4 Phases of Opiate Withdrawal

heroinLong before written history mankind has used concoctions derived from the opium poppy for their pain-killing effects. Although these drugs are effective painkillers, they are also addictive, and with continued use cause the user to experience withdrawal when they stop taking them. In the last 150 years opiates have evolved to be more powerful and more plentiful. Despite the high risk of dependence, more opiates have made their way into our culture and this has led to more people becoming addicted.

Some users become addicted to illicit street opiates like heroin, but others may become addicted by using doctor prescribed medications. Even though these two situations seem totally different, the effects on the body are the same. When the user stops taking the drug abruptly they will experience withdrawal symptoms that range from uncomfortable to severe.

Opiate Withdrawal – What to Expect

Opiate withdrawal can be broken down into 4 phases:

1. Onset

The addict starts to notice symptoms of withdrawal 6 -12 hours after their last use.

2. Acute withdrawal

Acute withdrawal is the most physically painful and lasts for 3 to 5 days. Symptoms of the acute phase are comparable to flu-like symptoms with sleeplessness. Most users experience:

· Agitation
· Insomnia
· Muscle aches
· Sweating
· Anxiety
· Runny nose
· Stomach cramps
· Nausea
· Vomiting
· Diarrhea
· Chills

Although acute opiate withdrawal is very uncomfortable, it is not life threatening.

3. Early post-acute withdrawal

After the physical pain of the acute phase starts to lessen the addict will experience the 3rd phase, which lasts 2 weeks to 30 days. The symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, cravings, inability to concentrate, and sensitivity to stress.

Post-acute withdrawal (PAW) is less intense than acute withdrawal, but is a very difficult time for the newly clean addict. They experience general discomfort while their body returns to normal, and are forced to face this stress without the presence of opiates to dull their senses. Coupled with cravings, the early PAW phase is when the likelihood of relapse is highest.

4. Late post-acute withdrawal

Late PAW has the same symptoms as the early phase but they are subtler and occur less frequently. This phase lasts for 90 days to a year depending on the amount used and duration of dependence. The lower intensity of this phase may give the addict a false sense of security, while stress and cravings can trigger a relapse which may seem to come out of the blue.

Treatment of Opiate Withdrawal

Due to the intense nature of opiate withdrawal most addicts do better in a treatment program. Addicts learn that taking opiates will alleviate their withdrawal symptoms, so being in a detox setting where they are away from drugs helps the process along.

Support, education, and life skills are all essential for the addict to get through the later phases of their withdrawal, and to learn to live a successful drug free life. They will need to learn to cope with life and the complications their addiction has created, and they will need to learn do this without relying on drugs.

Finding the Right Rehab

Amanda, a graduate of Narconon Arrowhead discusses how opiates destroyed her life. She states, in a recent video, that she was in the process of losing her house, had no relationship with her family, and life had become unmanageable for her. Once she found help through Narconon she was able to face her problems and lead a sober life. See her full story here:

When trying to decide which rehab is best, the addict looking for help needs to find a program that will address all of the phases of their opiate withdrawal. A center with an experienced staff who know what the addict is going through emotionally, as well as physically, can be a great help. Although opiate addiction is very hard to beat, many addicts do recover. With the help of the right treatment center, addicts can heal their bodies, rebuild relationships with families and loved ones, and start to live a healthy drug free life.

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