Opioid Withdrawal Timeline: What to Expect & How to Get Help

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal occurs when someone abruptly stops or significantly reduces their use of opioids after becoming physically dependent on them, causing unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult experience, but understanding the opioid withdrawal timeline can help you prepare for what to expect.

people consoling each other during a support group going through the opioid withdrawal timeline

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal occurs when someone abruptly stops or significantly reduces their use of opioids after they have become physically dependent on them. This will cause an array of unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms as the body attempts to adjust back to functioning without opioids. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult experience, but understanding the opioid withdrawal timeline can help you prepare for what to expect.

Table of Contents

Opioid withdrawal is a difficult process that one may experience when quitting opioids such as prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. Withdrawal symptoms can be physically and emotionally draining, and are often the main reason why people have difficulty overcoming their addiction. 


In 2016, an estimated 11.5 million Americans aged 12 years or older abused opioid pain medications. Of that, 1.8 million had substance use disorder resulting from prescribed pain medications.


Although everyone’s experience with opioid withdrawal is different, there is generally a consistent opioid withdrawal timeline that an individual may go through. The following blog post will discuss this timeline in depth, providing an overview of what to expect during opioid withdrawal as well as tips for effective management of symptoms.

Signs of Opioid Dependence

Opioid dependence can lead to a variety of physical and psychological effects, such as changes in mood, behavior, and physical health. 

People who are dependent on opioids may experience a strong craving for the drugs, even when they are not in acute withdrawal. They may also need to take larger doses for longer periods of time than what was prescribed by their doctor. 


Signs of opioid dependence include:

Understanding the signs of opioid dependence is essential in order to be able to recognize and address substance abuse. After recognizing these signs, it is equally important to be aware of the physical symptoms that may occur.


Other signs of opioid dependence include physiological symptoms such as:

People who are dependent on opioids may also experience emotional changes such as anxiety or depression along with feelings of guilt and shame related to their drug use. 


After recognizing the signs of opioid dependence, it is equally important to understand what possible effects may occur when an individual attempts to reduce or stop their substance abuse. Opioid withdrawal is a complex process that can cause a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, so it’s important to be aware of these potential issues.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal, also known as opioid abstinence syndrome, is a set of physical and psychological symptoms that can occur in someone who has been using opioids for an extended period of time and then abruptly stops.


This is because the body becomes so used to having the opioid present that it has difficulty withdrawing from it, causing uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects as it adjusts to functioning without it.


Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe depending on an individual’s history with opioid use. These can include:

Mild Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal is a difficult process, but it can be made easier if you understand the mild symptoms that may occur. Here is a list of the 10 most common mild symptoms of opioid withdrawal to help you prepare for the journey ahead.

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

Severe opioid withdrawal is a difficult experience, and it is important for those struggling with addiction or dependence to be aware of the symptoms. This list provides 14 severe symptoms of opioid withdrawal which may indicate that an individual is developing a physical or psychological dependence on opioids.

One of the most difficult symptoms of severe opioid withdrawal is intense cramping throughout the body, which can cause extreme discomfort and make it difficult to focus on everyday tasks.

Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome

Opioid withdrawal syndrome is a condition caused by the sudden discontinuation of opioid use that results in physical and psychological symptoms. Common physical and psychological symptoms include:

It is important to remember that while there are many symptoms of opioid withdrawal, they can be managed with the right support. Different individuals may experience different levels of symptoms and each person’s timeline for withdrawal will be unique. Each person’s individual journey through opioid withdrawal is just as important as the knowledge gained from understanding the symptoms. To learn more about what to expect during a timeline of opioid withdrawal, read on to the next section.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction can be a challenging condition- both for the person suffering from it and those around them. While opioid addiction is not without its risks and dangers, understanding the associated symptoms can help in recognizing when someone might need help or support to deal with their addiction.


While there are many symptoms of opioid addiction, some of the most common include craving opioids, loss of control, and increased tolerance. In this section we will discuss these symptoms amongst others in order to gain a better understanding of opioid addiction.

icon of graph increasing to symbolize increased tolerance

1. Increased Tolerance

One common sign of opioid addiction is an increased tolerance. This means that the patient will need to consume larger and larger amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Often, people will spiral further into addiction because of that increased tolerance, as they pursue the same high they experienced previously despite the fact that they can no longer achieve that high with the level they once took. 

icon of sad face to illustrate cravings in opioid withdrawal timeline

2. Increased Cravings

Another sign of opioid addiction is increased cravings for the drug. Patients may find themselves constantly thinking about the drug and feeling the need to use more and more often. If they fail to use the drug for any period of time, they may notice that they start thinking about it more often and even suffer from symptoms of withdrawal if they allow too much time to pass before finding their next dose. 

icon of puppets to symbolize loss of control from opioid addiction and withdrawal

3. Loss of Control

Patients with opioid addiction may find that they have difficulty controlling their use of the drug and feel as though they are in a “downward spiral.” Often, even patients who want to quit will have a very hard time stepping away from drug use. Even when patients try to quit, they may struggle heavily with those addictive behaviors and cycles. 


