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How Long Does it Take to Detox from Opiates?

According to the National Library of Medicine, doctors face a continual struggle between using opiates to treat chronic illness and their addictive properties. Many people in need of opiates eventually turn to illegal heroin or black market prescription opiates to both feed their addiction and to manage their pain. Some continue to use to treat pain conditions while others do it to prevent opiate withdrawal and detox.

Opiate withdrawal and detox is one of the most difficult drug addiction detoxes to go through. Although not deadly, the detox is extremely unpleasant. Most opiates are extremely addictive and cause changes to the pleasure mechanisms in the brain. These changes are difficult to reverse. Many people wonder how long does it take to detox from opiates, in order to understand the timeline you have to know what opiates are, common ways of detoxing, and what factors affect the timeline.

What are Opiates?

Opiates are a natural derivative of opium. There are both illegal and legal opiates. The most common illegal opiate is heroin. The most common legal opiate is hydrocodone. Both of these are highly addictive and somewhat dangerous when used incorrectly.


Vicodin is a commonly abused opiate.

The problem with opiates is that they bind to opioid receptors in the brain causing a flood of dopamine. This flood is what gives opiates their pain killing properties. Unfortunately, this is also, what makes it addictive. Opiates damage these receptors causing them to malfunction in normal pleasurable situations.

There are two main reasons why people take opiates. Some of these reasons are:

  • treatment of pain – when someone is in chronic pain it is easy for them to develop a tolerance to the drugs. When this happens, they wind up using more and more of the prescription opiate. At this point, they can no longer just stop taking the drug without going through withdrawal. The same goes for temporary pain such as pain after an accident or surgery.
  • as a means of escape – opiates produce large amounts of dopamine. This causes intense pleasurable feelings allowing the user to feel really good for a time. This leads to taking more of the opiate, which leads to tolerance and addiction.

Unfortunately, opiates are very addictive. It is not hard to imagine how difficult it is to give up the euphoric peaceful pain-free feeling that opiates provide. Aside from being psychologically addictive they are also physically addictive. Fortunately, there are ways to detox from opiates.

Ways to Detox from Opiates

Detoxing from opiates is a difficult process. This process is accomplished by allowing the drug to leave the system and the addict to recovery from the addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the basic methods to detox from opiates are varied. A few of these methods are:

  • with replacement medication – medications such as methadone and Suboxone divert or prevent the withdrawal symptoms for an extended period of time while also treating pain. These drugs sometimes have less potential for abuse and can help someone detox by allowing them to taper off the addictive medication.
  • by medicating the symptoms – some people choose just treating the symptoms of withdrawal by treating it with a variety of OTC and prescription medications. These medications are just meant for withdrawal not for replacing the opiate.
  • by just stopping – by quitting without medication a person feels all of the symptoms of withdrawal and attempts to get through them without help. Although it is possible, it is said to be extremely unpleasant. Opiate withdrawal is not typically deadly unless there are underlying conditions.

Any of these may be accomplished in inpatient, outpatient, and home settings. During detox it is important to remember that the detox itself cannot kill you.

Opiate Detox Timeline

In order to answer the question how long does it take to detox from opiates you have to consider a few factors. These factors are:

  • age of person,
  • length of use,
  • amount of use, and
  • the person’s weight.

Most people who take opiates and become addicted do so after they have been taking them for a while. The timeline for detox ranges but a loose timeline is:

The first phase is the acute phase. The symptoms of the acute phase are:

  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • cramps,
  • diarrhea,
  • anxiety,
  • depression, and
  • insomnia.

The acute phase starts between 12 and 30 hours of opiate use. It usually lasts between five and seven days with a peak around three days.

The second phase is sometimes called the post acute phase. The symptoms of the post acute phase are:

  • dilated pupils,
  • depression,
  • insomnia,
  • chills,
  • cramping, and
  • goose bumps.

It starts between five and seven days after you stop using the opiate and lasts around two weeks. This makes the combined acute and post acute phases last around two to three weeks.

Following the post acute phase is the third phase of recovery. The symptoms of this phase are basically psychological although some of the physical symptoms might linger. These symptoms are:

  • insomnia,
  • restlessness,
  • drug cravings, and
  • anxiety.

These symptoms persist for between three weeks and several months after the last opiate use.

When considering the question how long does it take to detox from opiates, the answer varies. A physical detox lasts up to two to three weeks. A mental detox lasts much longer. The physical and mental symptoms as well as the cravings can return for months after you stop using opiates.

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