Opiate Withdrawal & Detox

Detox, short for detoxification, is an important part of the recovery process. During this difficult and uncomfortable time, the body cleanses itself of all the toxins and substances from opiates that were responsible for the addiction. An addict’s body will be used to opiates, and removing them from the system can cause uncomfortable symptoms, called withdrawal.

Detox usually marks the beginning of recovery, eliciting psychological and physiological restorations back to the body. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is an ideal step to maximize comfort and minimize risk, as opiate withdrawal can lead to dangerous and possibly life-threatening complications.

Many claim that detox and withdrawal are the toughest parts of beating opiate addiction disease. The Recovery Village completely understands this challenge and mitigates these undesirable effects, and makes the process as comfortable as possible while keeping patients safe as they begin their recovery journey. When an individual stops or decreases the amount of opiates they are taking, certain physical and psychological symptoms may start to arise — called withdrawal. This is especially true when an addiction regularly consumes high doses of opiates.

Initial symptoms of withdrawal can begin within the first day of detoxification. Physical and psychological symptoms of opiate withdrawal include:

  • Runny nose
  • Lacrimation, or tearing
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Uncontrollable yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to concentrate

After the initial symptoms subside, more intense and longer lasting symptoms start to appear:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia
  • Hyperactivity

While this is the most difficult phase of opiate withdrawal, such symptoms subside over time as the body adjusts back to life without opiates. These more intense and physical symptoms start to improve over the course of three or four days, and within approximately a week, you will start to feel normal.

Overdose is a possibility during opiate abuse, and is a particular risk for those who relapse during or following detox. Because opiates trigger receptors in the part of the brain that regulates breathing, high doses of opiates can interrupt breathing, resulting in fatality. The symptoms of opiate overdose are vastly different from those seen in opiate withdrawal. The most crucial overdose symptoms to look for are:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Pinpoint pupils

Although the rate of fatal opioid overdose is low, at 0.65 percent per year, it is still a possibility and emergency preparedness is the best course of action. Those who are at a higher risk for overdose are:

  • Opioid-dependent individuals taking high doses
  • Males
  • Seniors
  • People with co-occurring disorders
  • People with a lower socioeconomic status

Thanks to overdose antidotes, non-fatal opiate overdose is very common. If you believe someone is overdosing on opiates, it’s important to call 911 immediately. Administration of an opioid antagonist in a timely fashion can reverse the effects of overdose. Naloxone, for example, is a commonly used antidote to opioid overdose that can be delivered intravenously, intramuscularly, subcutaneously, or intranasally. If you or a loved one have an opiate addiction, it’s highly recommended you keep Naloxone in your home as a precaution. While the drug may help prevent fatal overdose, it’s still important to visit the emergency room in the case of an overdose.

opiate withdrawals

Although opiate withdrawal is one of the toughest phases in beating addiction, it can be done. It’s important to understand what to expect during withdrawal to best prepare for the process. A withdrawal timeline can vary from individual to individual, depending on many factors, including severity of abuse. Most withdrawals, however, steer along a similar trajectory.

Phase 1: Days 1 – 3

Most withdrawal symptoms start within the first 24 hours after a person stops using opiates. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, or even painful. It’s important to remember, however, that the discomfort is only temporary. As a result, relapse is very likely to occur during the first two or three days of withdrawal. Symptoms of the initial phase of withdrawal include:

  • Aggression
  • Headaches
  • Irritation
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
  • Stomach problems
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks

Phase 2: Days 3 – 5

After the first phase of withdrawal, most of the intense symptoms have subsided. At this point, withdrawing opiate addicts are likely to feel:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Minor muscle aches
  • Shivers
  • Fatigue

Each person experiences detox and withdrawal differently. For some, withdrawal symptoms may extend past five days. For others, the symptoms will subside after one week. It’s not unusual for some mild symptoms to linger. However, focusing on the goal of recovery and using tools like exercise and healthy eating can tremendously help during this challenging time.

Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is of the utmost important to maintain your health and safety. When you detox from opiates at The Recovery Village, our doctors will help you feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. Often, we help patients taper off of their drug so withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as quitting cold turkey.

To help avoid relapse, detoxing opiate addicts can also benefit from these sober living tips:

  • Inform your support network — such as family members, friends and doctors — of your efforts to get clean so they may encourage you and hold you accountable. Speaking with them and opening up about how you’re feeling can help eliminate the anxiety and cravings that generally lead to relapse.
  • Exercising is highly encouraged during the post-withdrawal phase. Regular movement can ameliorate any lingering symptoms and also releases serotonin, a brain chemical that improves mood. Instead of craving opiates to feel good, serotonin can replace that substance and give you a similar feeling.   
  • Resting is crucial as the body continues to repair itself following continual heroin abuse. It’s recommended detox patients get at least eight hours of sleep per night, and some may even get more than that after feelings of insomnia fade.  
  • Maintaining nutritional balance is also important to nourish the body and fuel its healing process. During opiate detox and the initial withdrawal stages, it is common to experience a lack of appetite and not eat properly. Dehydration is also a risk during detox as the body uses any means possible, such as vomiting, to remove opiates. We recognize the risk of both malnutrition and dehydration at The Recovery Village. To combat this, our medical team and on-site chef will ensure you’re properly hydrated and fed nutritious meals. Some foods we recommend you consume include:
    • Artichokes
    • Leafy greens
    • Wild fish
    • Nuts, seeds and olive oil
    • Broccoli
    • Black seed vitamin
    • Passionflower
    • Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB)

Detox is only the first step toward recovery. While opiate use disorder has no cure, it can be treated successfully in a drug addiction treatment program. The Recovery Village offers several recovery treatment options to best suit your unique needs. In our experience, most opiate addicts highly benefit from inpatient rehab, where they participate in individual therapy, group therapy, receive nutritionally-balanced meals and benefit from living in a temptation-free, sober environment. Once rehab is complete, many recovering opiate addicts also like to attend 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.

Detoxification is a natural, bodily process that eliminates all toxins from the system.  Detox is the first stage in treatment and can take anywhere from a day to a week to complete, depending on the severity of the opiate dependence. Detox can be an uncomfortable experience because opiates rewire the brain to think it needs opiates to function properly. Once removed, the body can have a volatile reaction, which the addict will experience as withdrawal symptoms. You cannot recover from an addiction to opiates without experiencing detoxification and removing the drugs from your body.

The detox process involves three main steps:

  1. Evaluation
  2. Detoxification
  3. Transition to Further Treatment

During the evaluation phase at The Recovery Village, members of our medical and clinical teams will evaluate the patient to determine the extent of their addiction. We recognize each person’s experience with opiates is unique, so we will talk with you about your experience with opiates, how long you’ve been using and what side effects you experience most. Using this information, we will create a customized treatment plan based on your specific needs. This plan may include treatment for a dual diagnosis, when a person experiences substance use disorder and another mental illness at the same time. Our evaluation process at The Recovery Village involves conducting a spectrum of tests including:

  • Individual assessment
  • Blood tests
  • Co-occurring condition screening
  • Medical assessment
  • Psychological assessment
  • Risk assessment
  • Social assessment

During the detoxification phase, we strive to make patients as comfortable as possible while their body removes opiates from the system. During this critical phase, medical and staff professionals carefully monitor each patient, checking and ensuring medical stabilization of the body. Depending on your withdrawal experience, our medical team may give you medications or detox drugs to help ease your discomfort.

There are several different ways to detox from opiates. Many people who try to quit opiates on their own stop cold turkey, or all at once. However, this is one of the most dangerous and least effective ways to beat the disease. Sudden removal of opiates can shock the system and result in dangerous symptoms like convulsions, hallucinations and seizures.

