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Painkiller Withdrawal, Symptoms, Timeline & Severity

Painkiller withdrawal symptoms can be a serious medical concern as a result of physical dependency on painkillers. When someone tries to stop taking them, uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms which can impact one’s ability to function occur. 

While experiencing these symptoms, the body is going through withdrawal.

It is important to understand some people may experience more pain, anxiety, or restlessness during their withdrawal process than others. Everyone will experience different symptoms of painkiller withdrawal at different lengths of time and levels of intensity. 

For some people, it can take several days to weeks before these signs start appearing. For others, who used high doses for a prolonged period, signs might appear within hours.

The most common symptom is withdrawal pain, which can be mild to severe.

Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Cold flashes alternating with hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Shakes/tremors 
  • Tiredness or insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss 
  • Depression, mood swings, irritability

While these symptoms are not as common as the other withdrawal symptoms, they may be experienced by individuals undergoing painkiller addiction treatment.

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Reasons for Painkiller Withdrawal

The reasons for withdrawal may vary, but there are some common reasons for painkiller withdrawal. To start, taking painkillers can cause physical dependence. 

Taking over time, the body will adapt to the presence of the drug and create a tolerance for it. If an individual takes too high of a dose or abruptly stops taking their medication, they are at risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

If you have taken opioids for more than two months, your body builds up a physical dependency that manifests as withdrawal symptoms that are both psychological and physical. 

The severity of these symptoms depends on how long you’ve been using opioids, how much you were using each time, and whether or not you made any attempts to stop or decrease use before quitting.

If you have been taking painkillers under the instructions of a doctor then it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions on how to successfully stop taking painkillers. 

The reason behind this is that if you abruptly stop taking painkillers, you might end up facing problems like withdrawal symptoms and even more severe problems such as seizures.

If you feel you might have an addiction, you should not try stopping painkillers use without consulting a doctor for getting desired results because sudden stoppage can lead your body into a serious condition that can be life-threatening.

How Does It Affect The Brain And Becomes A Dependency?

Sometimes due to excessive use of painkillers damage our brain cells and affect our body badly. Experts say when you are taking painkillers, your brain releases dopamine in the reward circuit to make you feel good. Dopamine is called the pleasure chemical that stimulates feelings of joy and desire needed for survival like eating food or sex. 

This pleasurable feeling makes it possible to overcome physical pain and psychological stress. When this chemical stops getting produced in the brain due to the absence of opiates, withdrawal leads to deep depression by triggering mood swings, anxiety, nausea, etc.

Treatment involves reducing the severity of the symptoms without causing too many side effects. People with dependencies on opioids must seek medical assistance if they want to get rid of their dependency safely and quickly within a few weeks or months depending on the severity of the case.

Signs of Painkiller Withdrawal

Nausea and vomiting

  • After consistent use, the body may adjust to having painkillers in its system and become dependent on them.
  • If an individual suddenly stops taking their drugs, they will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.


  • Opiate addiction can also lead to damage of the gut lining which makes it difficult for people to stop diarrhea episodes even when their drug intake has decreased or stopped completely. 
  • This is due to the impairment of natural opioid molecules that are responsible for stopping contractions in one’s bowel movements.

Muscle spasms:

  • Each person may have a different experience with muscle spasms during withdrawal because not everyone who takes opioids takes part in physical activity at an intense level. 
  • For those who do exercise a lot and have painkillers in their system most of the time, they might experience muscle spasms due to decreasing levels of electrolytes that are responsible for muscle contractions.


  • One of the most common side effects people who go through withdrawal complain about is headaches. This affects many areas of individuals’ lives and can affect concentration, physical activity, moods, etc. 
  • It may take some time before these headaches disappear because it is highly likely that once you stop taking drugs your body will suffer from a lack of sleep and proper nutrients that maintain healthy brain functions like neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that transmit signals between neurons (nerve cells).

Get help today

It is very important that if you are suffering from opioid addiction and want to undergo painkiller withdrawal safely and effectively, you should seek medical assistance. This will allow you to undergo the treatment with professional services and guidance for you not to face extreme hardships when withdrawing from opioids.

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Darke, S., Larney, S., & Farrell, M. (2016). Yes, people can die from Opiate withdrawal. Addiction, 112(2), 199–200.

Shah, M., & Huecker, M. (2022). Opioid withdrawal – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. Opioid Withdrawal. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from

Wakerley, R. B. (2020). Medication-overuse headache: painkillers are not always the answer British Journal of General Practice; 70 (691): 58-59.


Medical Advice Disclaimer

Magnified Health Systems aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.

Picture of This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

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