Elite Team

Understanding Opiate Addiction and withdrawal symptoms

 heroin explained

What are opiates?

Opiates mimic substances that occur naturally in our brain called endorphins, helping to decrease anxiety and depression as well as reducing pain in minor injuries, such as paper cuts and bruises. Opiates are also responsible for you not noticing you have a cut until you look directly at it. However, stronger opiates are needed for bigger injuries such as surgery or broken bones. Some opiates are as follows:


Oxycontin (oxycodone)
Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen)
Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
    This opiate is also used to treat withdrawal symptoms as it is easy to manage the doses for addicts who are unable to “quit cold turkey” without disastrous, even deadly, outcomes.
    Unfortunately, while used to treat addiction, without careful monitoring methadone, it may become addictive as well.
    While not clinically prescribed and highly illegal, most opiate addicts who use the painkillers as mentioned above may eventually move on to heroin as a cheaper, more efficient alternative.

How does opiate addiction happen?

Typically an addiction to opiates begins when a you take the medication for pain relief, over a certain amount of time you may need to up the dosage to get the same effect. The time it takes to become addicted varies with each person so there is no way to tell how long or how much it can take for someone to become an opiate addict. Most people aren’t even aware they have become addicted until they finish treatment and are either taken off the drug by their doctors or have run out.

What happens if you quit using opiates?

If you’re addicted to opiates, whether you are aware or not, and stop using you will experience symptoms within the first 24 hours that can be mistaken as the flu. For those who do not know they are addicted, these symptoms will not make them crave the drugs. Otherwise, you may go in search of more.

What symptoms should you expect when experiencing withdrawal?

In the first 24 hours:
Muscle aches
Lacrimation (eyes tearing up)
Runny nose
Excessive sweating (hot and cold)
Yawning often

After the first day:
Abdominal cramping
Dilated pupils (which may cause blurry vision)
Rapid heartbeat
High blood pressure

While these symptoms will improve within the first 72 hours to a week, some symptoms are known as “post-acute withdrawal symptoms” may be present afterwards. These symptoms will come and go for days at a time over a period of up to two years, former addicts who are not prepared for the longevity of these symptoms may be at risk for relapse. These post-acute withdrawal symptoms are as follows:

Mood swings
Disturbed sleep
Low enthusiasm
Inconsistent energy and concentration

The most important thing to remember is that treatment is ongoing and not an easy thing, but pushing through and getting help is important.