Opiate Withdrawal

Opiate withdrawal

The length of time required for an opiate withdrawal to subside depends on several variables such as the person’s age, overall body chemistry, the dosage regularly consumed, and how long the abuse was underway.

Customarily, those who have been consuming higher doses for extended periods have more intense and longer-lasting withdrawals. Long-term opiate abusers usually must withstand at least five days of very uncomfortable withdrawals symptoms before they subside, though underlying physiological and psychological issues may exacerbate these symptoms.

Opioids are a class of drugs comprised of prescription medications such as morphine, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, as well as some illicit substances such as heroin. The term ‘opiates’ normally refers to substances which are directly derived from the opium poppy (e.g., morphine and codeine) while the rest of the drugs in the opioid class are purely synthetic. For the purposes of this article, ‘opioid’ and ‘opiate’ may be used interchangeably to refer to both types of drugs.

How Do Opiates Work?

Opioids stimulate the production of beta-endorphins which bind to and affect opioid receptors in the body, mitigating pain. Beta-endorphins also indirectly boost neural concentrations of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness, reward, and euphoria. These dopamine-induced, recreational effects are the reason why people abuse opioids so regularly.

Opioids are remarkably useful in modern medicine. Yet, because they produce such profound alterations in brain chemistry, regular abuse of them almost always leads to an addiction that may be intractable without outside intervention.

Indeed, opioids are beguiling, and when under their spell, people report that use makes everything feel warm and pleasant and stress-free. Thus, without sufficient motivation to avoid the addiction outright, people may end up at their mercy – hopeless, unless someone rescues us.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last | Harmony Recovery Center

When a person takes a drug, over time their body becomes accustomed to the dose and requires more and more to achieve the desired effect – this is tolerance. As the body grows more tolerant, it begins to need the drug to function adequately – this is dependence. When a person’s body becomes chemically dependent on a substance, it enters a temporary state of dysfunction when that substance is absent – this is opioid withdrawal syndrome.

The worst aspects of opioid withdrawals occur within the first week, though some symptoms persist even longer. In all, withdrawal symptoms will last around one month, but depending on the person, it could take several months for all symptoms to abate. Long-lasting withdrawal symptoms typically include anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

Given that each person’s body is unique, a perfectly precise timeline for opiate withdrawals is impossible to establish. That said, we can construct a general timeline with which most cases of opiate withdrawal follow.

Days 1-2

These first days are usually the most grueling, and because consuming more opioids resolves the withdrawals immediately, relapse becomes an intense temptation. In the earliest phases after the last dose, the soothing effect of the opiate will wear off, replaced by cravings for more opiates, restlessness, and anxiety. These symptoms will steadily become more powerful as the drug exits the system and leaves behind a chemical void in its wake.

Opioids with shorter half-lives, such as heroin, can produce withdrawals as soon as six to twelve hours following the last dose. Opioids with longer half-lives, such as buprenorphine or methadone, only begin producing symptoms after one or two days, once they finally wear off. For shorter-acting opioids, withdrawal symptoms peak between one to three days after the last dose and slowly fade throughout the first week.

At this time, the most conspicuous symptoms are muscle aches and pains. Opioids numb the nerves in our muscles, and once this numbness abates, the rebounding, over-excited nerves can’t regulate pain properly, causing pain and discomfort all over, but especially in the back and legs. The intensity of these pains can range from inconvenient to excruciating.

Symptoms arising in the first two days may include:

  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Lacrimation (teary eyes)
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • A runny nose
  • Profuse sweating
  • Severe Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

Days 3 – 5

The worst of the pain should now be over, but it may not be entirely gone. At this point, it may become difficult to keep food down due to nausea and vomiting. Diarrhea tends to lessen at this point, but mostly due to the loss of appetite.

Overall, the withdrawal symptoms of short-acting opioids should be subsiding. However, abusers of long-acting opioids may be suffering the peak of their withdrawals, experiencing excessive sweating, appetite loss, digestive issues, and trouble sleeping.

Symptoms experienced between the third and fifth days may include:

  • Goosebumps
  • Shivering
  • Stomach aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety

After Day 5

On the sixth or seventh day, the most harrowing symptoms have tapered off, but the battle is not over, however.

Eating may still be challenging, nausea and anxiety may persist. During this time, the body is recalibrating its ability to create and distribute endorphins adequately.

