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What is Withdrawal from Narcotics Like?

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Medically reviewed: 01/28/2019
Last updated: 05/13/2019
Author: Medical Review

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Traditionally, the term, narcotics, referred to a broad range of drugs with psychoactive properties that dulled the senses, relieved pain, and induced sleep. Opiates, marijuana, and cocaine are classified as narcotics under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which was established as an international treaty to exercise control over these types of drugs.

Since then, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has redefined the term, narcotics to include opioids or opiates, their derivatives, and synthetic or semi-synthetic substitutes. However, in the legal context, law enforcement officials continue to refer to narcotics as illegal drugs or those that are being used, possessed, produced, sold, or distributed in any illegal fashion.

Withdrawal from Narcotics – Opioids

Opioids withdrawals, including those from opium, heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other opiate drugs, cause physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that are quite similar to one another. Symptoms will vary in severity, time of onset, durations, and actual symptoms presented based on the individual and their patterns of use including dosage amounts, frequencies, durations, and routes of administration.

Some opioids are more potent than others in milligram dosage comparisons and withdrawals may vary in intensity to a certain degree. For instance, codeine is only 1/10th as strong as morphine, while heroin potencies are considered much stronger, yet unpredictable, because heroin is an illegally processed drug.

Physical Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawals

The early symptoms of opioid withdrawals begin with teary eyes, uncontrollable yawning, runny nose, and sweating. As the withdrawals progress, cravings for opioids get worse and symptoms may include pupil dilation, restlessness, loss of appetite, irritability, nausea, chills, flushing, weakness, tremors, depression, anxiety, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and increased respiratory rate.

Sometime between days 1 and 2, these symptoms will get progressively worse and other symptoms may appear including hyperthermia, insomnia, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormally heightened reflexes, muscle spasms, muscle cramps, and bone pain.

Psychological Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawals

Physical symptoms usually begin to subside between days 3 and 5, but, cravings and psychological symptoms will last much longer. Opioids are notorious for their long term withdrawals because of their high degree of influences in the brain’s reward pathways. Many opioid addicts will relapse multiple times because these withdrawal symptoms are a result of those chemistry changes that have adapted to reinforce the use of opioids.

Synthetic Opioid Withdrawals

Synthetic opioids including methadone and fentanyl work basically the same way as other opioid drugs to alleviate pain. Methadone is commonly used in medically assisted detox and therapy for opioid addicts as a substitute drug to reduce cravings and withdrawals.

However these drugs are used, they too, have a high potential for dependence. Withdrawals will be similar to other opioid withdrawals although reportedly, in some cases, more severe.