Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

Opioids: Discover How Long Opioids Stay in Your System

How long do opioids stay in your system? The answer might shock you. Learn the answers to this question and more information about opioid addiction.

Opioids: Discover How Long Opioids Stay in Your System

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

June 12, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

The opioid epidemic has been wreaking havoc on countless lives for years, causing unimaginable suffering. Opioid addiction takes hold when individuals become trapped in a cycle of dependence, unable to break free despite the harmful consequences. It's heartbreaking to see so many individuals and families bearing the brunt of opioid abuse and its devastating effects.

So, how long do opioids stay in your system?

These substances linger in the body for extended periods, leading to a dangerous reliance on them for everyday functioning. Knowing how long these drugs stay active in the system can help a person know when they can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are powerful analgesic drugs that reduce pain by interacting with specific brain and body receptors. They can be derived from the opium poppy plant or manufactured synthetically. Opioids work by interacting with opioid receptors, which are mostly found in the brain, spinal cord, and intestinal system.

These receptors are responsible for regulating pain perception and also contribute to emotions and pleasure. While opioids effectively manage severe pain, they pose a significant risk of addiction and dependency. Commonly prescribed opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, along with the illicit drug heroin.

Given the effectiveness and likelihood of misuse, healthcare professionals must exercise caution in prescribing and monitoring opioids to ensure their appropriate and safe utilization.

How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

The amount of time opioids remain in the body varies depending on factors such as the type of opioid used, the dosage, how often it is taken, individual metabolism, and other variables. So, let's take a closer look at the detection periods for opioids in different parts of the body:

Opioids: Urine Drug Test

Urine drug tests are commonly used to detect opioids. Most opioids can be detected in urine within a few hours after use. They can remain detectable for up to 2-4 days. However, certain opioids, such as methadone, may be detectable for a longer period, ranging from 7-10 days.

Notably, frequent or chronic use of opioids can result in their accumulation in the body, potentially prolonging the detection window.

Opioids: Blood Drug Test

Blood tests are less commonly used for opioid detection, typically reserved for immediate or continuous monitoring. Opioids can generally be detected in the bloodstream within a few hours after consumption and remain detectable for approximately 12-24 hours.

However, it's essential to recognize that specific opioids, dosage, and individual factors can influence the detection period.

Opioids: Saliva Drug Test

Saliva tests are not as widely used as urine tests but can detect recent opioid use. Opioids can typically be detected in saliva within 5-15 minutes after use and can remain detectable for up to 1-4 days, depending on the opioid and individual metabolism.

Opioids: Hair Drug Test

Hair tests provide a longer detection window than other testing methods. Opioids can be detected in hair samples for an extended period, usually up to 90 days or even longer.

However, it's important to note that hair tests cannot determine the exact timeframe of drug use and can only provide an approximation based on the hair length and growth rate. Hair tests are typically used to establish a pattern of drug use over an extended period.

One Important Fact About Drug Tests

It's important to note that drug tests for opioids may yield false positive or false negative results. Factors such as test sensitivity, specific opioids tested, cross-reactivity with other substances, and individual variations can impact the accuracy of the results. Confirmatory tests often validate positive results and rule out false positives.

These drug tests are essential in various contexts, including healthcare, employment, and legal settings. They aid in monitoring opioid use, ensuring compliance with treatment programs, identifying potential substance abuse, and guiding appropriate interventions and treatment plans.

What Is the Half-Life of Opioids?

The half-life of opioids refers to the duration it takes for the concentration of a drug in the body to decrease by half. Different opioids have varying half-lives, ranging from a few hours to several days. For example, short-acting opioids like heroin and oxycodone have a half-life of approximately 3-4 hours, meaning that half of the drug has been eliminated from the body after this time.

In contrast, long-acting opioids such as methadone and fentanyl have much longer half-lives, typically spanning 15 to 24 hours or more. 

Understanding the half-life of an opioid is crucial for determining the appropriate dosing schedule and frequency of administration in patients requiring pain relief or undergoing opioid addiction treatment. In addition, understanding the half-life of opioids helps healthcare professionals in effectively managing opioid therapy, ensuring adequate pain control while minimizing the potential for side effects and overdose.

Opioid Effect Timeline

One of the qualities that makes judging how long opioids stay in your system hard to determine is that opioids come in different forms. Some opioids have a very quick onset and are intended to help people deal with immediate breakthrough pain. Others are intended for longer-term pain management.

Here are some examples of how long certain opioids take to have an effect:

Rapid-Onset Opioids

These include tramadol, tapentadol, codeine, and certain forms of fentanyl.

Short-Acting Opioids

These include codeine, hydrocodone, and morphine

Long-Acting Opioids

These include methadone, OxyContin, and certain forms of fentanyl

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How Long Does it Take Opioids to Take Effect?

The onset of opioid effects can vary based on multiple factors, including the specific opioid used, how it is administered, and individual characteristics like metabolism and tolerance. Oral administration of opioids typically takes around 30 minutes to 1 hour for analgesic effects to start.