If you do choose to detox at home, it’s important to have a support system around to help you and call 911 if they notice extreme symptoms. Home detox kits that contain vitamins, herbs and minerals are available at drugstores and online for purchase. Many individuals preparing for home detox purchase such kits with good intentions, however, they are rarely successful in beating the disease because the kits do not address the deep-rooted psychological and behavioral issues.

For this reason, medically-supervised detox is preferential. You can undergo detox in many settings, including:

  • Inpatient detox, which may occur at a hospital, detox center or rehab facility such as The Recovery Village. Drug rehab centers will provide 24-hour supervision, pharmacotherapy and intensive monitoring during this time.
  • Outpatient detox, which may occur at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or free clinic. Patients who choose outpatient detox will only receive medical monitoring during business hours, leaving them vulnerable to relapse during the evenings and on weekends.
  • Holistic detox programs, which may occur at naturopathic doctor’s offices. These programs rely on herbal medicines and alternative therapies to detoxify the mind and body. Such programs include spiritual counseling, yoga and acupuncture.

Professionals in the addiction space will always recommend addicts detox in a medically-supervised setting because it can be a dangerous process. Complications can include aspirating vomit, or breathing it into the lungs, leading to lung infection or asphyxiation. Excessive vomiting, sweating and diarrhea can also cause dehydration, leading to chemical and mineral imbalances and possibly causing seizures. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility such as The Recovery Village mitigates all of these risks, however, as our team will monitor you 24/7.

Once detox is complete, patients can transition to further treatment. Recommended treatment options include moving into a residential treatment center. At The Recovery Village, inpatients work with counselors and therapists to understand the cause of their addiction, discover triggers to avoid and build sober living skills that will help them maintain long-term recovery. Our treatment center is an ideal place to experience rehab because patients will receive personalized attention from various staff members and build camaraderie with other patients who have similar experiences. Our goal is to help you break the cycle of addiction, and everyone on our team — from clinicians to our on-site chef — is dedicated to helping you maintain recovery.  

There are some medications available to help ease the withdrawal and detox process. These drugs may also offer risks, however, so it’s best to use them only after getting approval from a well-trained addiction professional, such as our doctors at The Recovery Village. Common opiate withdrawal medications include:

  • Methadone Methadone is well-known for its ability to relieve withdrawal symptoms during opiate detox. Similar to heroin and other opiates, methadone binds with opioid receptor cells in the brain. The difference, however, is that methadone does not produce the euphoric sensations associated with opiate abuse that keeps users going back for more. Many doctors recommend methadone as a short-term solution to taper off of an addict’s opiate of choice. However, as a result, many become addicted to methadone itself. Before you take methadone, talk through the risks with your doctor or rehab treatment team.
  • Buprenorphine – Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid pain killer, as well as an approved medication for treating opioid dependence. Suboxone is the most popular buprenorphine prescription for addiction withdrawal and is available as film to take under the tongue. Suboxone combines buprenorphine and Naloxone, an opiate overdose antidote. While buprenorphine activates the opioid receptors in the brain, stopping withdrawal symptoms, Naloxone prevents the user from experiencing a high and becoming addicted to Suboxone. Abusers sometimes combat this safety measure, however, by dissolving the strips in water and injecting the solution to get high.
  • Clonidine – Clonidine can help treat some of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal syndrome, such as anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose and cramping.

Doctors may also administer other drugs during withdrawal to help alleviate certain symptoms. Depending on your experience, they may give you sleep aids to combat insomnia, antidepressants and antianxiety medications to help with possible depression and anxiety, and over-the-counter pills to treat nausea.   

Case-Lo, Christine. “Home Remedies to Ease Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms.” Healthline, 5 Aug. 2016, www.healthline.com/health/home-remedies-opiate-withdrawal#At-home3. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
MedlinePlus. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 Apr. 2016, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
“WHO | Information sheet on opioid overdose.” N.p., Web. .
Opiate Withdrawal and Detox
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