After about a week, natural endorphin-regulating faculties are returning, allowing the individual some normalcy regarding what they feel. Nevertheless, the full return of chemical stability may take over a month.

Treatment for Opiate/Opioid Addiction

Opiate addiction is life-threatening conditions and should be treated with a medical detox followed by inpatient or intensive outpatient therapy. Our programs offer comprehensive, evidence-based treatment including behavior therapy, counseling, and group support.

Our medical and mental staff employ expertise in substance abuse and addiction and provide clients with the tools they require to attain sobriety and enjoy long-lasting happiness and wellness during recovery.

What Are the Effects of Oxycodone Withdrawal?

List of Opioids Strongest to Weakest | Harmony Recovery NC

What Are the Effects of Oxycodone Withdrawal? – Oxycodone and other opioid painkillers are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, about 75% of those who misuse opioids do so with either hydrocodone or oxycodone, and nearly 45% of that group favors oxycodone.

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms can persist for up to one week and may include the following:

  • Irritability and agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression and thoughts of suicide
  • Impaired concentration
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • High blood pressure
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)

What is Oxycodone Dependence?

Oxycodone is the active ingredient in OxyContin, a brand name prescription opioid. Oxycodone works by activating opioid receptors and altering levels of dopamine in the brain, thereby modifying pain perception and inducing euphoric feelings – this action makes opioids some of the most addictive drugs. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and chemical messenger critical to brain processes that regulate pleasure and reward.

Withdrawal symptoms are a product of dependence. Dependence occurs when the brain becomes accustomed to the consistent presence of oxycodone, and, after a prolonged period of opioid receptor activation and altered chemical messaging, becomes unable to function correctly without it.

As a result, when someone discontinues oxycodone, the brain will try to regain balance, and withdrawal symptoms occur. Abruptly stopping oxycodone use can disrupt vital signs and lead to multiple withdrawal effects, both physical and psychological. It is not recommended to stop taking oxycodone “cold turkey,” without the help of a qualified addiction specialist.

Potential Symptoms of Oxycodone Withdrawal

Physical Symptoms

Physically, withdrawal from opioids is usually similar to the experience of having the flu. As such, a person undergoing an oxycodone withdrawal may experience the following flu-like symptoms:

  • Body aches
  • Chills and sweats
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Excessive yawning and tearing

High blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and difficulty breathing are more serious side effects that may also manifest once someone has become deeply dependent on oxycodone and stops using it. Side effects of withdrawal are not usually life-threatening, but dangerous complications can occur, so opioid withdrawal should be monitored closely.

Psychological Symptoms

Oxycodone Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery NC

The psychological symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal may also be very unpleasant because the chemicals in the brain associated with positive emotions and motivation may take time to recover to previous levels.

Emotional and psychological symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal may include:

  • Irritability and agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mental “fog”
  • General discomfort

A person undergoing oxycodone withdrawal may also experience intense drug cravings and the desire to revert to using the drug as a means to alleviate the side effects of withdrawal.

Detox and Oxycodone Withdrawal Duration

Note that withdrawal is the multitude of side effects that manifest when a person who is dependent on a drug discontinues using it, while detox refers only to the process of eliminating the substance from the system.

Oxycodone withdrawal usually onsets within 8-12 hours of the last use, and peaks in the first 72 hours. Symptoms generally abate in about one week, although some of the psychological effects and drug cravings may continue for much longer.

The time frame within which withdrawal symptoms begin depends upon the average dose of oxycodone used and the method in which it has been administered. Immediate-release formulas have a half-life of 3-4 hours, for instance, while extended-release oxycodone has a longer half-life of around 12 hours.

Also, as opposed to swallowing a pill orally, injecting, snorting, or smoking oxycodone transports the drug more rapidly into the bloodstream, suggesting that it will result in a more rapid onset of effects but will be active for a shorter period. In some cases, a medical detox program may begin even before withdrawal symptoms start and the drug is still active in the body. The drug can be safely removed using this method.

During a medical detox, individuals are monitored around the clock for several days and medications may be administered to manage the more difficult withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox ensures that an individual is stable before moving on with a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program.

Treatment for Oxycodone Addiction

While medications such as Suboxone and naltrexone are available to help patients endure oxycodone withdrawals and recover from addiction, most addiction professionals recognize that medications alone are not the complete answer for preventing relapse and maintaining long-lasting abstinence. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects many aspects of a person’s mental and physical health, and a comprehensive approach is needed to treat it adequately.

