How Long Opioids Stay In Your System And More You Need To Know About These Drugs

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How Long Opioids Stay In Your System And More You Need To Know About These Drugs

Given the opioid crisis in many parts of the country, a lot more people are paying attention to opioid medications and how they are used. On one hand, that’s a great thing because it means more people are getting the information they need before using these medications, but it can also mean that there is a lot of misinformation about how the drugs work, how long opioids stay in your system and the risks associated with taking them.

On one hand, some people seem to think that opioid medications are immediately and always addictive and that using them for any reason will lead to problems in the future.

On the other hand, other people want opioid medications to be more freely available, especially for chronic pain patients and don’t seem to think that there is much risk of addiction at all.

The truth is somewhere between those two extremes. It’s important for you to have accurate information about how long opioids stay in your system, how they work, why they can be addictive, and even who is at most risk of developing opioid addictions.

So, let’s take a closer look at this important class of medications, how they work, how long they last, and what the real risks are when you take them.

What Are Opioid Drugs?

Opioid drugs are a class of medications that are primarily used as painkillers and to help with severe pain. There are some exceptions, like codeine, which is often included in cough syrups to help with the mild pain from chronic coughing and also to help encourage muscle relaxation and make it easier to stop coughing while you take the medication.

These drugs can be dangerous but are considered safe when used properly and with doctor supervision.

The name opioid comes from opium, and the drugs in this class are either naturally produced chemicals found in opium poppies or chemically synthesized alternatives that are produced in a lab.

When a drug is naturally occurring, instead of being synthesized, it’s called an opiate. Codeine and morphine are both opiates, while other drugs, like Percocet and Fentanyl, are chemically synthesized.

The advantage of synthesizing these medications is that you have more control over the finished medication, and it’s also easier to increase the base potency of the drug, so you can take less of the medication for the same results.

While opioids are generally safe for use with doctor supervision, they can be dangerous when used improperly, or if you accidentally take too much or take additional doses of your medication too soon.

Unfortunately, because opiates and opioids can both create a sense of calm and euphoria in users, they are also frequently targeted for abuse. Heroin is one example of an opioid that isn’t used as a medication, its medicinal value is outweighed by the risks of using it, but which is still made and used as a street drug for recreational purposes.


when are opioids used

When Are Opioids Used?

Typically, opioid medications are only considered for severe pain. They can be used to manage post-surgical pain, pain because of injuries, and certain types of disease-related pain.

Cancer patients are often prescribed opioid medications, as an example, to manage the pain of both the disease and the treatments needed to manage it.

People who suffer from certain kinds of chronic pain may also benefit from opioid pain medications, but other alternatives are often used first, when available, to avoid the risk of dependence.

In general, opioid medications should only be used short-term unless there are no other effective alternatives available for managing long-term pain. Your doctor is best positioned to make that call and might want to try several alternatives before prescribing opioid medications.

Unfortunately, depending on where you live, there may not be many alternatives to opioid medications. Access to alternative treatments like massage, acupuncture, or even medical mainstays like physical therapy, may depend on insurance coverage, location, and even your work schedule.

So, opioids may sometimes be used in place of other therapeutic options in places with access gaps or for people dealing with a lack of insurance coverage. All of which makes dealing with opioid medications difficult, and sometimes puts people at risk when opioids are the only available option.

Where Are There So Many Different Opioids

One of the things that can be confusing about opioid medications, and that often worries people taking them, is why there are so many different kinds of opioid and different strengths of medication.

There are a few reasons for the wide variety of opioid medications. For one thing, medical researchers have been interested for a while in finding medications that can manage the most severe kinds of pain. Stronger, more reliable opioid medications have been the answer to some situations where pain is simply too severe to be managed by other kinds of medication alone.

Another reason is actually the opposite. Finding opioid medications that are suitable for other kinds of pain, or that are safer for long-term use is also a subject of research because giving doctors more options when it comes to treating patients can generally lead to better outcomes.

Lastly, different doses, or opioids that are combined with other medications, can lead to better pain coverage, more effective treatment, or both. Doctors also have the option of controlling dose more closely when there are more dose options available.

How Long Do Opioid Drugs Stay In Your System?

