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Opioid Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, over 10 million people misuse opioids yearly. Some do so to ease severe withdrawal when they stop using.


Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe side effects that usually depend on several factors. These factors may include the length of time you used the drug to more personal ones like your gender and age. Either way, when you develop withdrawal symptoms after you stop using opioids, it is time you know what you are up against. This article highlights the possible withdrawal symptoms, what causes withdrawal symptoms, and more.

Prescription Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs with illegal substances such as heroin and prescription painkillers such as Percocet to treat chronic and severe pain. Even when a medical professional prescribes opioids, they may lead to addiction and dependency when caution is not taken. Individuals who misuse prescribed opioids have a high risk of developing opioid use disorder.


Prescription opioids are still dangerous, and anyone using them can become addicted. 1 in 4 patients having long-term opioid treatment in a primary care setting might struggle with opioid addiction.


When a person takes too many prescription opioids, they can stop breathing, which leads to death. 


Opioids are usually intended for short-term use like pain after dental surgery and may also be prescribed for chronic conditions like cancer. The following are some of the commonly abused prescribed opioid painkillers:


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Opioids and the Brain

Generally, Opioids tend to attach to the receptors on the nerve cells inside your spinal cord, brain, and other places. Once they are attached to these areas, they block pain signals that your body may try to send to your brain. These drugs also trigger your brain to release dopamine - a chemical known to induce a euphoric feeling.


Putting opioids into your system may elicit feelings of slowed breathing, relaxation, and drowsiness. Other people may experience a rush of pleasure or euphoria described as intensely rewarding. Opioids' effect on the pain receptors leaves you in ecstasy. Opioids increase dopamine levels associated with rewarding (happy) feelings and reinforcing behaviors. 


Dopamine enforces pleasurable activities such as engaging in fun activities, exercising, or spending time with friends. Once you take opioids, they top the feeling of any rewarding activity you know, leading to taking more qualities of the drug.

Medically Reviewed:


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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Opioid Withdrawal

Look at withdrawal symptoms as to how your body responds when the drug is absent. Opioid dependency can lead to opioid withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking medicine or reduce the number of opioids you usually consume. Though medical professionals prescribe opioids to patients, these patients might abuse the medications since they can assist with pain relief and mental relaxation and produce a sense of euphoria.


Chronic opioid use may lead to an incapacitating dependency with severe withdrawal symptoms to the patient's health. Opioids can affect your body in various ways, including:


  • Opioids might affect the brain stem; it controls functions like heartbeat and breathing. These drugs do so by reducing coughing and slowing breathing.

  • Opioids might act on specific brain areas, like the limbic system, that control emotion—these drugs then work to create feelings of relaxation and pleasure.

  • Opioids affect the spinal cord and reduce pain.

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Opioids Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms

Everyone experiences opiate withdrawal symptoms differently. However, the early symptoms usually begin in the first 24 hours after quitting the drug. They may include:


  • Muscle aches

  • Restlessness

  • Anxiety

  • Eyes tearing up or Lacrimation

  • Runny nose

  • Excessive sweating

  • Inability to sleep

  • Yawning very often

  • Sweating and itching

  • Runny nose

  • Watery eyes

  • Sensitivity to pain

  • Constipation


Other more severe symptoms usually begin after the first day or thereabout. They may include:


  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal cramping

  • Goosebumps

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dilated pupils or blurry vision

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • High blood pressure

  • Low testosterone levels result in quiet strength, sex drive, and energy

  • Tolerance—taking more opioids to achieve a “high” feeling

  • Physical dependence—experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking opioids


Typically, these unpleasant and painful symptoms usually decrease within a week. Also, remember that different drugs remain in your system for different periods and affect withdrawal onset. How much time your symptoms last depends on how often you used the drug, frequency of use, and personal factors like your overall health.

Some medical specialists note that recovery from opioid withdrawal symptoms may take as little as six months or a lifetime, depending on the patient. For a quicker recovery, abstinence is paramount though you will still experience withdrawal symptoms. Remember to discuss any ongoing symptoms you might have with your healthcare provider.

How severe or mild the opioid withdrawal symptoms will be is highly dependent on:

  • How long have you used these drugs

  • How frequently you use them

  • The method in which you used the drug

  • Whether or not you detoxed before

  • If you suffer from any co-occurring conditions

  • Your health and age

  • The type of opioid you used

  • Causes of opioid withdrawal

Causes of Opioid Withdrawal

Once you take opioids for a long time and in large amounts, your body becomes tolerant to its effects. Over time your body requires more of the drug to feel the same result. This is very dangerous because it increases your risk of overdose.

Since opioids affect the receptors in your body, these receptors become dependent on the drug to function correctly. If you notice that you become physically sick once you stop using opioids, your body indicates that it is physically dependent on the drug.

It is even worse when people become more dependent on opioids because they fear pain or withdrawal symptoms. In other instances, people may not even know that they have a dependency on opioids. These people tend to mistake withdrawal symptoms with other conditions.


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The Bottom Line

Take the necessary steps to notice your loved one is showing signs of opioid withdrawal. It is never too late to seek treatment and consult a medical professional. Also, open up to people you trust and are comfortable with; do not suffer alone when there are people ready to help you.

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Prescription opioids
Opioids and the brain
Opioid withdrawal
Opioid withdrawal signs and symptoms
Causes of opioid withdrawal
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