Opiates are drugs used medically to relieve pain and recreationally to create a feeling of euphoria. When a person stops taking opiates, whether prescribed or abused, the body responds accordingly by craving the narcotic substance and the feeling it creates. This physical and mental craving is known as "withdrawal." Opiate withdrawal length varies from person to person depending upon individual factors.
Without intervention, the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal lasts between seven and ten days. The emotional and psychological effects can take much longer to subside. In the case of severe opiate addiction, detoxification or opiate withdrawal therapy is indicated. Individuals seeking treatment for opiate addiction typically experience a prolonged opiate withdrawal length with fewer side effects than their untreated counterparts. Common effects of opiates as they exit the body include many flu-like symptoms such as body aches, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, diarrhea, stomach pain, coughing and a runny nose. These symptoms usually persist for the entire length of opiate withdrawal.
Working with an opiate addiction clinic or opiate addiction center opens up a larger number of treatment options. Treating opiate addiction may involve the substitution of a controlled substance, such as methadone. The substitute drug is administered over a period of time, gradually weaning the addicted person off of opiates entirely. This prolongs the opiate withdrawal length to a period of time ranging from several weeks to several months.
The length of opiate use can also affect opiate withdrawal length. The longer a person uses opiates, the more accustomed their body becomes. As the body becomes accustomed to opiates, a higher dose is needed to produce the same effects. The higher the dose of opiates in the body, the longer it takes for the body to get rid of the substance and endure the effects of withdrawal.
Some drug addiction centers offer a program called rapid detoxification. This involves placing an opiate-addicted person under anesthesia and introducing opioid-blocking chemicals into the person's bloodstream. Touted as a way to significantly reduce opiate withdrawal length, conclusive evidence supporting this claim does not exist.
No matter the length of the physical opiate withdrawal, long-term psychological symptoms can persist. Depression, anxiety, irritability and agitation can persist for up to a year or longer after experiencing physical opiate withdrawal. This may be due to underlying psychological conditions that were present before withdrawal or the upset of opiate addiction itself.