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Early vs. Late Withdrawal Symptoms

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Opiates do more to the body than create a sense of physical relief from pain. It’s actually the way opiate drugs work within the body to manage chronic or severe pain that sometimes creates a dependence within the brain. Because of characteristics like this, opiates can produce withdrawal symptoms in both early and late stages as the brain adjusts its “mood and reward” circuits and returns to normal functioning.

Early Stage Withdrawal Symptoms

When withdrawal symptoms start will depend on the severity of the dependence on opiates and the specific medications involved. Generally, early stage withdrawal symptoms begin within 12 to 30 hours after the last usage. It’s these symptoms that are usually the most painful. It may feel like having the flu at first.

The physical pain experienced after the opiates are no longer being taken (if opiates were originally taken to manage some type of chronic pain) is usually greater towards the beginning of withdrawal. During this stage, symptoms can last about 2-4 days. The brain produces reactions within the body that may result in:

  • Bone and joint pain and muscle aches
  • Increased anxiety and agitation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Watery eyes and running nose
  • Excessive sweating

Late Stage Withdrawal Symptoms

There is often no “clean break” between when one stage of symptoms starts and others develop. Oftentimes, later stage withdrawal symptoms will overlap with early stage symptoms. It may become difficult to keep any food down as the body continues to adjust to functioning without opiates.

Any intense pain that was felt during the early stages of withdrawal sometimes lingers into the later stages. Some of the initial stage issues, such as having difficulty sleeping, may become increasingly problematic as withdrawal progresses. At this point, symptoms experienced may include:

  • Increased restlessness and irritability
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Increased anxiety and possibly depression
  • Accelerated heart rate and higher blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite and abdominal cramps

Overall Duration of Withdrawal Symptoms

Both the early and later stages of opiate withdrawal typically last about same length of time under normal conditions. The exact duration of withdrawal from opiates will vary by person. During both stages, there may be an intense desire to begin taking opiates again in order to ease the discomfort.

Because of the prolonged nature of withdrawal symptoms under normal circumstances, individuals who wish to recover are often deterred from committing to treatment. There’s also a tendency to go back to previous habits due to the intensity of the urge to use opiates again. With rapid detox, withdrawal symptoms are often experienced during the detoxification process. In many instances, patients are unaware they’ve even experienced withdrawal at the same time.