Moreover, evidence-based behavioral therapies, individual and group counseling sessions, and support groups should also be included in an integrated treatment program. Our center offers these services, expertly managed by addiction professionals who provide clients with the tools they so desperately need to recover.

You don’t have to wait another day to start reclaiming your life and forging a path to long-lasting sobriety and wellness. Call us as soon as possible to find out how we can help!

Related: How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last?

Opioid vs Opiate

Opiates vs Opioids: Is There a Difference? | Harmony Recovery NC

Opioid vs Opiate: Is There a Difference? – Opiates are natural, psychoactive compounds found in the opium poppy. These include morphine, codeine, and thebaine, and are commonly used for the treatment of pain and other health conditions. The term “opiate” may also sometimes refer to semi-synthetic substances derived from these natural substances, such as heroin.

Opioids, comparatively, are any substances that act on opioid receptors in the body. The term “opioids” is often used to describe both prescription and illicit drugs, including those that are partially derived from opiates, such as oxycodone, and those that are fully synthetic, such as fentanyl.

Because of the confusion involving the two terms and their non-standardized use, the term “opiate” is rapidly becoming obsolete, in favor of using “opioid” to describe all of these drugs. With little reason to differentiate between natural, semi-synthetic, and synthetic opioids, the term “opioid” is most often used, even by health providers, in reference to the complete range of similar-acting substances.

Moreover, there is a difference between the two, chemically, but it is okay to say “opioid” whether it is natural or not. Substances that are derived from opium alkaloids and are very chemically similar (e.g., heroin) are often considered to be both opioids and opiates. Conversely, other substances that are chemically different from opium alkaloids, but which still act on the opioid receptors (e.g., fentanyl) are considered to be opioids but not opiates.

Opiate Defined

Opiates are chemicals culled from the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Humans have cultivated these plants for thousands of years to produce opium, which has medicinal properties, including as a treatment for pain, as a cough suppressant, an anti-diarrheal, and to induce sleep. In addition to these effects, opium can also generate intense feelings of well-being, which is the primary reason why opiates and opioids are so addictive.

Opium alkaloids, the chemicals that are responsible for these medicinal and recreational effects, are often referred to as “opiates.” Opium alkaloids can be used as stand-alone drugs or in the synthesis of other compounds and include the following:


Morphine is the most abundant alkaloid found in opium and is also the compound that has been used most often for medical purposes. Morphine is frequently administered to manage pain but is also a critical component in deriving a number of semi-synthetic medications, such as hydromorphone. Heroin also comes from morphine but is much more potent.


Codeine is another important opium alkaloid that is used as a medicinal compound and to derive semi-synthetic substances. In addition to the treatment of pain, codeine is also found in some prescription cough syrups.


Thebaine is the most virulent of the opium alkaloids, but it is used in the manufacture of popular semi-synthetic painkilling medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Opioid Defined

Opiates vs Opioids: Is There a Difference? | Harmony Recovery NC

An opioid is any substance that can be consumed, snorted, inhaled, or injected that acts on opioid receptors in the body. Opioid receptors are proteins that can be found in the brain, spinal cord, and digestive tract, and also interact with compounds the body makes naturally, known as endogenous opioids.

In addition to heroin, semi-synthetic opioids include prescription medications such as the following:

  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)

Fully synthetic opioids include prescription medications such as the following:

  • Fentanyl (Abstral, Actiq, Fentora, Duragesic, Lazanda, Subsys)
  • Methadone (Methadose, Dolophine)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Tramadol (ConZip, Ryzolt, Ultram)

Drugs classified as opioids also include medications that work on opioid receptors but in an antagonistic way. Opioid agonists, such as the aforementioned, activate the receptors to produce therapeutic and euphoric effects. Opioid antagonists, on the other hand, bind to the receptors but do not activate them, thereby blocking the action of agonist opioids.

Such opioids are used to treat opioid overdoses (e.g., naloxone) and to help recovering addicts resist the urge to relapse. They include naltrexone (Vivitrol), naloxone (Narcan) and buprenorphine (Butrans, Buprenex, Probuphine). Suboxone is a combination drug frequently prescribed to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and includes a combination of naloxone and buprenorphine.

