You are not alone.
We can help you.
Let's chat.
Medically Reviewed

Opioid Withdrawal: Signs, Symptoms & Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one has become dependent on opioids, you may be confused, frightened, and unsure about what to do to overcome dependence. You may be worried about managing opioid withdrawal symptoms and going through an opioid detox.

In this article, you will learn how opioids affect the brain, the signs of opioid withdrawal, the typical withdrawal timeline, and your options for opioid use disorder treatment including opioid withdrawal medications.

Spanish Version

Signs of Opioid Withdrawal

Regardless of the type of opioid used, signs of withdrawal are similar for all opioids and can include:5

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Increased body temperature.
  • Racing heart.
  • Muscle and bone pain.
  • Sweating.
  • Chills.
  • High blood pressure.

How Do Opioids Affect the Brain?

When you take an opioid, you could feel a variety of effects, including drowsiness, relaxation, and slowed breathing.1 Many people also experience a rush of pleasure, also referred to as euphoria, that they find intensely rewarding.1

Opioids attach to the opioid receptors in various parts of the brain, leading to pain relief and feelings of pleasure.2 Dopamine, a chemical in the brain, is released in increased levels when the reward circuits in the brain are stimulated by opioids. This release of dopamine is associated with producing pleasure, leading to repeated drug use.1 Dopamine helps to reinforce pleasurable activities, such as exercising, engaging in a fun hobby, and spending time with friends and loved ones. So, in a sense, when dopamine is released as a result of an opioid, the drug “tells” the brain to continue behaving in the same way, which is a contributing factor to what makes opioids addictive.1

What Causes Opioid Withdrawal & Dependence?

When taken as prescribed by a physician, opioids can safely and significantly reduce pain associated with surgery or any type of intense physical pain.3 However, taking an opioid over a long period of time can lead to tolerance and dependence.3 As you build tolerance to opioids, you need a larger dose to get the same sensations as you used to, which often leads to taking more opioids than before.3 Eventually, you could become physically dependent on the drug.3 A person who is dependent on opioids will experience symptoms of withdrawal should they reduce or suddenly stop taking opioids. This can cause a vicious cycle—a person might try to cut back or stop using, and upon suffering uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, they will begin taking the drug again to relieve such symptoms. 3

Furthermore, opioids can be dangerous or even deadly if you take too high a dose, which can lead to extreme effects in terms of drowsiness, nausea, euphoria, and slowed breathing.4

Take Our “Am I a Drug Addict?” Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute “Am I A Drug Addict?” self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with drug addiction. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.

How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?

Some types of opioids will cause signs of withdrawal sooner than other types of opioids; and withdrawal from some opioids will last longer than others.5, 6 In addition to the type of opioid taken, the severity of symptoms, time of onset and duration of symptoms, the course of withdrawal include the duration of use, the dose taken, and the time between doses.5, 6

Heroin and short-acting opioid withdrawal symptoms can typically be seen within the first 8-12 hours after last used, peaks within 1-3 days and continues up to 7 days.6, 7 Short-acting opioids, such as morphine and immediate release formulations of the medications oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, will result in withdrawal symptoms within the first 8-24 hours after the last use, and withdrawal symptoms can continue up to 10 days.8 Long-acting opioids, such as methadone and extended- or controlled-release formulations of the medications morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl will result in the first withdrawal symptoms appearing up to 36 hours after last use and can continue up to 14 days or more.8

timeline, symptoms and treatment for opioid withdrawal

Opioid Detox Options & Withdrawal Treatment

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be intensely uncomfortable and in certain situations withdrawal from opioids may be dangerous and even life-threatening.9 The opioid withdrawal timeline varies from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of opioid that was used, how long it was used, and any other drugs that were used.Medically managed withdrawal, or detoxification, can help you make it through safely and comfortably.


One option for opioid detox is tapering, which means the dose is gradually reduced  until the person is no longer taking the drug or is maintained on an opioid maintenance drug such as buprenorphine or methadone.10 This is an option that’s typically available should you undergo a medical detox under the supervision of a physician, where you will also have the benefit of 24/7 oversight and emotional support from other staff members.


Medication-assisted treatment is also helpful to control your cravings. Buprenorphine and methadone can both be used to alleviate symptoms of opioid withdrawal and control cravings. Buprenorphine can be used to help taper someone off of an opioid, and methadone and buprenorphine may be prescribed long-term to help keep cravings under control, maintain abstinence from other illicit or prescription opioids, and reduce the risk of overdose.8

Other ancillary medications may also be used to provide relief of symptoms such as Clonidine for anxiety or Loperamide for diarrhea.6, 8

It’s important to note that detoxification from opioids and being prescribed a medication to help treat opioid use disorder is only a first step on the path to recovery.8 In addition to medication, counseling and therapy are other important elements to effective treatment of opioid use disorder.8 Medication alone is not the cure.

Rehab Treatment

At American Addiction Centers (AAC), a leading substance abuse treatment provider with 8 treatment centers throughout the United States, you will find a caring and knowledgeable staff that can provide you with supervised medical detox and the counseling, therapy and aftercare needed to support long-term abstinence from opioids and other drugs. Free detox treatment may be possible with insurance coverage.

Find Drug and Detox Treatment Centers Near You

Last Updated on November 4, 2021
Don’t wait. Call us now.
Our admissions navigators are available to help 24/7 to discuss treatment.
Why call us?