Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

By In Addiction Recovery, Addiction Withdrawal, First Steps
Posted March 9, 2015

If you’re currently researching information about opiate withdrawal, you may be asking questions like:

  • What exactly is withdrawal?
  • How long does heroin withdrawal last?
  • Is OxyContin withdrawal the same as heroin withdrawal?
  • What is the timeline for opiate withdrawal?

In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more, ensuring that you’re informed about the process of withdrawing from opiates.


What Is Withdrawal?

Over the course of prolonged exposure to a substance, the body and brain undergo changes and develop a dependency on the substance. This means that notusing the substance feels abnormal.

After abruptly reducing or stopping long-term use, individuals typically experience withdrawal symptoms as toxins exit the body and the body readjusts to life without the substance.

Withdrawal symptoms vary according to the substance in question, but they are often uncomfortable and painful. The duration of withdrawal also varies and depends on several factors.

In this case, we are focusing on opiates. Below is a concise description of the most common drugs which fall under the classification of opiates/opioids, as well as a typical opiate withdrawal timeline.

Which Drugs Are Opiates or Opioids?

The term opiatesis often used to describe close relatives of opium, such as morphine, codeine, and heroin. The term opioidsis refers to the entire class of drugs, including synthetic opiates such as Oxycodone and OxyContin.

Common opiates include heroin, oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, methadone, codeine, buprenorphine, suboxone, clonidine, and dilaudid.

Fear of withdrawal can keep opiate users locked in active addiction. If you’ve made the decision to stop, you’re already aware that you’ll be going through an uncomfortable period. Opiate withdrawal severity and timeline depends on factors such as age, amount of use, length of use, specific opiate involved, and current health.

For this reason, there isn’t an exact timeline, but the following information will help clarify the withdrawal process.

How long until I experience the first signs of opiate withdrawal?

Opiate withdrawal onset is generally connected to the half-life of the drug involved, so those with a longer half-life, such as methadone, will take more time for first signs of withdrawal to present than heroin, which has a much shorter half-life.

For example, methadone’s half-life ranges from 15-60 hours, so withdrawal symptoms can be expected to present themselves within 24-48 hours of last use. Heroin withdrawal symptoms, on the other hand, can be felt anywhere from 8-16 hours after last exposure.


Opiate Withdrawal Timeline – Click to Enlarge
Opiate Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

The Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS), as detailed in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugsincludes both psychological and physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

Psychological opiate withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Drug cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation/irritability
  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malaise (a feeling of uneasiness)
  • Depression/dysphoria

Physical opiate withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Goose bumps
  • Runny nose and increased eye tearing
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Muscle cramps and body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or abdominal cramps
  • Sneezing
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Weakness and/or fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Yawning
  • Alternating cold and hot flashes
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dilated pupils

Individuals may not experience all of these symptoms. Which symptoms the individual experiences and the intensity of these symptoms varies.

Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

The following is an approximate withdrawal timeline along with common symptoms:

Day 1-2: Irritability and agitation generally present themselves as the first symptoms. Muscle aches and body pains appear, along with loss of appetite, sleeplessness, sweating and diarrhea. Anxiety and panic attacks may be experienced as well. A runny nose or general flu-like symptoms can also be anticipated.

Day 3-5: Diarrhea generally stops during this period, but be aware that this may be due to an inability to eat or lack of desire for food. Try to eat, even if you’re not hungry. Shivers, goosebumps, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramping are all common during this phase, as is a feeling of general restlessness.

Day 6+: While most of the other symptoms should have greatly subsided, nausea and anxiety may still be experienced beyond day six.

In general, you’re likely to experience psychological symptoms and mild physical symptoms initially. Within the first few days, more physical symptoms will present themselves, and these symptoms will probably be more intense.

Although this period of withdrawal is particularly difficult, these symptoms will subside in a few days as your body readjusts to life without opiates. Once a week has passed, you should feel mostly normal again.

In some cases, the general feeling of depression that accompanies heroin withdrawal may persist for weeks. Knowing this information ahead of time can help you mentally prepare and plan positive activities with positive and supportive people to occupy your mind.

relaxing while going through withdrawal

How to Get Through Opiate Withdrawal

Anything that gets you up and moving will help make the process more tolerable. Exercise increases blood flow, and in turn, helps expel toxins from the body. Try something light, like yoga or a stroll through the neighborhood. Alternating hot and cold showers has been said to help, along with getting outside in the sun.

Be sure to drink plenty of fluids during the withdrawal process as well, such as water, Gatorade, or Pedialyte. Caffeine is not recommended because it will dehydrate you.

Meditation, prayer, and stretching or breathing exercises can also help calm your mind and relieve your body. It’s important to get plenty of rest during this period as well.

Imodium can help with diarrhea symptoms, and amino acid supplements can assist with mental clarity, as well as overall anxiety and feelings of restlessness. Other over-the-counter medications can assist with muscle aches and poor sleep. Of course, only take these medications as directed, and consult your doctor with any questions.

The best advice is to avoid going through the process alone. Whether you decide to check into a detox facility or have a family member or friend stay with you, withdrawal will be much easier with solid support. The temptation to turn back to opiates in an effort to avoid the symptoms can be overwhelming. Without support, you may find yourself stuck in a repetitive cycle that doesn’t get past “wanting to quit.”

Even if you can’t find anyone to keep you company, be sure to stay busy with positive activities. Watch favorite movies or shows, read books, complete crossword puzzles, or throw yourself into a creative pursuit like music, writing, or art. It’s important to distract your mind from cravings and negative thoughts.

The Benefits of Medical Detox for Opiate Withdrawal

Detoxification is the first step to breaking free from opiate addiction. A detox facility can greatly reduce unpleasant side effects with medication that will be gradually tapered off over the course of a week or more.

Choosing medical detox can also provide professional support to help you make it through a difficult part of the recovery process, ensuring that you are both safe and comfortable. Once you are past the detox period, you’ll be ready to transition to the next phase of your recovery.


After stopping opiate use, you may experience withdrawal symptoms within hours or days. These symptoms are both psychological and physical, and the process of detoxing will be difficult and uncomfortable.

Of course, going through this process is the only way to begin your recovery journey. Prepare in advance and lean on your support system. Engage in positive activities, relax, hydrate, and get plenty of rest. Consider treating symptoms with over-the-counter medication, but do so responsibility and with advice from a doctor.

Once you’ve successfully detoxed, you can seek treatment and begin rebuilding a healthy, positive life for yourself and your loved ones.

For more information on medical detox and addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, call The Shores Treatment and Recovery today. You are valuable, and worth being free from opiate addiction.

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