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Painkiller Detox and Withdrawal

Prescription opioid misuse is a prevalent problem in the United States. In 2021, a survey of Americans aged 12 and older found that about 8.7 million people had misused prescription painkiller drugs in the previous year.1

In this article, we will look at the process of prescription painkiller detox, common withdrawal symptoms, and estimated withdrawal timelines.

We’ll also discuss what medications may be used in the detox process and how to find treatment for an opioid use disorder involving prescription opioid painkillers.

What Is Painkiller Detox?

Detoxification, also known as “detox,” is a process that you may undergo at the start of treatment for painkiller addiction.2 If you develop significant opioid dependence and stop taking painkillers abruptly, you may be at risk of experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.2

Opioid painkillers are medications that reduce the intensity of pain signal perception in the brain and spinal cord.1 Prescription opioid painkillers include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and fentanyl.1

Painkiller Withdrawal Symptoms

Painkiller withdrawal can occur after someone who first becomes physically dependent abruptly stops taking the drug or significantly cuts back their use.2

Symptoms of painkiller withdrawal can include:

  • Insomnia.1
  • Rapid breathing, also called tachypnea.2
  • Tachycardia, or rapid heart rate.2
  • Elevated body temperature.2
  • Sweating, chills, and goosebumps.2
  • Runny nose and teary eyes.2
  • Muscular or bone pain.1
  • Diarrhea.1
  • Vomiting.1

How Long Does Painkiller Withdrawal Last?

Every person is different, and your expected timeline for withdrawal can vary based on the specific type of opioid being used. Stopping relatively short-acting opioids could lead to withdrawal symptoms that arise within 8–24 hours after your last use, and withdrawal from long-acting opioids can begin up to 36 hours after last use.3

Symptoms may continue to develop for several days after their onset—for roughly 1–3 days in the case of short-acting painkillers, and 3–4 days for relatively longer-acting ones. The full duration of opioid withdrawal can take around 7 to 10 days in total for shorter-acting painkillers and 14 days or more for relatively long-acting ones.3

What Happens During Painkiller Detox?

Undergoing detoxification from painkillers looks different for everyone, as the treatment process is customized to each person’s needs. However, there are three essential components of medical detox that people may experience during this time:4

  • Evaluation—Comprehensively assessing a patient’s physical health, mental health, and social situation to create an individualized treatment plan for detoxification.4 This may include performing drug tests and screening for underlying mental or physical health conditions to better determine the level of post-detox care that a person may require.4
  • Stabilization—Assisting and monitoring the patient as they transition from acute intoxication to experiencing withdrawal symptoms, with the goal of attaining a medically stable, abstinent state.4 When opioid dependence is a factor, as it is with painkiller misuse, this is often done through the use of medications to help patients stay comfortable as they experience withdrawal.4 During this time, treatment providers will also provide patients with education on what to expect as treatment/recovery efforts continue.4
  • Facilitating entry into treatment—Preparing the patient to begin substance use treatment, once they are medically stable, by emphasizing the importance of retention in a treatment program for their long-term recovery from substance use disorder.4

Although detox and withdrawal management are essential parts of the treatment process for many people, they are not a substitute for more comprehensive treatment.4 This is why the third component of detox is so important—to ensure you are ready to take this next step and are committed to making a major change.

Painkiller Detox Treatment Plan

Typically, the main goal of treatment in the detoxification stage is to help you withdraw from painkillers safely and comfortably, but this may include different interventions or medications. Best practices for substance use treatment indicate that no one treatment is right for everyone. For it to be the most effective, the setting, services, and techniques should be chosen with respect for each person’s unique needs.5 Your treatment plan for painkiller detox will be created collaboratively with your involvement to make sure that these needs are prioritized.5

Medication Treatment for Painkiller Addiction

The goal of medical treatment for painkiller detox is to manage the often unpleasant symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal, and medications are used to aid in this process.4 Opioid agonist medications, such as buprenorphine or methadone, may be used to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with withdrawal from prescription opioid painkillers.3,4

Various non-opioid drugs, including clonidine as well as anti-diarrheal and anti-emetic medications may be used to provide additional symptomatic management.3 Medical providers will continuously assess your symptoms and treat withdrawal symptoms as they arise, as the detoxification process can look different as time goes on.

What Happens After Painkiller Detox?

Though it is an important component of early recovery, medically supervised detoxification is only the first step of treatment, as it may alone do little to alter long-term patterns of compulsive substance misuse.5 People at this early point in their recoveries will be encouraged to continue with additional drug treatment, following successful withdrawal management efforts made during detox.

The treatment or rehabilitation stage may vary from person to person, though treatment for opioid use disorders may involve some combination of behavioral therapy in an individual, group, or family format, as well as continued medication treatment to manage cravings or urges to use drugs.5

Different settings are appropriate for different people. Some individuals may benefit from the structure and time away from their home environment provided by an inpatient drug rehab setting, while others benefit more from outpatient addiction treatment, where they are able to return home to their family after day treatment. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor or another treatment professional, such as a therapist, to weigh these options and determine what treatment setting is best for you.

How to Get into Detox for Painkiller Misuse

This is a major step in your life, and you may be uncertain if now is the right time to take it. You can always talk to a friend or loved one, schedule an appointment with your doctor, or research treatment options on your own to build your confidence as you prepare for this change. Information about treatment centers in your area can be found using SAMHSA’s Treatment Navigator website, which can help you find options in your area that accept your insurance. You can also use the treatment directory tool on, which allows you to filter treatment options.

When you are choosing a treatment provider, it is important to ensure that the program is reputable, has well-trained staff with experience in addiction treatment, and that the facility offers the level of care you need, including medically supervised detoxification.

If you or a loved one are struggling with painkiller addiction, help is available today. Call American Addiction Centers (AAC) for help starting detox and taking your first step on the journey to recovery today. When you are in active addiction, it can feel like there is no hope for the future. With the right support, you can live a drug-free life and end your struggle with painkiller misuse. Call and speak with an AAC admissions navigator at .

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