For people who are addicted to opiates such as heroin, morphine or methadone, getting clean from the drug can be a life-long struggle. Each time they try to stop abusing their drug of choice, the addiction strengthens its grasp. Getting the right treatment for opiate addiction can mean the difference between life and death. Medically-supervised detox provides the mental, physical and chemical support needed to ease the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.[1] Detox also prepares the addict for the hard work of opiate addiction treatment.

Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome

Closeup of eye and sweaty faceDuring the course of opiate addiction, the chemical makeup of the body is changed. This makes addiction recovery difficult and withdrawal symptoms more likely. Each time a person uses an opiate, the drug moves into the bloodstream and attaches to opioid receptors. The body treats the opiate as a naturally-occurring chemical and the body begins to undergo a series of chemical reactions in response. Over time, the body stops producing its own neurotransmitters that are responsible for pain response and pleasure. This is called opiate withdrawal syndrome.[2]

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 are not often life-threatening, but they can be severe and last for up to week. The goal of detox is to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. If the addict is kept comfortable, he or she is more likely to complete the detoxification process and move forward with treatment.

Additional Benefits

When an addict enters inpatient detox, he or she is forced to step away from his life for and fully focus on the addiction. Checking into a program and focusing on the addiction can be one of the most helpful parts of a structured detox program. During an inpatient detoxification program the staff works hard to stress the importance of completing drug treatment. 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 during detox, medical staff may prescribe a wide variety of medications. Buprenorphine is one of the most common, but the use of medications is not universal among treatment centers. 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 chemical reactions. However, it does not cause euphoria and 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.

Rapid Detoxification

Michael’s House ascribes to the social model form of detox in collaboration with consulting physicians, but other programs have different styles of detox. In order to reduce all symptoms of opiate withdrawal, some providers use rapid detox. In this process, the addict is placed under sedation and given the medication naltrexone. This medication renders all opiates in the addict’s system inactive, forcing the person into immediate withdrawal. Since the person is sedated, he or she feels no symptoms. Often, manufacturers claim that people can be “cured” via this method in as little as a weekend.
While this might sound like a real breakthrough in the world of addiction medicine, experts have been less enthusiastic about the method. People who are undergoing opiate withdrawal tend to vomit, and people who vomit while under anesthesia can breathe that fluid into their lungs and die. This is not a risk in standard detoxification programs, and if the long-term addiction cessation results are no better, the risk doesn’t seem like one worth taking. In addition, a rapid detoxification program doesn’t provide the addict with the opportunity for quiet reflection. Some people need time and space to adjust to the idea of a drug-free lifestyle, and a rapid detox program doesn’t support this sort of activity.

The Next Step

Detoxification programs are not a standalone treatment for addiction. People who complete a detoxification program without completing a drug rehabilitation program have an increased risk of relapse. Opiate addiction is a difficult one to conquer and the average addict is going to need a significant amount of help in order to be successful. Drug rehabilitation programs can provide that help, and once the addict has completed detox, he or she is ready to begin work on those important therapies.

At Michael’s House, we offer inpatient detoxification programs for opiate addiction. Our consulting medical physicians are adept at creating the right programs to meet the needs of our patients, and we offer a significant amount of medical and emotional support to ensure that the process goes smoothly. Call us now to find out more.


[1] Mayo Clinic. “Drug Addiction- Treatment and Drugs,” Dec. 5, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/basics/treatment/con-20020970

[2] Christine Case-lo. “What is Opiate Withdrawal,” October 15, 2015. Accessed May1, 2017. http://www.healthline.com/health/opiate-withdrawal#overview1