Skip to Content

Opioid Withdrawal


What is opioid withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal is a group of symptoms that occur when you suddenly decrease or stop taking opioids. Opioids include medicines to control pain, such as morphine and codeine, and illegal drugs, such as heroin. Withdrawal symptoms occur if you are physically dependent on opioids. Dependence means that your body gets used to how much medicine you take. This happens after you have used opioids regularly for a long time. Addiction means that a person uses opioids to get high instead of using them to control pain.

What are the signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal?

Withdrawal signs and symptoms may start within 6 to 16 hours after you stop taking opioids. The symptoms usually last for days but some symptoms may be present for months.

  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills or goosebumps
  • Muscle aches or cramps
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Overwhelming craving for the medicine or drug

How is opioid withdrawal diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam. He or she will ask about your symptoms and your use of opioids. He or she will also ask about your current and past use of other drugs. Tell your provider about any family history of drug abuse or dependence.

How is opioid withdrawal treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Opioid medicine may still be needed if you have chronic pain. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to continue taking an opioid and explain how you should take it.
    • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
    • Blood pressure medicine decreases symptoms of withdrawal, such as nausea, vomiting, muscle tension, and anxiety.
    • Antianxiety medicine decreases anxiety and helps you feel calm and relaxed.
    • Antinausea medicine helps calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.
  • Detoxification is the process of slowly decreasing the dose of opioid you are dependent on. Healthcare providers may use another opioid medicine, such as methadone or buprenorphine, to decrease symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Maintenance therapy is when your healthcare provider prescribes another type of opioid to replace the opioid that you are dependent on.
  • Psychological counseling and support may be provided to you if you are dependent on opioids. Healthcare providers will speak with you about your opioid use.

What do I need to know about opioid safety?

  • Do not suddenly stop taking opioid pain medicine. If you have been taking opioid pain medicine for longer than 2 weeks, a sudden stop may cause dangerous side effects. If you need to continue taking an opioid, do not suddenly stop taking it. Work with your healthcare provider to decrease your dose slowly if that is the goal.
  • Take your medicine exactly as directed. Do not take more of the recommended amount of opioids each time you take it. Do not take opioids more often than recommended. If you use a pain patch, be sure to remove the old patch before you place a new one.
  • Do not take opioids that belong to someone else. The amount of opioids that person takes may not be right for you.
  • Do not mix opioids with alcohol, sleeping pills, or street drugs. The combination of these substances can cause an overdose.
  • Learn about the signs of an overdose so you know how to respond. Tell others about these signs so they will know what to do if needed. Talk to your healthcare provider about naloxone. In some states, you may be able to keep naloxone at home in case of an overdose. Your family and friends can also be trained on how to give it to you if needed.
  • Keep opioids out of the reach of children. Store opioids in a locked cabinet or in a location that children cannot get to. Ask your healthcare provider how to dispose of any unused opioid medicines.
  • Follow instructions for what to do with medicine you do not use. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions for how to dispose of opioid pain medicine safely. This helps make sure no one else takes the medicine.

Call 911 if:

  • You have a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fast heartbeat.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have nausea and are vomiting, or you cannot stop vomiting.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Opioid Withdrawal

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes