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The Burning Sickness: Opiate Withdrawal

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Coming off opiates is no joke.  Whether plagued by prescription pills like oxycodone or addicted to harder substances like heroin, withdrawal symptoms from opiates are harsh.  Coping with the withdrawal is the key to embarking on the long road of recovery.

For advice on getting through opiate withdrawal, or for help finding treatment, call our addiction experts at 877-743-0081 (Who Answers?).

Recognizing Addiction

The first step in navigating withdrawal is recognizing when use and abuse has teetered into dependence and addiction.  An honest, personal appraisal is necessary to evaluate chemical dependency.  Opiates are powerful analgesics affecting the way the brain works.  Signs to look for:

  • Developing a tolerance
  • Behavioral changes related to drug use
  • Family problems related to drug use
  • Feeling driven to take opiates
  • Mixing chemicals or drinking alcohol while taking opiates for greater effect

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiates affect the body in powerful ways.  Because they are pain killers, they work by altering pain receptors in the brain.  They also slow respirations and slow all organ functioning.  Physical withdrawal can affect the following:

  • Cardiovascular system:  blood pressure, heart rate
  • Respiratory systems:  breathing rates
  • Digestive system:  vomiting, diarrhea, nausea
  • Muscular system:  joint aches, cramps, muscle spasms
  • Nervous system:  overactive neurological processing

Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate Withdrawal

Feelings of sadness and hopelessness are common during opiate withdrawal.

Because of the way opiates work, emotional withdrawal is common when stopping opiates.  Opiate activate the pleasure centers in the brain and making them hypersensitive.  Stopping use can create:

  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Feelings of desperation
  • Unexplained anger and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Severe mood swings

Mental Withdrawal Symptoms

Extended opiate use, whether prescribed or illegal creates lasting changes in the brain.  Research shows brain abnormalities in patients who abuse opiates for a period of time.  Opiates bind to the mµ receptors in the brain, permanently changing the way the brain processes stimuli.

  • Obsessive thoughts about opiates
  • Inability to focus
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness

Treatment for Opiate Withdrawal

Treating opiate addiction specifically is crucial for patients to achieve lasting recovery.  Withdrawal symptoms require medical management for a greater chance at avoiding future use.  Effective treatment programs usually involve a combined therapeutic approach treating the body, mind and spirit of the addict.

Physical Recovery

Entering detox or seeking help from a medical professional is important for opiate addicts.  Physical recovery begins with medical management of the above noted symptoms to avoid using to relieve withdrawal symptoms from opiates.  Opiate sickness affects every system, so patients experiencing withdrawal can truly believe they are dying.

Mental/Emotional Recovery

Recovery experts recommend ongoing therapy, support groups and self-help initiatives, like 12-step programs, to aide addicts in experiencing lasting mental and emotional recovery.  Embracing new habits toward wellness is important.  Healthy eating, exercise and meditation are helpful tools for addiction recovery.

Putting the Pieces Together

It is possible to bear the burning sickness of opiate withdrawal symptoms to achieve lasting recovery.  Understanding the powerful effects of opiate withdrawal symptoms and seeking help to manage them is key.  A balanced approach treating the body, mind and spirit can set an addict upon a successful path and a drug-free life. Call 877-743-0081 (Who Answers?) today to begin your opiate addiction recovery journey. 


Harvard Medical School. (2009). The addicted brain. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from:

Kosten, T. & George, T. (2002).  The neurobiology of opioid dependence:  Implications for treatment. Addiction Science and Clinical Practice. 1(1).  13-20. Retrieved from:

Narcotics Anonymous.  (1992). An Introductory Guide to Narcotics Anonymous.  Retrieved from:

Volkow, N. (2014). America’s Addiction to Opioids:  Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse.  Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control__:  National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from:

The Dark Night Before the Dawn: Opiate Withdrawal

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