Narcotics Defined

The term “narcotic” has historically been used in reference to a number of psychoactive substances. Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) more explicitly defines narcotic drugs as those that alleviate pain and dull the senses, characteristics most commonly associated with opiate and opioid drugs.

Naturally occurring opiates, semi-synthetic, and synthetic and opioids are considered to be narcotics, which include both legally prescribed and illicit variations.

Below is a list of the most commonly used narcotics and opioids drugs:

  • Opium
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol
  • Morphine
  • Hydromorphone
  • Fentanyl
  • Carfentanil

Opioid vs Opiate vs Narcotics

What is important is that regardless of the distinction or word usage, any opioid or opiate has the potential to treat pain and other medical conditions, but are also frequently abused and can cause dependence. And although some people use the term “narcotic” more broadly, it most accurately refers to opioids and not other types of drugs.

Opioid Dependence and Withdrawal

All opioids and opiates carry some potential for tolerance and dependence. Generally speaking, stronger opioids, especially if they are snorted, smoked, or injected, are more dangerous in this regard than weaker ones, but all can become habit-forming.

Over time, repeated exposure to these drugs can produce tolerance, a condition in which the user needs to administer increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effect. Closely related is dependence, a condition that occurs when a person is forced to the drug to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and mitigate cravings.

The length of time it takes to become physically dependent on these substances varies with each person, and also depends on the drug itself, the usual method of administration, and the average amount and frequency it is being used.

Moreover, when the person discontinues using the drugs, the body needs time to recover and reestablish a balance. During this time, withdrawal symptoms manifest, usually within a few hours, and can last several days. Withdrawal from opioids can occur any time prolonged use is stopped or significantly reduced.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable but are usually not life-threatening.

Opiates vs Opioids: Is There a Difference? | Harmony Recovery NC

Early symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

Late symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Opioid Overdose

Taking excessive amounts of an opioid or combining it with other drugs or alcohol can result in a life-threatening overdose. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose include the following:

  • Confusion, delirium, or acting drunk
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Breathing problems, such as slowed or labored breathing
  • Excessive sleepiness, or the inability to wake up
  • Periodic loss of consciousness
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Cold, clammy skin, or bluish skin (cyanosis) around the lips or under the fingernails

Depressed breathing is the most dangerous effect of opioid overdose. Lack of oxygen to the brain can not only lead to irreversible neurological damage but may also be accompanied by the failure of other organ systems, such as the heart and kidneys.

Treatment for Opiate or Opioid Addiction

Addiction to opioids or opiates can be successfully treated managed as a chronic illness through the use of residential or outpatient treatment, ongoing therapy, group and family support, lifestyle changes, and for some people, medication.

Our center offers these evidence-based services, delivered by caring medical professionals with compassion and expertise. We provide clients with the support and resources they so desperately need to achieve abstinence and sustain long-lasting sobriety and wellness.

You can once again be happy and experience life to its fullest, free of drug and alcohol! Call us today to find out how!

Related: Why Is Heroin So Addictive?

What is Precipitated Withdrawal?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the years between 2000-2015, more than half a million people died from an opioid overdose. Since 2015, an estimated 91 people die each day as a result of the abuse or overuse of opioids, including prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl.

It is critical that individuals suffering from a narcotics addiction seek and receive help to defeat this condition. Suboxone, a prescription withdrawal medication that contains the partial opioid-agonist buprenorphine and the overdose-reversing drug naloxone is currently among the safest and most commonly used treatments.

These drugs have assisted many former addicts to end narcotic dependence, which is typically the first step to recovering from addiction. However, no one should ever use Suboxone or other withdrawal medications without the direction of a doctor or addiction specialist – misuse of these drugs can result in a condition known as precipitated withdrawal, which is very unpleasant and could contribute to relapse.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

People who have relied on opioids for a prolonged period, even as prescribed, are likely to suffer from withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. This problem can be mitigated, however, using opioid replacement therapy such as buprenorphine to relieve withdrawal symptoms, or by weaning the patient from the original opioid until the body is no longer chemically dependent on it.

Moreover, if the person stops taking the drug abruptly, they are more likely to face uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Early stage opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Moodiness, irritability, and agitation
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia
  • Flu-like muscle aches
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Excessive yawning
  • Sweating

Later-stage opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills and goosebumps

Depending on the half-life of the opioid, withdrawal can begin within just a few hours, and symptoms typically subside after 1-2 weeks. Precipitated withdrawal symptoms are more severe, however, characterized by rapid onset versions of the aforementioned symptoms.

