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The Dark Night Before the Dawn: Opiate Withdrawal

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In 1987, Robert Downey Jr. portrayed the tortured young Julian Wells who lived a life of privilege but became a slave to drug addiction. For Downey, art reflected a struggle that would continually plague his life. Cycling through opiate withdrawal symptoms makes it difficult to break the chains that bind Downey and others who have struggled with addiction into the dark night of the soul.

If you struggle with opiate addiction, get help today by calling 877-743-0081 (Who Answers?).

The Party

For some, drugs like opiates offer relief from pain, boredom and worry. Users are often thrill-seekers looking for fun, carefree times. For a while, opiates work. They take the user into a party full of conviviality and escape.

The Yearn for More

The problem with opiate use, is the creation of yearning. Users continue to look for the initial euphoria associated with the nostalgia of the first high. Because it takes more and more to find the magical level, users quickly become abusers in an effort to quell the deep longing for more.

The Pull of Opiates

Opiates like heroin and morphine are injected into the blood stream, traveling quickly to the brain. In the brain, the chemicals bind to the mµ receptors to block pain and activate pleasure responses. Researchers describe the process as one that promotes “drug liking”, leading abusers into addiction.


Opiate Withdrawal

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Two types of tolerance exist for opiate users: innate or acquired tolerance. Innate tolerance refers to the genetic and physical predisposition of people toward a specific chemical. This can be easily determined based on one dose of a drug. An acquired tolerance is developed over prolonged drug exposure. Researchers have further explored a third area of tolerance, which is largely learned behavior.


Many ask how long it takes to develop dependence upon opiates. Opiate addiction is considered an epidemic in the United States. Some studies report drug dependence resulting in repeated use after as little as two weeks. The time from beginning to use to full blown addiction varies widely depending upon the individual and how the drug are being used.

Recognizing Dependence and Addiction

There are signs and symptoms that reveal opioid dependence and addiction, if users have the courage to look clearly.

  • Requiring more of the drug to receive the desired effect
  • Increased need to alleviate physical and/or psychological symptoms
  • Thinking constantly about taking the drug
  • Family members express concern
  • The thought of quitting evokes a fearful response

Recognizing the signs of chemical dependence and addiction can be the beginning toward an addiction-free life.

Withdrawal from Opiates

For those who have developed an addiction to opiates, withdrawal symptoms can seem debilitating and even life threatening. Tapering schedules or pharmacological intervention may be necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms effectively. Seek medical assistance if stopping opiates causes any of the following:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Aches and chills
  • Heartbeat irregularities

The Dawn

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can feel like the darkest night. With proper treatment, however, detoxing from opiates and moving into a life free from addiction can feel like stepping into a new day. Physical withdrawal symptoms usually last a few days, while mental, emotional and spiritual symptoms take a longer time in recovery to abate. Going through the process is well worth it for addicts seeking to come into the light of day. You can start the recovery process today by calling our toll-free helpline at 877-743-0081 (Who Answers?).


Narcotics Anonymous (1983). Am I an addict? Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Van Nuys, CA. Retrieved from: (2016). Robert Downey Jr.- Less Than Zero. Biography. 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:

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:

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