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Opiate withdrawal symptoms

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Opiates are the most common drug class that is prescribed to treat pain. The opiate drug class includes prescription opiates include Oxycontin (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen), Dilaudid (hydromorphone), and morphine, and illegal drugs, such as heroin. In fact there is even opiate drugs, such as Methadone, that are used not only to treat pain but to treat heroin addiction.

While prescription opiates are very useful to treat pain, they can also be habit forming, resulting in dependency and addiction. Approximately nine percent of people in the U.S. is believed to misuse or abuse opiates, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM, 2012).

When abruptly stopping the use of an opiate drug, you may experience physical symptoms of withdrawal. This is even more so when you stop using the drug after having used it in high doses for several weeks. Your mind and body become altered by opiates, causing changes that require time to return to normal after stopping its use.

The Effects of Opiates on the Body

Opiates are created to resemble natural chemicals in the brain that bind to opiate receptors. Opiates affect three major areas of the body: the brainstem (slows breathing or reduces coughing), the limbic system (creates feelings of pleasure or relaxation) and the spinal cord. When the opiate affects the brainstem it slows breathing or reduces coughing (spinal cord it reduces pain).

The Cause of Opiate Withdrawal

Long term use of  opiates cause the body to desensitized to the drug. This is where the body develops a tolerance, requiring increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Eventually the body because physically dependent on the drug, putting you at risk for serious side effects and overdose.

Long term use of these drugs changes the way nerve receptors work in the brain, and these receptors become dependent upon the drug to function. When stopping the use of the drug the body reacts with withdrawal symptoms as it begins to adjust to not having opiates. Many people who are addicted to opiates quickly turn back to the drug for comfort.

Common Symptoms of Opiate Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. Most commonly the first symptoms of withdrawal will begin within 24 hours and often include:

  • muscle aches
  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • lacrimation (eyes tearing up)
  • runny nose
  • excessive sweating
  • inability to sleep
  • yawning very often

Later symptoms of withdrawal are often more intense and include:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramping
  • goose bumps on the skin
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dilated pupils and possibly blurry vision
  • rapid heartbeat
  • high blood pressure

Typically within 72 hours to one week these symptoms of withdrawal will lessen until eventually gone. Although they are unpleasant and painful, more are treatable and can be overcome with the right support and treatment.

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