Opiate detoxification is the first step an addicted person will need to take on the road to recovery from addiction. Enrolling in such a program can be frightening, however, especially for people who can’t even remember what it might be like to go a few hours, let alone a few days, without a hit of the drugs they are accustomed to taking. Reading up on the process might ease some fears and give these people the confidence they’ll need to move forward with their plans and begin to fight for their sobriety.

What Types of Drug Addictions Can Be Addressed Through Opiate Detox?

When people think about opiates, they often think about heroin. This powerful, illegal and highly addictive drug has been available on the streets for decades, and much of what experts know about opiate detox has come about through studies conducted on people who were attempting to recover from a heroin addiction. Heroin isn’t the only opiate drug that people can become addicted to, however.

Many common prescriptions are opiates:

  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • OxyContin

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in the country, and since 2003, prescription opioids have been involved in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. People who abuse these drugs and who enroll in treatment may be able to prevent their addictions from taking their lives in this tragic manner.

How Long Does It Take to Complete?

prescription drugsThe length of time a person can expect to spend in active detox can vary, depending on the amount of drugs the person was accustomed to taking and the length of time the person has been using drugs. Some people can get through the entire process in just a few days, while others might experience symptoms for a longer period of time. In general, when a person feels calm, relaxed and free of intense physical distress, the process is considered complete and people are encouraged to take the next step toward recovery.

What Symptoms Are Common?

During detox, the body is adjusting to the lack of opiates and learning how to function normally even when those drugs are no longer available. As the addiction has moved forward, the body has become accustomed to having access to drugs, and many of the body’s processes have been amended. These processes might function best when drugs are present, and they might break down just a bit when the drugs are gone.

Common symptoms include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or abdominal cramping
  • Shaking hands
  • Watery eyes
  • Jerking or cramping muscles
  • Cold flashes

These physical symptoms might be distressing, but mental symptoms of withdrawal might also be common and quite uncomfortable. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 60 percent of people entering a treatment program for addiction also had at least mild symptoms of depression, and other studies have found links between withdrawal and anxiety scores.

Is Opiate Detox Dangerous?+

People who are in poor health may have difficulty moving through opiate detoxification without serious medical interventions, but most people are able to move through the process without experiencing any symptoms that might be considered a threat to life. Using opiates is certainly associated with death, but recovering from them is often considered quite safe.

There is one exception to this rule. Some providers use an ultra-rapid detox process in which clients are placed under anesthesia and then pumped full of medications that neutralize the drugs that might still be in their bodies. The anesthesia is designed to make the process relatively painless, but people who vomit while anesthetized could inhale that vomit and they could die. People going through this ultra-rapid process could also face other ill health effects. In a study of the issue, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers found that people who got this form of therapy developed complications, including pulmonary problems and metabolic problems, due to their preexisting health conditions. Those who choose this method might very well face life-threatening complications due to their treatment.

Where Does It Take Place?

bedAt its core, detoxification is a natural process. The body can use existing systems to process drugs and recalibrate in order to function without the presence of drugs. Some people choose to go through detoxification at home as a result. They may prepare by stocking up on specific supplies and asking their family members to help, and they may then just stay home and wait for the storm to pass. Those who feel unable to go through this at home, or who would rather get help in order to avoid some of the pain and suffering that comes with detox, might choose to enroll in a detox program with consulting physicians in a rehab center, hospital or drug treatment center. These facilities may have specific programs that people can enroll in with just a few calls or computer mouse clicks.

Why Is Opiate Detox an Important First Step?

Recovering from a drug addiction is hard work, and therapy is one of the best ways to retrain the brain to handle drug cravings without actually using drugs. People who are still using opiates will be, quite simply, too impaired to do the hard work of addiction therapy. In addition, many addiction treatment programs require their clients to go through detoxification before they can enroll in care, so clients won’t be using drugs in front of other clients who are attempting to stay sober.

What Is a Natural Opiate Detox?

People who discuss using a “cold-turkey method” to recover from their addictions are discussing a natural opiate detox. The body’s natural systems are allowed to take over, and the person spends a few days in discomfort as the process moves forward.

Some people find relief from home remedies as this process moves forward, including:

  • Cool baths or hot showers
  • Mild foods
  • Dark, quiet rooms
  • Frequent changes of clothing

What Is a Medical Opiate Detox?

medical detoxIn 2001, about 33 percent of detox admissions were due to the abuse of opiates, according to the Drug and Alcohol Services Information System. This low number seems to suggest that many people choose to stay at home to handle their opiate withdrawal symptoms, rather than enrolling in a formal program. These people might be persuaded to enroll in formal treatment if they knew how medical opiate detox worked. Here, people are monitored on a regular basis by consulting physicians for symptoms of withdrawal and discomfort. When those signs appear, medical staff provides a small amount of a replacement medication, such as methadone or buprenorphine. If that dose doesn’t rectify the problem, the dose is increased. Slowly but surely, the physical symptoms ease and people feel comfortable and relaxed as their bodies adjust. After a few days, the dosage might be tapered back down again, allowing the person a smooth transition between using drugs and not using drugs.

Medical opiate detox programs might also use techniques borrowed from natural opiate detox programs, allowing the people within their care to feel calm and comforted, even while they’re using medications to help ease the transition. The difference is that a medical detox provides the person with access to trained medical professionals who can step in with more intensive treatments if symptoms don’t seem to be easing. A person going a natural route at home might not have this option, unless he/she goes to a hospital when things go wrong.

Do All Drug Treatment Programs Offer Detox?+

Since detox programs often require the help and assistance of trained consulting professionals, not all treatment programs for addiction offer these services. Some programs are staffed by people who are capable of providing counseling and mental health support for people as they move forward from addiction, but these professionals might not be allowed to prescribe medications or step in when a medical emergency takes place. These facilities might require their clients to go through detox before they arrive on the grounds for care. It’s an important issue clients should have clarified long before they begin their treatment programs.

Is Detox Alone a Cure for Addiction?

As mentioned, detox is considered an important step on the road to recovery from an addiction, but it’s not the only step people need to take in order to get well. People will need to learn more about the habits that allowed the addiction to form, and they’ll need to develop skills that can help them to avoid the temptation to use drugs in the future. These are lessons that are learned in therapy, and while those lessons might begin in detox, they certainly won’t be complete when detox is over. People simply must follow up their detox programs with a structured treatment program for opiate addiction if they want to make a full recovery.

If this article didn’t answer all of your questions about opiate detoxification, or you’re ready to get started on your own path toward a long-lasting recovery, just call us. At Michael’s House, we provide customized treatment programs for addiction, and thanks to consulting physicians, we’re capable of providing medically supervised detox services to our clients. Please call us to find out more or to get the enrollment process started.