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Are Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms Deadly?

No, opioid withdrawal symptoms are not generally deadly. According to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline website, they are not life threatening but can be extremely uncomfortable. Most people who withdrawal off opioids and opiates are not in any danger. There are however a few cases where opioid withdrawal can be harmful but usually these have to do with other medications as well as opioids.

Treatment is recommended for opioid withdrawal because it is extremely unpleasant and it is very easy to relapse. Relapsing while you are in partial withdrawal can cause you to overdose and that is deadly. Knowing the symptoms of withdrawal, what to expect, and how long it takes often helps with motivation to get away from opioids.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

opioid withdrawal

Rapid heart rate is a classic symptom of opioid withdrawal.

There are many symptoms attributed to opioid withdrawal. These symptoms are both physical and mental. Although they do not seem like it when they are listed, these symptoms are extremely severe and unpleasant. They can be severe enough that the person going through it is so uncomfortable, they believe there is something wrong aside from the withdrawal. The physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal are:

  • Muscle cramps,
  • Abdominal cramps,
  • Runny nose,
  • Excessive sweating,
  • Runny eyes,
  • Yawning,
  • Insomnia,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Vomiting,
  • Rapid heart rate,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Dilated pupils, and
  • Blurred vision.

All of these symptoms are physical manifestations of the drug leaving the body. They usually beginning to occur about 12 to 24 hours after your last dose of the opioid and continue throughout withdrawal.

The mental symptoms of withdrawal are:

  • Depression,
  • Anxiety,
  • Paranoia,
  • Vivid dreams,
  • Mental fatigue, and
  • Rarely hallucinations.

The mental effects of withdrawal continue well after the physical symptoms stop. Some of the only deaths recorded that are indirectly attributed to opioid withdrawal are due to suicides because of depression and anxiety.

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal follows a basic timeline. This is helpful to predict when symptoms will start and when they should end. Although the times given are a close approximation, most people fall within them.

Acute withdrawal – during the phase you experience the worst of the symptoms. Many people relapse during this part of the process. This phase starts between 12 to 24 hours after your last dose of the opioid. It lasts between one and two weeks. There are cases of extremely heavy users that the acute phase lasts up to and over a month.

A few things that make the acute phase last longer are:

  • Body weight,
  • Length of use,
  • Amount of use,
  • Other medications, and
  • Metabolism.

The next phase usually starts at the two week mark. This phase has less physical symptoms but more psychological ones. This is when the patient is at risk for severe depression, anxiety, and suicide. Unfortunately, there is little that anyone can do about these symptoms and they can last up to years. They are treatable but not curable until they run their course. Doctors might treat them with antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

Risks of Withdrawal

Aside from being miserable withdrawal carries very few actual risks. Some of the risks that are recognized by doctors are:

  • death due to suicide due to the depression of withdrawal,
  • overdose due to cravings and taking opiate replacement medications,
  • addiction or overdose on one of the replacement medications,
  • relapsing into old drug habits.

Most of the risks are secondary to the actual withdrawal. You cannot die from opiate withdrawal but you can die from the secondary problems associated with addiction.

Risks of Addiction Compared to Withdrawal

The risks of addiction are far greater than those of withdrawal. Addiction to opiates causes serious short and long term damage. According to the National Library of Medicine’s archives, some of the long term effects of opioid use are:

  • overdose,
  • bowel death and gangrene,
  • heart failure,
  • respiratory failure,
  • respiratory difficulty,
  • psychosis,
  • permanent depression,
  • generalized anxiety disorder, and
  • decreased ability to feel pleasure.

Many of these side effects result in death. There are other legal and social consequences as well including:

  • incarceration,
  • legal trouble due to arrest,
  • loss of work,
  • failure at school,
  • lost time from family,
  • pregnancy,
  • sexually transmitted disease,
  • loss of family relationships and friendships, and
  • financial issues related to purchasing and legal difficulties.

When you compare these risks to the risks of withdrawal, there is a clear choice as to which is more dangerous. Continuing the addiction is clearing a losing proposition. Withdrawal is not deadly, continuing the path of addiction is.

The hardest decision you can make is to get away from opiates. Opiate addiction is one of the more powerful addictions you can have. Once this choice is made, it is only a matter of time and effort to get through withdrawal.

There are doctors and counselors ready and willing to help you get through the hardest parts of a

The hardest decision you can make is to get away from opiates. Opiate addiction is one of the more powerful addictions you can have. Once this choice is made it is only a matter of time and effort to get through withdrawal.

There are doctors and counselors ready and willing to help you get through the hardest parts of your addiction. All you have to do is call 800-584-3274, and find your way back from opiate addiction.

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