Detox from opiates is physically taxing but not impossible to get through. Find out more about the stages of opioid withdrawal.

If you’ve ever grappled with a heroin or painkiller addiction, you understand the painful process of opiate withdrawal. While using opiates it feels like you’re on top of the world. When coming off of them, though, it’s a completely different story. It might feel like an impossible thing to live through but you can outlast the effects of withdrawing from opiates.

Many agree that opiates, or opioids, are one of the most addictive drugs available. The effects of opiate use are alarming and often deadly. More than 115 people die every day from an opiate overdose according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many try to get clean before the worst happens but opiate withdrawal bats them back into the claws of their addiction.

You might struggle to understand why people have such a difficult time getting clean. If you’ve never dealt with drug addiction or known someone who has, it may seem as simple as “just stopping.”
But opiate addiction is not a matter of simply quitting when you want to and the detox process is part of the reason why.

Continue reading to learn about the stages of opiate withdrawal and what a detox from opiates looks like.

Who Uses Opiates?

The large majority of opioid addicts start using these drugs without realizing what they signed up for. Most opioid addictions start with the use of prescription painkillers following a medical procedure or surgery. Prior to the overwhelming overdose rates in 2015 (33,000 people died due to the misuse of opiates), some doctors were heavy-handed in prescribing these drugs.


As a result, millions of people developed a dependence upon or addiction to prescription opioids. Some reports show that nearly 1 in every 3 people prescribed painkillers misuse them. Additionally, 8 to 12 percent of people develop a substance use disorder or opioid addiction.

Once painkillers become too expensive to afford, some quit, and some switch to cheaper alternatives like heroin. A reported 4 to 6 percent of people who misuse prescription opioids make the jump to heroin. To go even further, 80 percent of heroin users say they first started using painkillers before using heroin.

The Stages of Opiate Withdrawal

It becomes more and more difficult to quit as the addiction takes hold. When you use opiates for a long time, your body becomes used to or dependent upon, the substances you use. If you suddenly stop using drugs, you experience a reaction called withdrawal or detox.

These physical and psychological reactions are your body’s response to not receiving the chemicals it’s used to receiving. Avoiding opiate withdrawal is a large part of the reason for many addicts. The high from painkillers and heroin may be one of the greatest feelings in the world but the withdrawal from them is one of the worst.

The length and severity of the detox process depend on a few different factors:

  • The amount of opiates used
  • How long the individual used opiates for
  • The type of opiates used
  • The user’s overall health in general

Opiate withdrawal symptoms start as soon as a few hours after taking the last hit for those with the most serious addictions. Others may start to see symptoms up to 30 hours after the last time they used opiates. The timeline ranges depending on the above factors but is split easiest by the “early stages” and “late stages” of detox and withdrawal.

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Early Stages of Opiate Withdrawal

Again, the early stages of opiate withdrawal begin between six and 30 hours after last using painkillers, heroin, or other opioids. Users often refer to these first few hours and days of symptoms as feeling “dope sick.”

The early symptoms of opiate withdrawal include:

  • Frustration, irritability, or anger
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Aching in the body and joints
  • Tiredness or exhaustion
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Extreme sweating

Early detox does not seem dangerous at first. Although the symptoms are uncomfortable they are not yet seemingly unbearable. As more time passes, the physical and psychological results of opiate withdrawal increase in severity.

Later Stages of Opiate Withdrawal

The later stages of opiate withdrawal kick in around 72 hours following the last use of opiates. This is when symptoms become more dangerous if not addressed and attended to. The severity of these late-stage symptoms depends on how serious their addiction was.

You may hear addicts refer to getting clean from opiates as “kicking dope.” This refers to the involuntary jerking in their legs during the later stages of detox. Other effects of the later stages of opiate withdrawal include the early symptoms as well as:

  • Stomachache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills

In the most serious cases, the severe vomiting and diarrhea experienced during detox may cause dehydration. If this dehydration goes without treatment it may lead to death in the most extreme cases.

Finding Opiate Withdrawal Treatment

If you or someone you know needs help getting clean, addiction treatment provides a springboard into a new life. Addiction treatment facilities help addicts through the opiate withdrawal process, keeping symptoms to a minimum.

The more important part of getting clean comes after the opiate detox process, though. If the addict doesn’t learn alternative ways to live a life free from drugs, they face an inevitable relapse. Addiction treatment helps in this area as well.

Are you looking for an addiction treatment center for someone with an opiate addiction? Hawaii Island Recovery offers services that can help. You don’t have to struggle alone anymore; we are here for you.

Get Addiction Help!

If you or a loved one need help, call Hawaii Island Recovery toll-free right now.