Detox, short for detoxification, is an important part of the opioid addiction recovery process. During this difficult and uncomfortable time, the body cleanses itself of all traces of drugs. A person’s body will be used to opioids and removing them from the system can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Detox usually marks the beginning of recovery for someone who wants to overcome opioid addiction. Because opioid withdrawal can cause dangerous complications, it is important that detox happens at a facility staffed with medical professionals trained in recognizing and dealing with these complications. A facility specializing in opiate detoxification can make the process safer and more comfortable. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is an ideal step to maximize comfort and minimize risk.
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Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Detox and withdrawal may be the toughest parts of overcoming the disease of opioid addiction. The Recovery Village’s accredited treatment facilities help mitigate risks involved with detox while keeping clients safe as they begin recovery.
Stopping or decreasing the amount of opiates a person takes causes specific physical and psychological symptoms known as withdrawal symptoms. Using higher doses of opiates, especially over long periods, tends to cause these withdrawal symptoms to be worse. Initial symptoms of opioid withdrawal can begin within the first day of detoxification.
- Physical and psychological symptoms may include:
- Runny nose
- Lacrimation, or teary eyes
- Uncontrollable yawning
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle aches and spasms
- Mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- More intense and longer lasting symptoms may include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal cramping
Most opioid withdrawal symptoms go away over time as the body adjusts to not having opioids. The intense physical withdrawal symptoms typically start to improve over the course of three or four days, and within approximately a week, a person should start to feel better.
Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
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. Most withdrawal processes, however, steer along a similar trajectory.
Most opioid 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.
Each person experiences opioid detox and withdrawal differently. For some people, 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 coping mechanisms like exercise and healthy eating can help tremendously.
- Phase 1 Symptoms:
Symptoms of the initial phase of withdrawal often include:
- Muscle pain
- Stomach problems
- Loss of appetite
- Panic attacks
- Phase 2 Symptoms:
After the first phase of withdrawal, most of the intense symptoms will typically have subsided. At this point, people are likely to experience:
- Stomach cramping
- Minor muscle aches
Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is of the utmost importance to maintain a person’s health and safety. When someone enrolls in opioid detox at one of The Recovery Village’s facilities, doctors and staff will help the person feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal.
Opioid overdose is a possibility for people who misuse prescription or illicit opioids. People who experience a setback (relapse) during or following detox may face an increased risk of overdose. Because opiates trigger receptors in the part of the brain that regulates breathing, high doses of opiates can interrupt, and even stop, a person’s breathing. The symptoms of opiate overdose are vastly different from those seen in opiate withdrawal.
Important overdose symptoms to look for are:
- Respiratory depression
- Pinpoint pupils
People who are at high risk of opioid overdose are:
- Opioid-dependent individuals taking high doses of opioids
- People with co-occurring mental health disorders
- People with low socioeconomic statuses
Because of the advent of opioid overdose antidotes like Narcan (the brand-name version of naloxone), non-fatal opiate overdose is common. Administration of an opioid antagonist in a timely fashion can reverse the effects of an overdose. Naloxone, for example, is a commonly used antidote to opioid overdose that can be delivered intravenously, intramuscularly, subcutaneously or intranasally. While the drug may help reverse an opioid overdose, immediate medical attention should be sought after its use.
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 opioid dependence. Detox can be an uncomfortable experience because opiates rewire the brain to think it needs opiates to function properly. Once opioids are removed, the body can have a volatile reaction, in which the person will experience as withdrawal symptoms. A person cannot recover from opioid addiction without going through detoxification.
The detox process involves three main steps: Evaluation, Detoxification and Transitioning to Further Treatment.
- Step 1 of Opiate Detox: Evaluation
During the evaluation phase at The Recovery Village, members of the medical and clinical teams will evaluate the client to determine the extent of their addiction. Then the client receives a customized treatment plan based on their specific needs. This plan may include treatment for a dual diagnosis when a person experiences substance use disorder and another mental health condition at the same time.
The evaluation process at The Recovery Village involves tests like:
- Individual assessments
- Blood tests
- Co-occurring condition screenings
- Medical assessments
- Psychological assessments
- Risk assessments
- Social assessments
- Step 2 of Opiate Detox: Detoxification
During the detoxification phase, The Recovery Village strives to make clients as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. During this critical phase, medical professionals carefully monitor each client, ensuring medical stabilization of the body. Depending on a person’s needs, the medical team may give them taper medications or detox drugs to ease 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 overcome addiction. The sudden removal of opiates can shock the system and result in dangerous symptoms like convulsions, hallucinations, and seizures.
