing. Understanding these symptoms is crucial for effective management and successful recovery.

In this article, we’re exploring the common symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

What is Opioid Withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal is a series of physical and psychological symptoms that occur when an individual who has become physically dependent on opioids either significantly reduces or abruptly stops their opioid use.

This withdrawal process happens because the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and struggles to rebalance once the drug is removed. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include both physical discomforts, such as nausea and muscle aches, and psychological symptoms, like anxiety and insomnia.

The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms vary based on factors like the duration of opioid use, the type of opioid, and the individual’s physical and mental health.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

The symptoms of opioid withdrawal can range from mild to severe, affecting both the body and mind.

They typically begin within a few hours to a few days after discontinuing opioid use. These symptoms are the body’s reaction to the absence of opioids, to which it has become accustomed.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Early Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

The early symptoms of opioid withdrawal typically begin within hours of the last opioid use and are the first indicators of the body’s adjustment to the absence of the drug.

These symptoms often include agitation and anxiety, which manifest as restlessness and an inability to find peace or comfort.

Physical symptoms such as muscle aches, often described as severe flu-like symptoms, start to emerge, along with increased tearing and a runny nose, resembling common cold symptoms.

Many individuals experience excessive sweating and frequent yawning. Insomnia is also a common early symptom, making it difficult for individuals to get restful sleep.

These early symptoms, while uncomfortable, are a crucial part of the detoxification process and signify the beginning of the body’s journey to rid itself of opioid dependence.

It’s important to manage these symptoms effectively, as they can be distressing and can impact an individual’s motivation to continue with the withdrawal process.

Peak Withdrawal Symptoms

Peak withdrawal symptoms of opioid withdrawal are generally the most intense and usually occur within 48 to 72 hours after the last dose of the opioid.

During this phase, symptoms are at their most severe and can include abdominal cramping, which can be quite painful and distressing. Nausea and vomiting are also common, which can lead to dehydration if not properly managed. Many individuals experience severe diarrhea during this stage, further contributing to the risk of dehydration.

Physical symptoms such as dilated pupils and goosebumps (piloerection) are also common. These peak symptoms represent the body’s intense response to the absence of opioids and are a critical phase in the detoxification process. It is often during this peak phase that individuals are most at risk of relapse due to the severity of the symptoms, highlighting the importance of medical supervision and support during this critical time.

Extended Withdrawal Symptoms

Extended withdrawal symptoms, often part of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), can persist for weeks or even months after the initial withdrawal phase.

These symptoms tend to be more psychological and include ongoing cravings for opioids, which can pose a significant challenge for sustained recovery. Depression is a common extended symptom, as the individual may struggle with mood swings and feelings of hopelessness or despair.

Fatigue is another persistent symptom, with individuals often experiencing a lack of energy and motivation. Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns, can continue to be an issue, affecting the individual’s overall well-being. These extended withdrawal symptoms are indicative of the brain’s slow process of returning to its pre-opioid state and adjusting to the absence of the substances.

Ongoing support, counseling, and sometimes medication are crucial during this phase to help individuals manage these prolonged symptoms and prevent relapse.

Factors Affecting Withdrawal Symptoms

Several factors can influence the severity and duration of opioid withdrawal symptoms, creating a highly individualized experience for each person.

The duration and intensity of opioid use are primary factors; longer-term and higher-dose use typically result in more severe withdrawal symptoms. The type of opioid used also plays a role, as different opioids have varying strengths and half-lives. For instance, withdrawal from longer-acting opioids may start later but last longer.

Individual physiology and genetics can significantly affect the withdrawal experience. Age, overall health, metabolic rate, and genetic factors can all influence how the body processes and recovers from opioid dependence. Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, can exacerbate withdrawal symptoms and make the process more challenging.

Environmental and support factors are also crucial. A supportive and stress-free environment can alleviate withdrawal symptoms, whereas high-stress or triggering environments can exacerbate them. Access to medical care and support networks plays a vital role in managing withdrawal symptoms and ensuring safety during the process.

Complications of Opioid Withdrawal

While opioid withdrawal is not typically life-threatening, it can lead to several complications if not properly managed. Dehydration is a common complication due to symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. If severe, dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalances and kidney dysfunction.

Relapse is a significant risk during withdrawal, mainly if symptoms are severe and unmanaged. The intense discomfort and psychological cravings can drive an individual back to opioid use. In cases where tolerance has decreased, this can increase the risk of overdose.

Mental health complications can also arise, with increased anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation occurring in some individuals during withdrawal. This highlights the need for psychological support alongside physical care during the withdrawal process.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Opioid addiction treatment typically involves a comprehensive approach that includes detoxification, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and behavioral therapies. Two important components of this continuum of care are Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP).

PHPs provide a structured treatment environment for several hours daily, typically five to seven days a week. They offer a high level of care while allowing patients to live at home. PHPs often include individual and group therapy and medical supervision and may incorporate MAT to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. They are suitable for individuals who need significant support but do not require 24-hour care.

IOPs provide a more flexible treatment schedule, usually consisting of several hours of therapy for a few days a week. This allows individuals to continue their daily responsibilities, such as work or school while receiving treatment. IOPs focus on group therapy, education about substance abuse, and skill-building to manage cravings and avoid relapse. Both PHP and IOP treatments are designed to provide comprehensive care that addresses the physical, psychological, and behavioral aspects of opioid addiction, and they play a crucial role in the continuum of care for opioid dependence recovery.

Treatment at Verve Behavioral Health

At Verve Behavioral Health in Washington, D.C., our Intensive Outpatient Program and Partial Hospitalization Program are designed to support individuals navigating the complexities of opioid withdrawal and recovery.

Our comprehensive approach combines medication management, individual and group therapy, and holistic treatments tailored to each client’s unique needs. With our expert team’s guidance, you’ll find a supportive environment to overcome addiction and reclaim your life.

Contact us today and let The Verve be your partner in this crucial journey to wellness.

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