How long does opioid withdrawal last?
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can occur when you try to stop or reduce your dependence on an opioid drug. Opioid drugs include prescription medications, such as the painkiller morphine, and illicit or illegal drugs such as heroin. Opioid use disorder is a medical condition that occurs when a person is unable to stop themselves from using an opioid drug.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and can make you feel like you have a bad flu, but they are not usually life threatening.
Withdrawal symptoms will only occur if you are dependent or addicted to the drug you are trying to reduce or stop using. Anyone taking an opioid may become addicted to it, however, it usually takes about 2 weeks to become physically dependent on an opioid drug. Regular use of an opioid is also more likely to lead to a physical dependence.
How long opioid withdrawal lasts depends on the opioid you have been taking and whether it is a short-acting or long acting opioid.
Short-acting opioids work quickly and for a shorter period of time, while longer-acting opioids may take longer to work and work for a longer period of time.
If you have been using a short-acting opioid, acute opioid withdrawal lasts 4 to 10 days, with withdrawal symptoms starting 8 to 24 hours after last use.
If you have been using a long-acting opioid, acute opioid withdrawal lasts 10 to 20 days, with withdrawal symptoms starting 12 to 48 hours after last use.
After the initial period of opioid withdrawal, you may have strong cravings for opioids and have a diminished sense of well-being for up to 6 months.
|Short-acting opioids||Long-acting opioids|
What are the signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal?
Common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Opioid craving
Other symptoms include stomach cramps, muscle spasms and tension, feeling cold, aches and pains, yawning, watery eyes and nose, hot and cold flushes and a pounding heart.
Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the drug you have been taking and how dependent you are on it. Medications and supportive care can help reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Tapering off opioids, which involves gradually reducing the dose of opioid you take, can also help reduce withdrawal symptoms. Read more about tapering off opioids here.
- Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4, Withdrawal Management. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/.
- Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM). Short-acting opioids - To relieve pain. December 2018. [Accessed September 2, 2022]. Available from: https://www.chumontreal.qc.ca/sites/default/files/2019-05/673-1-Short-acting-opioids-to-relieve-pain.pdf.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Opioid Addiction - The Science of Addiction. [Accessed September 2, 2022]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/science-of-addiction.html.
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