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 overcoming the disease because the kits do not address the deep-rooted psychological and behavioral issues.
For this reason, medically supervised detox is preferential. A person 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 can 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 clinic. Clients who choose outpatient detox may only receive medical monitoring during business hours, leaving them vulnerable to setbacks during the evenings and on weekends.
- Holistic detox programs, which may occur at naturopathic doctors’ offices. These programs usually rely on herbal medicines and alternative therapies to detoxify the mind and body. Such programs may include spiritual counseling, yoga, and acupuncture.
Addiction treatment professionals usually recommend that people 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 like The Recovery Village mitigates all of these risks.
- Step 3 of Opiate Detox: Transition to Further Treatment
Once detox is complete, clients can transition to further treatment. Recommended treatment options include moving into a residential treatment center. At The Recovery Village, people in residential treatment can work with counselors and therapists to understand the causes of their addictions, learn how to avoid triggers and learn how to build sober living skills for long-term recovery.
Opiate Withdrawal Medications
There are some medications available to help ease the withdrawal and detox process. These drugs may also have risks, however, so it’s best to use them only after getting approval from a medical professional.
Common opiate withdrawal medications include:
Methadone is well-known for its ability to relieve withdrawal symptoms during opiate detox. Many doctors recommend methadone as a short-term solution. However, some people may become addicted to methadone itself. Before taking methadone, talk through the risks with a doctor or rehab treatment team.
Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid painkiller, as well as an approved medication for treating opioid dependence. Suboxone is the most popular buprenorphine prescription for addiction withdrawal and is a combination of buprenorphine and Naloxone, an opiate overdose antidote. While buprenorphine activates the opioid receptors in the brain, stopping withdrawal symptoms, Naloxone prevents the person from experiencing a high and becoming addicted to Suboxone.
Clonidine can help treat some of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal syndrome, such as anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping.
During opioid detox, doctors may also administer other medications to help alleviate specific symptoms. Depending on a person’s needs, they may receive sleep aids, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or over-the-counter pills to treat nausea.
Sober Living Tips Following Opioid Detox
To help avoid setbacks after completing opioid detox, people can benefit from these sober living tips:
- Build a support network of family and friends
- Exercise regularly
- Get sufficient sleep and rest, including at least eight hours of sleep
- Maintain a healthy diet to nourish the body
- Drink water regularly throughout the day to avoid dehydration
Detox is only the first step toward recovery. While opioid use disorder has no cure, it can be treated in a drug addiction treatment program. Most people benefit from inpatient rehab where they can participate in individual and group therapy, receive nutritionally-balanced meals and benefit from staying in a sober environment. After completing rehab, many people also attend 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.
- Which opiates are the most addictive?
When we think about which opiates are most addictive, heroin often comes to mind first. People who begin using heroin become addicted almost immediately. It’s an incredibly difficult drug to stop using. With that said, what a lot of people don’t realize is that an addiction to heroin often begins with prescription drugs. Often people will get a prescription for an opiate-based drug for a legitimate reason, such as following an injury. They will become addicted to that drug, and then eventually turn to heroin because it tends to be cheaper and easier to get in many cases.
- What is the strongest opiate?
Some opiates are stronger than others. Carfentanil is one of the most worrisome opioids in the United States. This synthetic opioid is an analog of fentanyl, and it’s 100 times as potent. It’s 5,000 times as potent as heroin, and 10,000 times stronger than morphine.
- What are the different ways to get off opiates?
With so much at stake, it’s important to know the facts about the different types of treatment for opioid addiction. Here are ten common ways to recover from opioid abuse:
- Outpatient Treatment Programs
- Inpatient Treatment
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Methadone Maintenance
- Contingency Management
- Ultra-Rapid Opioid Detoxification
- Therapeutic Communities
Want to learn more about the opioid detox process? Need detox care for opioid addiction but don’t know where to go? Contact The Recovery Village today. Our representatives can answer your questions and guide you toward treatment in your area. Your call will be confidential and you don’t have to commit to a program to learn more about treatment options.
Case-Lo, Christine. “Home Remedies to Ease Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms.” Healthline, 2016. Accessed March 2017.
MedlinePlus. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016. Accessed March 2017.
Kosten, Thomas. “The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2002. Accessed in March 2017.
World Health Organization. “Information sheet on opioid overdose.” Published in August 2018. Accessed in March 2017.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.