Patients may also feel out of control in every area of their lives as they try to stop using opioids. In many cases, patients suffering from opioid addiction will start to take chances that they might not otherwise take, including engaging in dangerous behaviors under the influence of opioids. For example, patients may start to drive or try to work under the influence of opioids, despite the potential dangers.

icon of X to symbolize "no" or negative symptoms

4. Continuing to Use Opioids Despite Negative Symptoms

Sometimes, patients who use opioids will quickly realize the negative impact drug use has on their lives, and they may stop using them just as swiftly as they started. Patients suffering from opioid addiction, on the other hand, may continue to use opioids despite the obvious dangers associated with them. They may notice negative effects in their lives, including their jobs, relationships, and hobbies, but continue to use opioids despite those symptoms. 

icon of brain in the center of an atom to symbolize changes in behavior or psychology during opioid withdrawal

5. Changes in Behavior and Lifestyle

Finally, patients with opioid addiction may experience changes in their behavior and lifestyle. These changes may include changes in sleeping and eating habits, social isolation, and withdrawal from activities that used to be enjoyable. Often, they will focus more on drug use than they do on other things, even things that they used to consider enjoyable. Friends and family members may note that they withdraw from activities they used to enjoy.

Patients who notice signs of opioid addiction in themselves or in a loved one may need assistance. Sometimes, friends and family members may notice signs of addiction, which could indicate that the patient would benefit from an intervention. When an individual notices those dangerous symptoms themselves, they may find that going through a rehabilitation and treatment program can help them manage withdrawal symptoms and improve outcomes on the journey to recovery.

Overview of the Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal is a multi-stage process that can take several days or even a week or more, depending on how severe the addiction is.


Opioid withdrawal symptoms may appear, generally speaking, along this timeline:

First 6-12 hours

The first signs of opioid withdrawal usually appear six to twelve hours after the last dose.

First 6-12 hours

24-48 hours

After a day, opioid withdrawal symptoms often peak for fast-acting opioids. This initial period will be characterized by symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, sweating, muscle aches and abdominal cramps.

24-48 hours

Day 4-6

Withdrawal peaks for long-acting opioids.

Day 4-6

Day 7

Withdrawal starts to subside for most individuals that are detoxing.

Day 7

Month 1-3

After the acute opioid withdrawal phase, some individuals can develop Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) which is characterized by depression, anxiety, and other cognitive/psychological symptoms.

Month 1-3

Every person’s opioid withdrawal timeline is unique because the severity of symptoms can vary depending on various factors. These factors include the type and amount of opioid used, duration of use, frequency of use, individual physiology, co-occurring disorders or physical conditions, age, and mental health status. 


While one person may experience mild withdrawal in a few days, another may experience more severe withdrawal that lasts for weeks or months.

Factors That Affect an Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

The factors that affect an opioid withdrawal timeline include the type and amount of opioid being used, duration of use, frequency of use, individual physiology, co-occurring disorders or physical conditions, age, and mental health status.

icon with two pills to symbolize dosage


The type and amount of opioids used can influence the intensity of symptoms and the length of time it takes to experience relief from those symptoms. For example, someone using stronger opioids such as fentanyl or oxycodone may have more severe and longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms than someone using weaker opioids like codeine.

icon with clock

Duration of Use

Those who have been using opioids for longer periods of time are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms, as their bodies will have adapted to the presence of opioids. Additionally, those who have been using opioids over a longer time period are more likely to develop tolerance or physical dependence, which can further prolong the withdrawal process.

icon with a calendar with tally marks to symbolize frequency as a factor for opioid addiction


Frequency is an important factor that can influence the duration and intensity of opioid withdrawals. People who use opioids on a regular basis tend to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms that last longer than those who are occasional users. This can be due to the body becoming accustomed to a certain amount of opioids in their system, and when the supply is removed, it takes longer for their bodies to adjust and return to a normal state of functioning. 

icon with a person to symbolize individual physiology

Individual Physiology

Individual physiology can also affect how long and how severe the withdrawals are. People with genetic differences in their opioid receptors may experience different levels of severity depending on their specific genetic makeup. 


