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Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (OWS) and Addiction Treatment

Those who have engaged in heavy opioid use have also dealt with intense opioid withdrawal—often more than once. Each opiate drug has a unique half-life (the length of time it takes for half the amount of a drug to leave the body). As a result, withdrawal symptoms may start at different times, depending on the drug and the method in which it’s taken. Once the withdrawal begins, the user’s body experiences symptoms such as intense sweating, hot/cold flashes, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, yawning, and all-over body pain. The combination of these intense withdrawal symptoms are described as Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (OWS). Due to these associated symptoms, even those who want to stop using may stay on opiates as a way to avoid the withdrawals. 

The principal site in the brain that triggers the onset of OWS is the locus coeruleus at the base of the brain. Neurons present in locus coeruleus are noradrenergic (or activated by norepinephrine), have an increased number of opioid receptors, and are the causative site for opioid withdrawal symptoms (National Institutes of Health, NIH, 2019). During detox, those in addiction recovery may experience different forms of OWS depending on which opiate is in their system. Heroin is the fastest acting opioid with the shortest half-life of minutes to hours. Conversely, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the half-life of methadone may be much longer—closer to an average of 30 hours. Withdrawal usually starts within 6-12 hours for shorter acting opiates such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), resulting in symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Sweats
  • Stomach pain
  • Pounding heart
  • Muscle cramps and tension 

(National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA)

During this time of withdrawal, the body and brain are going through a massive “fight or flight” response, culminating into different levels of OWS. Depending upon what kind of opiate is leaving the body, it may take several days (or longer) for the body and brain to return to a more normal state. The list of withdrawal symptoms can be even greater and more intense during this time. 

Treatment of Opioid Addiction

Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome differs for each person, and detoxing from these drugs can be very intense and painful. Through addiction recovery, you can stop using opiates and maintain sobriety—there truly is hope. Addiction is complex, but treatment is available. Often, people who suffer from addiction or substance use disorder also live with an underlying or untreated mental health condition. Fortunately, both conditions are treatable. At Daylight Recovery Services, we tailor treatment to simultaneously address addiction or substance abuse along with any co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health condition and a substance use disorder or addiction, get help now—contact us at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT to speak with one of our recovery experts. Through treatment, recovery is possible.

“I avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.”  – Charlotte Brontë

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