Article at a Glance:
- Rapid drug detox claims to be a quick fix that can rapidly remove opioids from your system while you are under anesthesia.
- Rapid detox has been linked to serious side effects, including cardiac arrest and death.
- Opioid treatment guidelines recommend against rapid detox due to the excessive risks and unclear benefits.
- Medication-assisted therapy remains the gold standard for opioid addiction treatment.
Table of Contents
Rapid detox, or the process of rapidly cleansing your system of opioids, may sound like a good idea at first glance. However, it is important to be aware of the risks involved if you choose to undergo this process.
Rapid drug detox is an inpatient procedure that is usually done in a hospital or clinic setting. In the procedure, you are put under general anesthesia and opioids are flushed out of your system, generally with the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone.
Detox can be accomplished very quickly this way — typically in only a few days — and withdrawal symptoms may be largely avoided. However, the treatment method is highly controversial compared to other methods. It is also considered dangerous.
In a study of 75 patients undergoing rapid detox in a New York clinic, five had serious adverse reactions requiring hospitalization and two died. For this reason, New York health authorities began discouraging rapid detox, and opioid treatment guidelines recommend against the practice.
Does Rapid Detox Work?
Rapid detox may sometimes succeed at clearing a person’s body of opioids. However, it is not a cure for addiction, which is a complicated mental health disorder that requires long-term treatment.
Though detoxification only takes a few days, the road to recovery takes much longer. A person using rapid detox usually also needs additional services like residential treatment or outpatient services to successfully recover from their addiction. Relapse is common in narcotic addiction, so a person is back at square one if they start using drugs again after rapid detox.
Further, experts agree the risks of rapid detox outweigh its benefits. The American Society of Addiction Medicine does not recommend rapid detox due to the high risk of serious side effects and death.
How Much Does Rapid Detox Cost?
Rapid detox is expensive, though exact costs may vary. The process is done in the hospital and requires an inpatient stay. Additionally, because sedation and intensive monitoring are involved, the costs add up. Insurance companies usually won’t cover this treatment because it is not considered medically necessary.
Issues With Rapid Detox
Rapid detox has many downsides that have led experts to generally recommend against the practice. Issues with rapid detox include:
- Bodily strain: Addiction takes a toll on the body. People dependent on opioids may not be healthy enough to undergo anesthesia or handle the bodily stress that rapid detox can cause.
- Potential health risks: Rapid detox has led to cardiac arrest and death.
- Withdrawal: You cannot entirely avoid withdrawal symptoms with rapid detox. Withdrawal symptoms can persist for days after rapid detox, which may cause someone to resume using drugs in order to avoid the uncomfortable feelings.
- No improvement over traditional detox regimens: Studies have shown that rapid detox methods are not an effective treatment method for opioid dependency. Additionally, rapid detox is an unproven protocol that does not improve treatment retention or abstinence rates over other treatment and detox care plans.
Mental Health Complications of Rapid Detox
Another potential risk of rapid detox is the possibility of worsening mental health disorder symptoms. Drug abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand, as more than 15% of people who struggle with drugs also suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, almost 30% of people with a serious mental health disorder also abuse substances. Often, people undergoing addiction treatment discover they also have a mental health disorder.
Someone might use drugs in an attempt to temporarily self-medicate undiagnosed mental health symptoms. Opioids produce a feeling of calm and may offer temporary relief from some mental health symptoms, such as depression, anxiety and panic. In the long run, however, substance abuse and addiction only make matters worse. Drug abuse actually complicates the treatment of mental illness and may interact negatively with required medications.
Rapid Detox Is Not a Cure
Detox alone is not considered a successful addiction treatment. Addiction is a complex brain disease, and regular drug abuse makes chemical changes in the brain that take time to reverse. While detox can remove drugs from your body, it does not help you repair the circuitry in your brain that is responsible for your emotional regulation.
Instead, therapies and counseling sessions are effective ways to retrain your emotional responses and behavioral patterns. These approaches also teach you healthier methods to cope with stress and regulate your moods. All of these strategies can help you reach a stable psychological balance without drugs.
A study found that those who received formal substance abuse treatment were more likely to avoid relapse and maintain abstinence than those who didn’t receive treatment. Rapid detox is generally considered ineffective and potentially unsafe. Instead, a combination of medications and psychotherapy is more commonly accepted as a proven treatment method.
Rapid Detox vs. ANR
Accelerated neuroregulation (ANR) claims to restore the central nervous system to its pre-addiction status with a single overnight hospital stay. Unlike rapid detox, this approach avoids the detox process entirely. However, clinical studies on ANR are scarce, and the strategy is not even mentioned in opioid addiction treatment guidelines.
Alternatives to Rapid Detox
Evidence-based treatment models can help manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings in a safer and potentially more effective manner. The gold standard in opioid detox is medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
In MAT, long-acting opioids like methadone and buprenorphine-based products are prescribed to replace the opioid that you are taking. Methadone and buprenorphine are long-acting with a ceiling effect that helps discourage abuse. They can be used during medically assisted detox to effectively wean you off opioids without the potential shock to your system that rapid detox may induce. Treatment is highly variable and each person may respond differently, making certain methods more effective for some than others.
So, Is Rapid Detox Worth the Cost and the Risk?
Rapid detox isn’t a silver bullet for addiction and is generally considered unsafe and ineffective. A proven method that works is medical detox under the supervision and care of professionals. Because addiction is a mental health disorder, it requires fully comprehensive addiction treatment in addition to detox treatment.
Find the Help You Need
At The Recovery Village, our highly trained and professional medical and mental health experts will work with you to determine the treatment model that is best suited to your individual needs. Care begins with a comprehensive assessment, and your treatment plan will be re-evaluated regularly to ensure the highest possible rate of success.
If you or someone you love struggles with opioids, help is available at The Recovery Village. Our opioid addiction experts are here to guide you to a healthier, opioid-free life. Contact us today to learn more about medical detox and opioid addiction treatment.
Moos, Rudolf H.; Moos, Bernice S. “Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders.” Addiction, February 2006. Accessed December 21, 2020.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. “National Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder.” 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Part 1: The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness.” April 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020.
Collins, Eric D.; Kleber, Herbert D.; Whittington, Robert A.; et al. “Anesthesia-Assisted vs Buprenorphine- or Clonidine-Assisted Heroin Detoxification and Naltrexone Induction.” Journal of the American Medical Association, August 31, 2005. Accessed December 21, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Deaths and Severe Adverse Events Associated with Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Opioid Detoxification — New York City, 2012.” September 27, 2013. Accessed December 21, 2020.
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.