Opioid Detox and Withdrawal: Understanding Signs and Treatment

Opioid abuse has become a pressing concern in our society, affecting countless lives. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that more than 80,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2021.

It’s important to understand the ins and outs of opioid detox and withdrawal, the first crucial steps toward recovery. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of opioids, addiction signs, withdrawal symptoms, detoxification, and the path to healing.

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What are Opioids?

Opioids are potent pain-relieving medications that interact with the brain’s opioid receptors, altering the way pain signals are perceived. These medications can be derived from natural sources like opium (opiates) or synthesized in laboratories (synthetic opioids). Opioids provide much-needed relief for individuals with chronic pain but can also lead to dependence and addiction if not managed carefully.

List of Opioids Commonly Prescribed For Use

Opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain. In some cases, opioids are used to treat addiction to other drugs. Here are some examples of prescription opioid drugs:

  • Oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Tramadol
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Meperidine
  • Tapentadol

What effects do opioids have on the brain?

Opioids bind to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord, effectively reducing the sensation of pain. They create a sense of euphoria and relaxation by flooding the brain’s reward system with dopamine. These drugs offer short-term relief from severe pain but carry the potential for addiction and abuse.

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Opioid addiction is a serious medical condition that can have a devastating impact on a person’s life. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction is important to save lives.

The following are signs and symptoms of opioid abuse:

  • Increased tolerance requiring higher doses
  • Mood swings or change in behavior
  • Neglecting responsibilities or tasks
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Isolating from friends, family members and social circles
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Constricted pupils

Short Term Effects of Opioids

The short-term effects of opioids can vary depending on the type of opioid, the dose, and the individual’s tolerance. Here are some common short-term effects of using opioids:

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Pain relief and Euphoria

Opioids are most commonly used to relieve pain. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which blocks pain signals from reaching the brain.

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Opioids can cause drowsiness or sedation. This is because they slow down the central nervous system.

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Nausea and vomiting

Opioids can cause nausea and vomiting in some people. This is thought to be due to the way they slow down the digestive system.

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Opioids can also cause constipation. This is because they slow down the movement of food through the digestive system.

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Opioids can cause confusion in some people, especially at high doses. This is because they can impair cognitive function.

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Respiratory depression

Opioids can depress the respiratory system, which can lead to breathing difficulties. This is a serious side effect of opioids, and it can be fatal.

Long-Term Effects of Opioids

The effects of long-term opioid use are more ominous as persistent opioid use can lead to tolerance, physical dependence, and opioid use disorder. More long-term effects include:

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Opioid overdose is the leading cause of death in the United States.



Opioids can suppress the immune system, which makes it more difficult for the body to fight off infections.

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Chronic pain

Long-term use of opioids can actually lead to chronic pain. This is because opioids can damage the nerves and tissues, which can make pain worse over time.

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Neurological problems

Opioids can damage the brain and nervous system, which can lead to problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making.

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Mental health problems

Opioids can worsen mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

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Opioid withdrawal occurs when a person who has been using opioids for an extended period stops or significantly reduces their usage. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary based on factors such as the type of opioids used, the duration of use, and individual differences.

Common Symptoms of Opioid / Opiate Withdrawal

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Nausea and vomiting

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Muscle aches

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Anxiety and restlessness

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Sweating and chills

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Cravings for opioids

Can You Die From Opioid Withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal syndrome can be incredibly uncomfortable and life-threatening. Opioid withdrawal is a serious condition that can cause unwanted effects including severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, leading to complications. The risk of death from opioid withdrawal is highest in people who have been using opioids for a long time and who have a high tolerance for the drug. It is also higher in people who have other health problems, such as heart disease or lung disease.

Withdrawal from opioids follows a predictable timeline, but individual experiences may vary. The type of opioid taken also affects the withdrawal timeline. Below is the general overview:

During the early withdrawal phase, individuals may start to experience initial symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, and muscle aches. Cravings for opioids may intensify, and the discomfort begins to set in.

The acute withdrawal phase is often the most intense, with symptoms peaking within the first few days. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and insomnia may become more pronounced. Medical intervention can significantly alleviate the severity of these symptoms.

As the acute phase subsides, symptoms gradually decrease in intensity. While individuals may still experience lingering discomfort, the worst is typically behind them. Medical professionals continue to provide support and monitor progress.

Some individuals may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which can persist for weeks or months. These symptoms include mood swings, irritability, and intermittent cravings. Continued therapy, counseling, and support groups are essential during this phase.

How long does opioid withdrawal last?

The length of opioid withdrawal can vary depending on the type of opioid, the dose, and the individual’s tolerance. However, in general, opioid withdrawal can last for 7-10 days. The time frame can be longer for people who have been using opioids for a long time or who have a high tolerance for the drug. It can also be longer for people who have other health problems, such as heart disease or lung disease.

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Detoxification involves flushing the body of opioids while managing withdrawal symptoms in a controlled environment. Medical detoxification is conducted in rehab centers with the guidance of healthcare professionals, ensuring safety and comfort. Self-detoxification can be risky so it is important to undergo detoxification under medical supervision.

How long does it take to detox from opioids?

The duration of opioid detox varies depending on different factors but usually takes about 3 to 10 days. However, recovery from substance use disorder extends beyond detox and requires ongoing treatment.

Opioid Withdrawal Medications and Treatment

Recovery from opioid withdrawal and detox is a journey that requires a comprehensive approach. Various treatment options can significantly enhance your chances of success:

Inpatient Detoxification

Inpatient detoxification involves staying at a specialized facility where medical professionals can provide around-the-clock care. This option is recommended for individuals with severe opioid dependence or those with underlying medical conditions.

Outpatient Detoxification

Outpatient detox allows individuals to receive medical care and support while living at home. It’s suitable for those with less severe opioid dependence and a stable home environment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT involves the use of FDA-approved medications to manage cravings and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are commonly used medications for opioid addiction.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management, address the psychological aspects of opioid dependence. These help individuals develop coping strategies, and manage triggers for long-term recovery.

Break free from opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction can have devastating effects on physical and mental health. Seeking professional treatment is essential for a successful recovery journey from substance abuse.

Our Scottsdale Detox Center offers comprehensive opioid addiction treatment. Our experienced professionals provide personalized care and support for your needs. Starting with a detox program sets the foundation for a successful recovery journey. This also prepares you for inpatient opioid rehab programs to address underlying issues and coping strategies.

Breaking free from opioid addiction can be challenging, but it is an achievable goal. Let us help you commit to a comprehensive treatment plan toward a healthier and happier life. Contact us today and learn more about our treatment options.