However, immediate-release formulations may act faster, providing relief within 15 to 30 minutes. Intravenous administration, such as through injection, produces rapid effects within minutes as the drug enters the bloodstream directly. Other routes, like intramuscular or transdermal, may have intermediate onset times.

It's important to remember that the onset of analgesic effects does not necessarily indicate immediate and complete pain relief. The opioid's effects may continue to increase over time, reaching a peak before stabilizing. Moreover, opioids can have additional effects like sedation or respiratory depression, which may coincide with the analgesic effects.

Therefore, following a healthcare professional's prescribed dosage and timing is vital to ensure safe and effective pain management while minimizing the risk of adverse effects.

What Are Some Opioid Side Effects?

Opioids, while effective in managing pain, can also have various side effects. These side effects can vary depending on the specific opioid, dosage, route of administration, and individual factors. Some common side effects of opioids include:


Opioids often slow down the movement of the digestive system, leading to constipation. This side effect can be managed with dietary adjustments, increased fluid intake, and stool softeners or laxatives.

Nausea & Vomiting

Opioids can stimulate the brain's chemoreceptor trigger zone, causing feelings of nausea and, in some cases, vomiting. Antiemetic medications may be prescribed to alleviate these symptoms.


Opioids can calm the central nervous system, leading to drowsiness or even excessive sedation. This side effect may impair cognitive and motor functions, making tasks such as driving or operating machinery unsafe.

Slowed Breathing

High doses or misuse of opioids can depress the respiratory system, leading to slowed or shallow breathing. This is a potentially life-threatening side effect that requires immediate medical attention.


Opioids can induce itchiness and trigger skin rashes, ranging from mild to severe. These reactions can be quite bothersome at times. Fortunately, there are medications available that can provide relief from these symptoms, offering a greater level of comfort.

Hormonal Changes

Prolonged opioid use can disrupt hormone levels, leading to complications in the reproductive and endocrine systems. For instance, individuals may experience decreased libido, difficulties with erectile function, or irregular menstrual cycles in women.

Mental and Mood Changes

Opioids have the potential to impact mood and mental state. Some people may feel profound euphoria and relaxation, while others may experience heightened anxiety or depression. The extent and nature of these changes can vary among individuals.

One Important Note

Please remember that this list is not exhaustive, and there may be additional side effects associated with opioid use. Furthermore, individuals may have varying experiences with these medications.

If you have any concerns or encounter any side effects, seeking advice from a healthcare professional is vital. They can offer guidance to ensure the safe and effective use of opioids and explore alternative treatment options if needed.

Treatment and Recovery for Opioid Addiction

Treatment and recovery for opioid addiction are critical processes that focus on helping individuals overcome their dependence on opioids and achieve long-term sobriety. There are several approaches and interventions available to support individuals in their journey toward recovery:

Opioid Detox

Medical detoxification is frequently the initial stage in therapy, which entails properly treating physical withdrawal symptoms as the body adapts to the absence of opioids. Opioid detox is typically conducted under medical supervision to ensure safety and comfort.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT combines behavioral therapy with methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone. These medications help to reduce cravings, alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and normalize brain chemistry, allowing individuals to focus on their recovery.

Behavioral Therapy

Various behavioral therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational interviewing, address the psychological aspects of addiction. These therapies help individuals identify triggers, develop coping mechanisms, and learn skills to manage cravings and prevent relapse.

Support Groups

Participation in support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or SMART Recovery can provide a sense of community, peer support, and guidance from individuals who have gone through similar experiences. These groups often follow a 12-step or evidence-based approach to recovery.

Counseling and Therapy

Individual counseling and therapy sessions can help individuals explore underlying issues that may have contributed to their addiction. Therapists can assist in developing healthier coping strategies, improve communication skills, and address co-occurring mental health conditions.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

Continued support after treatment is crucial for maintaining recovery. Aftercare programs, sober living arrangements, and ongoing counseling can help individuals navigate the challenges of daily life and prevent relapse.

Holistic Care

Complementary therapies like yoga, meditation, art therapy, and exercise can be integrated into treatment plans to promote overall well-being and provide additional tools for managing stress and cravings.

Successful recovery from opioid addiction is a long-term process that requires commitment, support, and a comprehensive approach. Individuals need to have a personalized treatment plan tailored to their specific needs and to work closely with healthcare professionals and support networks to achieve lasting recovery and rebuild their lives.

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Do you have more questions about mental health or drug addiction? Reach out.

The Forge Recovery Center: Effective, Evidence-Based Care for Addiction to Opioids

Left untreated, opioid addiction is deadly. The Forge Recovery Center has a deep understanding of addiction and the many issues that accompany it. Our addiction treatment center is the ideal place to recover from addiction to opioids and more.

Our compassionate, expert team will be in your corner throughout the entire recovery process. We’ll help you learn about your addiction, help you solve any underlying issues that may be driving it, and help you develop the coping mechanisms and other resources you need to live a life without opioids.

Opioid addiction is treatable. Reach out to The Forge Recovery Center today to learn more.

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