How Is Precipitated Withdrawal Unique?

Precipitated withdrawal occurs when a person with an addiction to full agonist opioids, such as heroin, switches to using a partial opioid agonist, such as buprenorphine. Although the partial opioid agonist attaches to the same mu receptors as full agonists, it does not produce the same effects because it does not exhibit the same amount of intrinsic activity at the mu receptor.

A partial agonist, however, can displace/replace the full agonist from the receptors, so the effects of the full agonist opioid stop abruptly. Because the receptor is not activated to an equivalent degree, there is a net decrease in agonist effects that causes precipitated withdrawal syndrome.

Precipitated Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery NC

In other words, when a person still has full agonist opioid chemicals in their body because they have not started withdrawing, introducing a partial agonist like buprenorphine can induce a rapid-onset withdrawal.

Withdrawal can happen quickly when someone doesn’t take their next dose of an opioid. But by comparison, precipitated withdrawal is typically much more intense, and the person suffering from it can become very ill and require hospitalization.

Drugs Involved in Precipitated Withdrawal Syndrome

As noted, Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist and anti-overdose medication that essentially kicks full and partial opioid agonists off mu receptors and attaches to them for a brief period. Although Naloxone does not completely prevent withdrawal symptoms, it will stop them for a few hours.

Naloxone, however, will only activate in Suboxone when the prescription drug is tampered with – this is designed to discourage a person taking Suboxone from abusing it to get high off the buprenorphine. When it is taken as directed, buprenorphine reaches opioid receptors and relieves withdrawal symptoms.

Naloxone itself, as found in Suboxone, does not produce precipitated withdrawal in people who use it – this condition is the result of the buprenorphine replacing a full opioid agonist when the chemical substance is still present in the person’s body.

Precipitated Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery NC

But Naloxone alone CAN precipitate withdrawal by eliminating full opioid agonists from the brain. This is an approach employed in rapid detox to remove opioids from the body and require the person to quickly end their chemical dependence on drugs. While withdrawal from opioids is not usually physically risky, this experience can be dreadfully painful and unlike long-term therapy and counseling does not address the person’s habits or rituals surrounding drug use.

Unfortunately, because there is no counseling addressed behavioral changes involved during this type of withdrawal, the individual it at a heightened risk to return to prior habits of taking drugs, and without physical tolerance, the dose they are accustomed to receiving could cause a life-threatening overdose. For this reason, rapid detox methods are not often recommended by professionals.

Another medication that can produce precipitated withdrawal is naltrexone. This drug is sometimes prescribed to people after they have fully detoxed from a alcohol or an opioid such as heroin. It partially blocks the high effects that these drugs cause, so if a person relapses, they do not experience the pleasure they normally expect.

However, if naltrexone is taken before the person has sufficiently detoxed from an opioid, the medication will precipitate withdrawal. There can be NO full or partial opioid agonists in the body, or else naltrexone will abruptly undermine the drug’s action on the brain.

Dosing Buprenorphine for Prevention of Precipitated Withdrawal

If a person doesn’t have a substantial tolerance to opioids, a large dose of buprenorphine can serve as a full opioid agonist and produce a high. Conversely, if an individual has a high tolerance for full opioid agonists such as heroin, the larger the dose of buprenorphine, the more severe the precipitated withdrawal will be if they have any amount of the full agonist still active in their body.

To avoid this, small doses of buprenorphine should be administered safely without the person noticing adverse effects.

Precipitated Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery NC

When starting on Suboxone or another buprenorphine therapy, however, the original drug of abuse should be stopped and the new medication withheld until the person begins to experience withdrawal symptoms. The onset of these indicates that the brain cannot access the amount of opioids expected, and this, as a result, impacts the behavior of neurotransmitters.

Ideally, an overseeing medical professional should use the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) to evaluate the patient’s withdrawal – mild symptoms range from 5 -12 on COWS, which is the suitable point to begin buprenorphine therapy. Anything below 5 means that the person is not in full withdrawal yet, and anything above 12 can indicate severe suffering for the person.

Rehab and Medical Detox to Overcome Addiction

Collaborating with medical professionals to safely detox from opioids will prevent precipitated withdrawal or lessen the impact of the condition if it accidentally occurs.

