In the book Heroin Diaries: A Year in The Life of a Shattered Rock Star, Nikki Sixx provides this handy definition of addiction: “When you can give up something at any time, as long as it’s next Tuesday.” For people who are addicted to opiates such as heroin, morphine or methadone, it seems that next Tuesday will never truly arrive. Each time they try to stop abusing their drug of choice, the addiction strengthens its grasp and they find it even harder to stop. It can seem as though the addiction is simply unbeatable. Thankfully, this is not the case. People with opiate addictions can heal, but they may need to accept outside help and enroll in a structured program.

Detoxification programs can provide mental, physical and chemical support to ease symptoms of opiate withdrawal. They can also help the addict prepare for the hard work of  opiate rehabilitation that is yet to come.

Opiate addiction that might require detox treatment:

Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome

According to an article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about nine percent of Americans abuse opiates during their lifetimes. During the course of their addictions, they change the chemical makeup of their bodies, making addiction recovery much more difficult and withdrawal symptoms much more likely. Each time a person uses an opiate, the drug moves into the bloodstream and attaches to specific receptors. The body treats the opiate as a natural, normal chemical and when it’s attached to receptors, the body begins to undergo a series of chemical reactions in response. This may all sound benign enough, but over time, the changes become more significant. The body stops producing certain chemicals altogether, since the user is supplying substitute chemicals through the drug use. If the addict stops using drugs, the body has no access to these needed chemicals, and it begins to set off a series of alarm bells to warn the brain and nervous system that something has gone horribly wrong.

As a result, the addict may feel a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety and agitation

These symptoms may not be life-threatening, but the symptoms can be severe and they can last for up to a week. It can be hard to tolerate these symptoms when the addict knows that he or she can simply shut them off by taking drugs once more. Therefore, the goal of a detoxification program is to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

If the addict isn’t uncomfortable, he or she is more likely to complete the detoxification process and move forward with additional addiction therapies.

Opiate withdrawal and detox

Additional Benefits

According to an article published by Scottish Addiction Studies, structured detoxification programs have benefits that go beyond alleviating symptoms. An addict that enters an inpatient detoxification program is forced to step away from his or her life for a period of time and really focus on the addiction. The authors state that this can “…interrupt a cycle of drug use, even in the absence of medically dangerous withdrawal symptoms. For some, the safety of an inpatient environment and a period of time of respite can help in their attempts to make important life decisions.” In other words, checking into a program, and truly focusing on the addiction and the changes that need to take place, can be one of the most helpful parts of a structured inpatient detoxification program. It’s hard to obtain this sort of meditation time during a standard day spent at home. During an inpatient detoxification program, however, that time is made available.

In addition, during the detoxification process, the staff works hard to stress the importance of completing a drug rehabilitation program. They may ask the addict to attend meetings with other people in recovery, or the addict may meet an addiction counselor and begin participating in one-on-one sessions. Overlapping detoxification programs and rehabilitation programs in this way allows the addict to stay motivated and keep the momentum moving forward.

You Might Also Be Interested in: The History of Opiates

Medication Management

In order to keep the patient comfortable and relaxed during detoxification, consulting medical staff may prescribe a wide variety of medications. Buprenorphine is one of the most common medications prescribed in opiate detoxification, but use of medications is not universal among treatment centers. Your doctor will have to determine what is right for you. Buprenorphine is a medication that functions in much the same way as an opiate. It attaches to the same receptors and sets off the same sorts of chemical reactions. It does not cause euphoria, however, and it is not considered addictive. Depending on the patient’s condition, consulting physicians may prescribe high doses of buprenorphine at the beginning of the detoxification process and then give smaller and smaller doses as the program progresses.

According to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment, the drug isn’t always adequate to control symptoms in all addicts. For example, some people who take extremely high doses of the drug methadone may need to taper their methadone dose down for several days before they begin taking buprenorphine. The drug just isn’t strong enough to provide enough relief to people who have a high tolerance for strong drugs like methadone.