Although opioids can be helpful in treating short and long-term pain, using these medications always comes with some risks. If they’re present in your body for a long time and you develop an addiction, it may be challenging to stop using them.
But how long do opioids stay in your system, and what does it depend on?
This article covers everything you should know about this topic, including:
- How opioids work
- How they can be detected
- What factors affect the length of time opioids stay in your system
- How ANR Clinic can help you overcome the addiction that comes from prolonged use of opioids
What Are Opioids?
Opioids represent a specific class of pain-relieving drugs that require a prescription from a medical professional. They are typically prescribed after non-opioid over-the-counter pain medications have proven ineffective.
These medications are often used to treat pain caused by cancer treatments, cancer itself, severe injuries, or operations. They may also be prescribed to treat chronic pain potentially resulting from various diseases and illnesses.
Opioid medication can be a very effective way to relieve pain, but there are also risks associated with it. The biggest ones include dependency and addiction. Dependence is a physical reliance that occurs when your body builds up a tolerance to the drug and begins to require a larger dose in order to achieve the same outcome.
On the other hand, the term “addiction” usually refers to a group of symptoms that are mental and behavioral in nature. While some opioids are legally prescribed for legitimate reasons, otheropioids are consumed illegally, including heroin and fentanyl.
What Are Opiates?
Both “opioid” and “opiate” tend to be used interchangeably to describe prescription-strength pain medication that has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Although these two are similar, they are not exactly the same.
The term “opiate” is technically used to describe only the substances that can be naturally found in the opium poppy plant.
On the other hand, opioids can be formulated in several different ways—naturally, synthetically in a lab, or as a combination of the two. This term can be used as a more general one that also describes opiates and opiate-like substances that are synthetically made in a lab.
As described above, natural opioids, also known as opiates, can be naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. These include substances such as morphine, opium, or codeine and are famous for the significant effect they can have on a person’s central nervous system.
Semi-synthetic opioids are made from natural opioids but get altered in labs, which is where the name “semi-synthetic” comes in. Some common examples of prescribed opioids from this category include hydromorphone, oxymorphone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. One of the most famous illegal drugs, heroin, can also be considered a semi-synthetic drug, as it is made from morphine by acetylation.
Synthetic opioids are substances made in the lab to target the same areas of the brain and produce the same effects as natural opioids. Methadone, tramadol, and fentanyl all belong to this category and are also associated with a high risk of misuse and dependency.
How Do Opioids Work?
Because of the effects, they can have on the body and the mind, opioids have a high risk of abuse.
They work by attaching themselves to opioid receptors—a type of protein that can be found on the nerve cells in various parts of the body. Once the drug has attached itself to them, it blocks pain signals from traveling through the spinal cord to the brain.
However, even though these medications relieve pain, a person may actually feel it increasing once the drug begins to wear off. This happens because once the pain signals have been blocked from reaching the brain, your body begins to create more receptors in an attempt to push the pain signal through.
In addition to pain relief, opioids tend to cause a feeling of euphoria—a general sense of happiness and well-being, sometimes referred to as a “high.” Due to this and many other effects these substances can have on a person’s body and mind, they are highly likely to be abused and cause addiction.
The Timespan of Opioid Effects
The drug’s half-life refers to how long it takes for half of the medication to be eliminated from the body. This can depend on several factors, including:
- Body weight
- Frequency & dosage of the medication
- Health conditions
Opioids can be either long-acting or short-acting, and your physician will have to decide which one will be best for you and your condition. The benefit of a short-acting opioid is that it takes effect fairly quickly but also remains effective for a short amount of time. On the other hand, long-acting opioids remain in effect for longer periods of time, but they tend to take longer to kick in.
Due to the way that long-acting opioids are formulated, they will also have a longer half-life than short-acting opioids.
Some opioids have also been categorized as “rapid-onset” because they kick in quickly, but their duration is short. They are typically prescribed to patients experiencing breakthrough pain—one that worsens significantly and abruptly while someone is already being treated with a long-acting pain reliever.
How Can Opioids Be Detected?
Opioid testing can be used to trace opioids in a person’s blood, urine, hair, saliva, or even sweat. Of all forms of opioid detection, blood testing is the most reliable, while hair follicle testing allows for the longest window for detection.
While this type of testing is the most reliable for detecting substances in a person’s body, it’s also an expensive and invasive method. It’s done by a healthcare professional who draws blood from a vein with a needle.
Urine analysis is the most common type of opioid detection. When you take a drug, it passes through the kidneys, and the waste is disposed of through urine. The sample is typically collected in a cup in a medical facility or drug screening center.