Critically, however, detox is only the first step in overcoming addiction, and while important, ending the body’s dependence does not address the chronic illness of addiction. After detox, persons should undergo comprehensive therapy provided by a rehab program that can help the person change their behavior and attitudes surrounding drugs or alcohol, achieve sobriety, and enjoy a long-term, sustainable recovery.

You CAN regain your life and experience the happiness and wellness you deserve. Please contact us as soon as possible – we can help!

Fentanyl Withdrawal

Fentanyl Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery Center

When opioids such as fentanyl are used regularly for a prolonged period or in very high doses, the body can develop a physical dependence as it becomes used to the drug’s presence and unable to function without it. There is a high risk of dependence associated with powerful opioids such as fentanyl, and dependence will almost always lead to withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of the drug.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that can be found in prescription form to manage severe pain but is also illegally manufactured and sold on the black market. It is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and has been involved in thousands of deaths in the U.S. alone. In fact, illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids became the main cause of overdose deaths in 2016.

Regardless of its origin, fentanyl use can quickly result in dependence and addiction and cause extremely unpleasant withdrawal effects if discontinued abruptly.

About Fentanyl Withdrawal

Potent opioids can cause dependence in just a few weeks, and as such, these drugs are typically only indicated for use for a short period of time. Fentanyl, however, is often used in cases where other painkillers aren’t effective or the person needs long-term pain relief, such as for cancer.

Plus, people often use illegal forms recreationally, sometimes unwittingly when the drug is laced with heroin or other illicit drugs. Using a drug as powerful as fentanyl regularly for any length of time is highly likely to result in dependence, addiction, and overdose.

While the experience of withdrawal symptoms is challenging, the consequences of continuing fentanyl use and abuse reflect an even greater potential for danger, such as respiratory depression or deadly overdose.

Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms, although often difficult to manage are usually not life-threatening. Symptoms vary depending on certain factors such as the average frequency and amount of drug use.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Fevers and sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Hallucinations and confusion
  • Insomnia or drowsiness
  • Tremors

Signs of a Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery Center

Fentanyl use affects the central nervous system to a large degree, causing excessive amounts of dopamine to flood the system and chemically change the brain over time. Due to these neurological changes, a person prescribed fentanyl may become dependent on the drug and resort to illegal methods of obtaining when they can longer receive a prescription.

Besides dependence and withdrawal, another strong sign of addiction is the development of tolerance. Tolerance is a condition that develops over time due to the body’s propensity to reduce the effects of a given substance in response to repeated exposure. Tolerance compels the user to take more of the drug in an effort to achieve the desired effect, and ever-increasing amounts can easily result in a life-threatening overdose.

Other prominent signs may include the following:

  • A lack of control over the use of fentanyl – using it in larger amounts or for longer than originally intended.
  • A desire to limit use and wanting to cut back or quit fentanyl and finding oneself unable to do so.
  • Spending a considerable amount of time acquiring, using, and recovering for fentanyl.
  • Having an intense desire to use their drug.
  • Lack of responsibility – fentanyl use takes priority over work, school or family obligations.
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships that are constantly strained due to drug use and related behaviors.
  • Loss of interest and engagement in important social or recreational activities in favor of drug use.
  • Continuous use despite dangerous circumstances or adverse consequences, including physical and psychological problems.

Treatment for Fentanyl Withdrawal and Addiction

A medical detox program can significantly reduce and manage symptoms of withdrawal from fentanyl. This type of treatment includes medical monitoring to ensure safety as well as medication to moderate symptoms.

Certain FDA-approved medications can relieve symptoms during the fentanyl withdrawal process. These include:

  • Methadone – A weaker opioid that can help control drug cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Buprenorphine – This is another opioid option that helps mitigate withdrawal symptoms and reduce the length of the withdrawal period.
  • Naltrexone – A drug that can assist in relapse prevention.
  • Clonidine – A medication that can alleviate some of fentanyl’s withdrawal symptoms.

Critically, addiction treatment shouldn’t end with detox. A detox program helps a person overcome physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, but it does not treat addictive behaviors or identify the reasons why the addiction occurred in the first place. Ideally, a detox program should transition into a long-term rehab treatment program.

Rehab consists of individual therapy, counseling, and other methods that treat addictive behaviors and address factors that led to the addiction. It can also offer strategies and resources for adherence to recovery after the treatment program has been completed.