Opiates are potent drugs with devastating effects. And, for sure, the process of giving them up can be scary, and even the thought of it might be a little frightening.
However, with the right detoxification program and the support of friends and family, a person can successfully abandon these drugs. Afterward, that patient could manage this addiction while enjoying life to the fullest.
What Is an Opiate?
An opiate is a chemical compound that comes from poppy plants. Some opiates are used as medical drugs — morphine, for instance, and others, like heroin, are narcotics. Either way, opiates are highly addictive.
When used medicinally, opiates can relieve pain, ease coughing, and alleviate diarrhea. They can also be anesthetics.
There’s one question many people have: Are opiates the same as opioids? Technically speaking, opiates come from natural plant matter, and opioids are synthetic. But many people — including some news outlets — use the terms interchangeably. Or they use the word “opioids” to refer to both opiates and opioids.
Like opiates, opioids can be used medicinally, especially as painkillers, and they can come in the form of illegal drugs.
Why Are Opiates So Addictive?
When people begin taking opiates, they feel good. That’s because opiates generate artificial endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that lessen pain and stress while triggering sensations of pleasure.
Certain opiates supply 100 times more endorphins than the human brain.
Then, when people keep taking opiates, their brains stop releasing natural endorphins. Thus, when they give up these drugs, they lack endorphins altogether. They might feel depressed, anxious, or ill for extended periods. Understandably, the temptation to start retaking opiates may become overwhelming.
Plus, as is true of any addiction, the body learns to tolerate opiates over time. Therefore, to keep deriving the same pleasure from them, a person must keep increasing the doses.
In the late 1990s, doctors in the U.S. began prescribing opioids and opiates at a higher rate. In large part, they did so because certain pharmaceutical companies said these drugs were safe.
In the years since, opioid and opiate addiction have become widespread in our society. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared it a public health emergency.
So often, opiate addictions are ruinous to individuals and their families. They can compel people to commit crimes to get more drugs, thus leading to imprisonment. And they can cause people to lose their jobs and experience major financial setbacks, even homelessness.
Opiates can damage the major organs, including the kidneys, liver, and brain, and induce seizures and comas. And, of course, overdoses can be fatal.
The Process of Withdrawing
To start with, one person’s opiate withdrawal timeline will differ from another person’s. In part, this schedule depends on variables such as how long and how often a patient has been taking opiates and the size of those dosages.
Furthermore, a person’s weight and medical history can play a role. How people take opiates also matters. Do they inject them, swallow them, or use another method? Do they combine their opiates with other drugs or ingest them with alcoholic beverages?
All of these factors and more can alter both the timing and the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
Once you stop taking opiates, you can expect the first symptoms to appear within 12 hours, and they could be at their most intense in about 72 hours.
Specific effects may persist for more than a week. They’re called post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), and they can linger for up to two years. Depression, irritability, anxiety, listlessness, and a lack of concentration are often among them.
However, a person can learn coping strategies for PAWS, and they usually diminish as months go by. For instance, good nutrition and frequent exercise often help people to manage these problems.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at a possible opiate withdrawal timeline. The list below reflects one that many people experience.
Stage 1: The First Two Days
The 48 hours immediately following a final opiate dose represent a critical time. Given that the withdrawal symptoms are new and perhaps powerful, people relapse during this period more often than any other period.
During these two crucial days, symptoms may include nausea, digestive problems like diarrhea, headaches, body aches, excessive sweating, an elevated heart rate, tiredness, a loss of appetite, watery eyes, dilated pupils, coughing, and a runny nose. And it can be hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Emotional issues are common, too. Someone might feel anxious or suffer panic attacks. Likewise, depression, aggressive tendencies, irritability, and moodiness are all typical symptoms.
Stage 2: Day Three, Day Four, and Day Five
These three days can also be highly problematic. They often come with the most intense nausea and aches. Vomiting and cramps are possible, and a person might shake uncontrollably or feel extremely tired.
Stage 3: Day Six and Day Seven
Around this time, the physical problems of the previous days usually begin to ebb. However, nausea may continue, and a patient might still have diarrhea. Fatigue can endure as well.
At this point, longer-lasting psychological and emotional problems often take root. For example, patients may start to experience depression or anxiety that will linger.
Stage 4: Beyond the First Week
Once the physical symptoms wear off, patients are often left with a strong sense of regret. In particular, they frequently feel guilt for their actions when they are taking opiates.
On top of that, due to depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems, relapse is always a danger.
To sum up, you could expect your physical symptoms to last between four and ten days. Of course, some people experience shorter or longer withdrawals. And, though the psychological effects can last significantly longer, the proper care can make a huge difference. Professional treatment and monitoring can also help patients avoid taking opiates once again.
How Treatment Can Help
At a rehab facility, opiate detox begins with a complete evaluation. Once a course of treatment has been determined, the withdrawal process can begin, and it will be carefully controlled.
Then, when the physical symptoms of withdrawal have decreased, a patient can transition to an ongoing support plan.
Opiate withdrawal is certainly safer with such a program. Caring professionals can monitor patients at all times, making them more comfortable while ensuring that no unusual or dangerous symptoms emerge.
Also, a treatment program might alter the opiate withdrawal timeline, making it easier to endure. For instance, it could slowly reduce a patient’s opiate intake so that the symptoms are gentler.
Additionally, such a program can give patients the nutrients and fluids they need, especially when at the highest risk for dehydration and malnourishment. And they can provide safe medications to ease various symptoms.
Just as important, after the withdrawal itself, these programs offer continuing treatment. Counseling, support groups, and other forms of mental health care help people continue their sobriety journeys.
As an example, those who live in or near Sparta, N.J., might consider Garden State Treatment Center a facility with high success rates. This center provides its patients with customized treatment options and personalized attention.
If you suspect that you’re addicted to opiates, speak to your doctor about local treatment facilities as soon as you can. That conversation could give you a new start in life. Yes, the path ahead will be difficult and painful at times. But the health rewards of opiate independence will make it worth every step.