Opioid drugs aren’t the kind of drug that will persist in your body for weeks at a time, which both makes them good for treating short-term pain and can make them harder to manage. Withdrawal symptoms can start within a day, or even as little as a few hours, especially if you’ve been taking opioid medications for a long time.

If you’re taking opioids for a long time and need to reduce the amount you take, or have recovered and are ready to stop taking them entirely, you will likely need to work with your doctor to slowly reduce your dose and manage any withdrawal symptoms you might experience.

Do Different Opioids Last Different Amounts Of Time?

Different opioids can have different duration, but that’s mostly down to the dose, formula of the medication, and how it’s used. In some cases, your metabolism and your body’s ability to get rid of the drug may also impact how long opioids last in your system.

That said, most opioids last between 4-8 hours, though some formulations have a shorter duration, and some time-release formulas can last longer.

How Long Are Opioids Detectible In Your System

When you take a medication it’s typically detectible in your system far longer than its active. Depending on the drug, or the test used, you may be able to detect drugs for days or even weeks after the drug was taken.

Most drug tests can detect opioids for 3-4 days after you stop taking the medication, while hair follicle tests are effective for up to 3 months after you stop taking the medication.

Can Drug Tests Tell The Difference Between Opioids?

Not generally. Most tests are looking for the signs of opioids breaking down in your system, and because these drugs are so similar, it can be hard to tell them apart.

The good news is that means that if you have a prescription, and need to do a drug test, you should be able to explain the results by proving you have a prescription.

That said, drug tests are not usually a good way to show what opioids people are using, only whether they are using them or not and whether they are getting an appropriate dose of the medication or if they need an adjustment.


signs and symptoms of opioid addiction

Signs And Symptoms Of Opioid Addiction

There are a lot of potential signs and symptoms of an opioid addiction, and addictions can occur even with responsible doctor-supervised use of opioid medications.

People who take opioids without a prescription, or recreationally instead of for pain management, are at much greater risk of developing an addiction.

You should also remember that not everyone will have the same symptoms of addiction and that you don’t need to have all the symptoms of an addiction to be dealing with one.

  • You need to take more of your medication than you used to to get the same effects
  • You have taken opioids to deal with stress rather than just for pain
  • Your side effects are getting worse, but you still don’t want to stop taking opioids
  • You worry that you aren’t fully yourself when you aren’t taking opioids
  • You have considered lying to your doctor to get opioids, or to get a higher prescription
  • You have or have considered buying opioids from a dealer or from an online pharmacy
  • You have or have considered going to more than one doctor to get multiple prescriptions
  • You have or have considered taking extra medication ahead of a stressful even or presentation
  • You feel sick between doses of your medication, in ways that are different from your typical opioid side effects
  • You feel distracted by the thought of taking more of your medication
  • You get cravings for your medication between doses, or when you accidentally miss a dose

These are just some of the most common side effects, there are other signs and symptoms, including being concerned about an addiction, or being scared to stop taking your medication when you no longer need it.

If you suspect that you or a loved one might have an addiction, it’s worth talking about and trying to deal with. Thankfully, there are a lot of support systems available to you, so you

You Deserve Help If You’re Dealing With Opioid Addiction

If you or a loved one are dealing with an addiction, getting help may be one of the best options you have to help overcome that addiction.

Addiction isn’t a sign of weakness, and you deserve help and support while you overcome your condition. Having someone who can help you manage your symptoms, identify the causes of your addiction in the first place, and learn new coping mechanisms to help manage your condition, can make a huge difference in your outcomes.

One of the best and most supportive ways to overcome your addiction is to go to a residential treatment center for care. Psyclarity is here for people throughout the United States who are ready to commit to overcoming addiction and who are ready to take the next steps.

Our services are discrete, compassionate, and informed by expert practices and the latest information on addiction recovery.

Contact us if you have any questions, want to learn more about the programs available to you, or just want to know more about the local Psyclarity facilities and how we can help.


  1. Cherry, K. (2022, April 21). How do opiates affect the brain and body? Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
  2. Opioids. Opioids | Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2022, October 19). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Opiate and opioid withdrawal: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from

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