Additionally, people with underlying physical conditions or co-occurring disorders may experience more intense symptoms than otherwise healthy individuals.

icon with a baby, adult, and elderly person to symbolize age as a factor for opioid addiction


Age is another factor that influences an individual’s opioid withdrawal timeline because changes in metabolism due to aging can slow down the body’s ability to process drugs. Younger people tend to metabolize drugs faster than older people so they may recover from withdrawals sooner than older individuals would.

Icon with a head and a heart where the brain should be to symbolize mental health

Mental Health

Lastly, mental health status can play a role in an individual’s withdrawal timeline as well as their overall recovery process from addiction. Those with poor mental health might find it more difficult to cope with symptoms such as anxiety or depression during withdrawal which could delay recovery time.

Treatments for Reducing the Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioid withdrawal can be a daunting process for individuals who are trying to overcome an addiction. However, with the help of medications, therapies, and support systems, treatment for opioid withdrawal can be successful.


Available treatments for opioid addiction that may help with opioid withdrawal time include:


Medications are often prescribed as part of treatment for opioid withdrawal. Commonly used medications include:

Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist, which works by displacing any residual opioids in the receptors while also activating them to produce a milder effect than that of a full opioid agonist like heroin or oxycodone. This decreases cravings while also preventing withdrawal symptoms from appearing. 


Methadone is another common medication used to treat opioid addiction, and it works similarly to buprenorphine, but can be more potent in some cases. It’s important to note that both buprenorphine and methadone are only effective when taken as directed; those who attempt to abuse these medications will likely experience withdrawal symptoms or overdose if they take too much. 


Other medications such as naltrexone and clonidine may also be used in the treatment of opioid addiction and withdrawal, although their effectiveness varies from individual to individual. 


Lastly, there are a number of non-opioid medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids, and even dietary supplements that may help reduce physical discomfort associated with opioid withdrawal. 


Depending on the severity of the addiction and withdrawal process, a doctor may prescribe one or more medications for a person to help with their withdrawal.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a type of therapy that combines medication with counseling to treat opioid addiction. Evidence shows that MAT is far more effective than just medication alone.


MAT includes the use of FDA-approved medications such as buprenorphine, injection naltrexone, and extended-release oral naltrexone to reduce cravings for opioids and block the effects of opioids if an individual does relapse. 


Importantly, this form of treatment also involves regular counseling sessions with a therapist or counselor in order to address any underlying issues that may have contributed to the development of the addiction. 


By combining medication with counseling, MAT programs can provide individuals with comprehensive treatment and support throughout their recovery process. This is far more effective than medication alone, and it is the reason why most inpatient rehabilitation facilities offer MAT.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that focuses on identifying and modifying unhealthy patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with opioid addiction. 


CBT usually involves exploring the underlying factors that may have contributed to the development of the addiction in order to find new ways of thinking and behaving that are healthier. The therapist may also provide guidance for managing cravings as well as developing strategies for dealing with stressors or triggers associated with opioid use. 


In some cases, CBT sessions may involve family members or other members of a support network in order to address any issues within those relationships that might be contributing to the addiction. 


Ultimately, CBT aims to help individuals develop healthier coping skills and gain insight into their condition so they can manage their symptoms more effectively.

Holistic Treatments

Holistic treatments for opioid addiction often focus on addressing the root cause of the addiction. This type of treatment encompasses a variety of approaches such as mind-body techniques, spiritual practices, dietary regimens, creative arts therapies, and even physical exercise to help individuals recover. 


Mind-body techniques may include yoga and meditation, which can help reduce stress levels and promote relaxation. Spiritual practices like prayer and mindfulness can be beneficial for finding inner strength and peace during recovery. Dietary regimens focus on eating healthy foods that provide essential nutrients and vitamins to the body. 


Creative arts therapies are often used to express emotions in a safe space without judgement or stigma. Finally, physical exercise is an important part of any holistic approach to opioid addiction treatment; it releases endorphins in the brain that help reduce cravings while also improving overall emotional well-being.

How to Get Help for Opioid Addiction and Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal is a complex process that can be difficult to manage without the right support. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, with some lasting days or weeks and others months or even years.

Although there is no set timeline for opioid withdrawal, understanding one’s own individual patterns and the possible range of symptoms can help make the process more manageable.


For those who are seeking recovery from opioid addiction in the Bay Area, luxury rehabilitation facilities such as Wellness Retreat Recovery can help you get the support you need. With support and guidance, you can achieve lifelong recovery from opioid addiction.


American Addiction Centers. (n.d.). Opiate Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms and Treatment. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/opiate 


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Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Opioid Use Disorder. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/opioid-use-disorder 


Kosten, T. R., & Baxter, L. E. (2019). Effective management of opioid withdrawal symptoms: A gateway to opioid dependence treatment. American Journal on Addictions, 28(2), 55-62. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajad.12862  


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/overview 


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