The Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms Explained

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Opioid addiction is widespread, reaching epidemic levels in recent years and affecting more than 3 million US citizens.

One of the reasons for this is that opioid withdrawal symptoms can be severe. What’s more, opioid addiction isn’t just triggered by recreational drugs. Prescription medication containing opiates can also cause dependency. 

Are you or a loved one dependent on opioids? If so, one of the most important steps toward recovery is understanding the common opioid withdrawal symptoms. Once you understand what withdrawal symptoms to expect, and the underlying mechanisms behind them, you’ll be better equipped to combat their physical and psychological effects.

If you don’t inform yourself, this could jeopardize the path to recovery. 

Avoid this and keep reading to learn more about the mental and physical effects that opioid withdrawal can cause. 

How Do Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms Work?

The body is home to a large number of opiate receptors that are distributed widely throughout the brain and spine. When you ingest an opioid, the active compounds bind to these receptors, altering the way your nervous system functions. 

The reason why your body has opiate receptors is that it creates its own natural form of opiates. These naturally occurring opiates regulate neurochemical pathways. They are called endorphins.

For instance, when you suffer an injury, your body can automatically release and send endorphins to associated nerve pathways. There, they will “deaden” or lessen the transmission of pain signals. 

At the same time, the body may also release neurochemicals like dopamine to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Have you ever suffered an injury and felt much calmer than everyone around you who is trying to help? Or cut yourself and only felt the pain kick in later?

These are examples of how the body regulates pain and stress signals. 

If you take opioids for any length of time, this can create a dependency in the body. Research indicates that taking opioid medications for more than even a few days can increase the risks of long-term use. 

Although the body is still producing its own endorphins, it also ramps up the production of chemicals that activate the sensations that opioids block, such as pain, feelings of anxiety, and chemicals that govern rates of breathing. 

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are two of the most challenging opioid withdrawal symptoms to deal with. These psychological effects can kick in after merely a few hours and last for days or weeks after opioid cessation. 

The reason why this happens is due to the fact that opioids shut off a specific set of neurons in the brain that are responsible for regulating dopamine release. When this happens, the brain becomes flooded with dopamine, triggering a surge of happiness.

The flood of dopamine also acts on the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. Here it suppresses feelings of anxiety and stress. 

When exposed to opioid substances, the body tries to regain homeostasis by creating 3x to 4x more of the neurochemical that primes neurons in the brain to fire electrical impulses. 

If you suddenly stop taking opioids, these neurochemical levels will be out of balance, which results in elevated feelings of anxiety and depression. 

Difficulty Relaxing

Opioids are depressants, meaning they slow down breathing, which can contribute to the feelings of calm and relaxation they produce. 

When someone stops opioids, they are likely to experience rapid breathing and an increased heart rate. These opioid withdrawal symptoms can make it very hard to relax, and contribute to feelings of anxiety and insomnia. 


Opioids can be additive on both a physical and psychological level. 

If you take opioids for an extended length of time, their effects create positive feedback loops in the brain. The flood of dopamine that opioids trigger creates a strong positive association. 

Feedback loops create a link between certain actions or substances and positive feelings. With opioids, these feedback loops can become so strong that the seeking out of opioids is automatic, rather than a conscious decision. 

Paired with the physical effects and withdrawal symptoms, this can trigger very strong cravings. 

Other Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms to Watch Out For

Anxiety, strong cravings, an elevated heart rate, and rapid breathing aren’t the only opioid withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal can also trigger:

  • Body aches
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Elevated blood pressure 
  • Shaking
  • Seizures
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fever
  • Goosebumps
  • Hallucinations
  • Watery eyes
  • Running nose
  • Yawning

Most of these symptoms appear within 12 hours of stopping opioids. The majority of people experience a lessening of the worst symptoms within a few days, but symptoms can continue for multiple weeks depending on the level of dependency. 

Unmonitored Opioid Withdrawal Can Be Dangerous

Opioid withdrawal symptoms such as elevated blood pressure can be dangerous if not monitored. An increased pulse rate or elevated blood pressure can trigger complications if you suffer from a heart condition. 

Loss of fluids through fever, diarrhea, and vomiting can also result in severe dehydration, heart failure, or high blood sodium levels. 

Finally, the riskiest part of unsupervised opioid withdrawal is the potentially increased likelihood of relapse. If you do relapse, you can also run the risk of overdose through decreased tolerance levels. 

Is there Any Way to Avoid Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?

Although there are some at-home mental health tips you can use to help you deal with opioid withdrawal symptoms, these won’t take the symptoms away. Instead, they’ll help you to stay strong in the face of them. 

Fortunately, nowadays there are ways you can effectively lessen the severity of opioid withdrawal. For instance, there are opioid withdrawal medications you can take that reduce withdrawal symptoms and help to heal the neurotransmitters that opioids bind to. 

One of the most effective of these is Suboxone®. 

Don’t Let Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms Derail Your Recovery

Have you decided to come off opioids but are nervous about the withdrawal symptoms? Or maybe you’re supporting a loved one through the process?

Depending on the degree of physical dependency, opioid withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Their severity is one of the reasons why opioid dependency is so hard to combat. 

Opioid withdrawal medications can ease the severity of the psychological and physical effects of the withdrawal process. 

Here at Recovery Delivered, we know that recovery can be very hard, but getting the right medication shouldn’t be. 

We provide easy access to affordable Suboxone doctors from the comfort of your home.

Experience recovery on your own schedule by applying to start your treatment or refill your prescription. 

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