Opioids can be detected through a person’s hair for up to 90 days, and this form of testing is the least invasive method of drug detection. It’s usually done by cutting a small amount of hair near the scalp.
Saliva testing is another common non-invasive test that is done to detect drugs in the system. Still, it is significantly less popular than urine testing because there is a much smaller window of time to detect opioids in saliva accurately. This type of testing is completed by placing a swab between a person’s cheeks and gums and collecting a spit sample.
Perspiration testing is a newer type of drug screening. Samples are typically collected through the use of a patch that is placed on the skin for 5–7 days. Because it takes so long to collect this sample, this method is not common. It’s more likely to be used to monitor individuals on probation, for example.
How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?
The length of time that opioids stay in a person’s system may vary depending on the type of opioid that has been consumed, the type of test, and many other factors, but researchers have determined the average amounts.
See the table below for more specifics related to detecting opioids in an individual’s body through saliva, blood, and urine.
|Type of Opioid
|Up to 4 days
|Up to 12 hours
|Up to 3 days
|Up to 2 days
|Up to 22 hours
|Up to 4 days
|Up to 6 hours
|Up to 6 hours
|Up to 2 days
|Up to 36 hours
|Up to 48 hours
|Up to 4 days
|Up to 4 days
|Up to 24 hours
|Up to 3 days
Factors that Determine How Long Opioids Stay in the System
In addition to the type of opioid you have taken, there are several other factors that can determine how long a specific opioid stays in your system. Some of these factors include:
- Diet. It is typically recommended to take opioids on a full stomach to reduce some of the adverse side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset. The amount of food you have consumed can have an effect on how quickly your body absorbs the drug—the more food you take, the longer it takes.
- Dosage. The greater the dose of the opioid, the longer it will remain detectable in your body. This is the case with all opioids, although the length of time will vary depending on which one is taken, as mentioned previously.
- Age. As you age, it takes your body longer to process a drug than it used to. Therefore, the opioid will remain in your system for a longer period of time as you get older.
- Liver health. If your liver health is impaired, it will take longer for your body to break down and metabolize the drug. Therefore, the opioid will be detectable for a longer period of time.
Even though opioids can be useful, they also come with several risks and side effects. The most serious risks include opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose, which means that these substances can easily take over a person’s life before they even realize it.
Once an individual starts to take opioids, the body begins to recognize the feelings of euphoria, which trigger the brain’s reward center. It also starts to build up a tolerance to opioids over time, and a person begins to require a larger dose in order to achieve the same pain-relieving outcome.
Once an individual’s tolerance to a particular substance has been built up, it becomes extremely challenging to stop using the substance without assistance from a professional. This is because attempting to quit after becoming dependent on a drug typically results in painful and uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.
As mentioned above, in addition to the high risk of addiction, opioid use is also associated with several side effects. These can include:
- Excessive sweating
- Weight loss
- Increased pain sensitivity
- Dry mouth
- Drug cravings
- Difficulty sleeping
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Opioid withdrawal occurs when a person stops taking a substance, and the body reacts to these new circumstances. Most of the time, it’s painful and uncomfortable, and the symptoms can last up to 10 days on average.
The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the length of time the person has been using the substance and the strength of the dose their body has become accustomed to.
Even patients who take their opioid prescription pain relievers exactly as instructed by their physician can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication. However, they are often significantly less severe than those of someone who has been misusing any type of opioid.
These symptoms often feel similar to those of the flu. For example, you may experience:
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
Needless to say, they can often lead people to relapse and use the drug again to avoid these issues. Still, undergoing withdrawal can be made easier with the assistance of a professional medical team. This can reduce discomfort and help an individual work through some of the issues that led them to use opioids.
ANR Treatment for Opioid Dependency
At the ANR Clinic, they don’t just treat the symptoms of opioid addiction and withdrawal. They treat and correct the biological root of opioid dependency by using a scientific approach and modern medicine. This treatment will require a hospital stay of approximately 36 hours, followed by the appropriate follow-up care as recommended by your physician.
Thanks to this revolutionary treatment method, the endorphin receptor system in your brain will be modulated back to its pre-addiction state while you are under anesthesia. This way, you will avoid standard cravings and withdrawals and get back to normal life more easily.
Whether they are naturally derived from the opium poppy plant, synthetically made, or semi-synthetic, all opioids carry a high risk of addiction. Each type of opioid may affect the body differently and for different lengths of time, varying from 6 to 96 hours, depending on the method of detection.
We hope that this article has helped you learn something new about this type of medication. Remember that it’s crucial to use opioids according to your physician’s advice, as this can help you avoid addiction and recover more easily and quickly.