Timeline of Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

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Calendar icon Last Updated: 05/16/2023

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Opiate withdrawal symptoms are the result of discontinued use of an opiate after becoming physically dependent on the drug. The timeline of opiate withdrawal symptoms, though slightly different for each patient, generally coincides with the user’s drug use, frequency of drug use, and various other factors. Although withdrawal is not life-threatening, it can make remaining abstinent from opiate abuse very difficult to achieve.

Acute Withdrawal

Acute withdrawal symptoms can last for anywhere from a few days up to a few weeks depending on the type of drug that was used, the method of use, the frequency of use, the length of time the drug was used, and various other factors. Acute withdrawal symptoms may be treated using Clonidine which can greatly reduce the amount of time that a user experiences discomfort. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Twitching
  • Mild nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Onset of symptoms will generally take place within 24 hours of the last dose, although it could take up to 48 hours for the symptoms to begin. As time progresses without the use of opiates, the timeline of opiate withdrawal symptoms will gradually peak and then begin to retract, allowing the user some relief. Unfortunately, this could take up to four weeks, depending on the type of drug that was used.

Protracted Withdrawal

Protracted withdrawal is defined as a set of symptoms that are much like those seen in acute withdrawal but which occur after the time period for which acute withdrawal is expected. The National Institute of Health found that people who are in recovery from heroin addiction or other forms of opiate addiction are likely to experience the following symptoms of protracted withdrawal, which can last months beyond the scope of acute withdrawal:

  • Inability to focus on a task
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last?

Opiate withdrawal syndrome will generally begin around the time when the next habitual drug use would normally occur. Most often, this is 4-6 hours after the last dose for heroin users and possibly more frequently for methadone users. The length of time that it takes for opiate withdrawal symptoms to retract and allow the user some rest will vary depending on various factors, including the type of opiate used, the length of use, and the frequency of use. Most will experience no more than 7 days of withdrawal from heroin, no more than 14 days of withdrawal from prescription painkillers, and no more than 28 days of withdrawal from methadone.