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Overview of Opiate Detox

Although people don’t intend to become addicted to mind-altering drugs, there are a number of people who, after becoming curious about recreational substance abuse, assume that knowing the risk will help them to determine when they need to stop or else they run the risk of losing control. In fact, the majority of people who experiment with alcohol and drugs quickly realize that it’s not for them and move on. It’s only a relatively small percentage of the population that goes on to become addicted to alcohol or drugs, but in a country as populated as the U.S., even a limited percentage is millions and millions of people. According to sources, there are approximately 25 million people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs, which represents one in ten Americans over the age of 12. It’s a staggering number that illustrates just how dire the addiction issue has become.

Rates of addiction would be bad enough if alcohol was the only substance to which people were becoming addiction, but even though alcohol is the most-abused substance in the country, there are a variety of other substances that have contributed to what are the highest rates of chemical dependence in human history. Aside from alcohol, another substance that’s become a major concern both in the U.S. and globally is a class of drug that’s referred to as opiates. In recent years, rates of opiate addiction have risen as such an alarming rate that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has referred to opiate addiction as an “epidemic” with overdose deaths reaching an all-time high just recently in 2014. Fortunately, the threat that opiate drugs have posed and continue to pose to our society motivate the continued research efforts from which there’s been momentous growth and improvement of rehabilitative treatment for opiate addiction, which is a process that begins with opiate detoxification.

How Detoxing From Opiates works

An opiate detoxification is an essential first part of recovery from opiate addiction. In fact, one’s success in opiate addiction recovery is virtually impossible without first completing an opiate detox program. However, understanding the implications and importance of opiate detox requires one to know what actually constitutes an opiate and why they’re so addictive.

There’s been much confusion regarding opiates, how they’re related to opium, and whether they’re the same or different from opioids. Recently, the terms “opiate” and “opioid” have been simplified with opiates used to refer to pharmaceuticals that are similar to opium in their effects and their chemical structure, and opioids used to refer to all substances that produce opium-like effects. While the reality is close, this isn’t entirely correct. Opiates are substances that are either alkaloids that are directly extracted from the opium — such as morphine, codeine, and thebaine — or are naturally derived from opium and its alkaloids, which includes substances like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone. By comparison, opioids are substances that bear no structural resemblance to opium or its derivatives and are created either semi-synthetically or synthetically while still offering effects that are very similar to opium. In short, opiates are similar to opium in chemical structure and effects while opioids are similar only in effects; however, technically all opiates are also opioids since, despite structural differences, both offer essentially the same effects.

When a person takes an opiate, the brain experiences a surge in neurochemicals, specifically ones that active the pleasure and reward circuits of the brain. The result is feelings of euphoria, which is what causes people to become substance abusers and then addicts. Over time, the body adjusts to the frequent neurochemical surges by slowing its natural production of those neurochemicals almost to a halt, instead relying on the opiates for that function. But in the absence of opiates, an addict will experience withdrawal symptoms. This is where opiate detox treatment comes in.

The start of opiate addiction recovery will almost always begin with an opiate detox. Due to the level of dependence the brain and body develop on opiates, the experience of untreated, unmitigated withdrawal symptoms would prohibit a person a person from being able to focus on his or her recovery. Suffering from withdrawal symptoms while in individual counseling sessions, group therapy, and other forms of treatment would cause patients to focus on their physical discomfort rather than their treatment; as a result, they wouldn’t get the benefit of those treatments and, therefore, would be unlikely to achieve sustainable sobriety or become abstinent.

What does the Opiate Detox Process look like?

Although it’s an incredibly complex illness, the disease of addiction can be broken down into three main components based on its effects: mind, body, and spirit. An effective and comprehensive addiction treatment program addresses each of these three components, but a person must first address the physical, or bodily, dependence before he or she can begin overcoming the effects of the mind and spirit. This means detoxification treatment.

Each opiate addiction treatment facility varies to an extent, but detox treatment tends to consist of many of the same parts. To begin, a person will first complete the intake process, which occurs when he or she first arrives at the detox facility. During intake, the person’s opiate addiction is assessed so that a tentative blueprint for the detoxification can be created. In particular, this includes such considerations as an approximate timeline for completion of opiate detox, the incoming patient’s level of health, whether he or she has any additional medical needs beyond the detox treatment, the length of time that the individual has been in active opiate addiction, and so on. When the intake process is completed, the new patient is escorted to his or her accommodations, which is where he or she will spend much of the duration of the opiate detox program.

As the patient’s first day comes to a close, it’s like that he or she has begun to experience the effects of abruptly ceasing the intake of the opiate to which the individual had been addicted. However, due to being in a treatment facility and receiving opiate detox treatment, a patient has a team of physicians, detox technicians, and other staff members who are tending to and monitoring him or her throughout the detoxification process. This continuous, 24-hour medical care and observation occurs for two main reasons: safety and comfort. While it’s typically believed that danger during detox occurs when a person is addicted to certain substances that aren’t opiates, there’s always the potential for a person’s opiate withdrawal symptoms to become so severe as to be dangerous to his or her well-being.

More importantly, the medical care a patient receives during an opiate detox program is intended to alleviate the discomfort that’s associated with withdrawal. If necessary, most detox centers will actually offer their patients certain medications — often referred to as “comfort medications” — that will mitigate the intensity of opiate withdrawal symptoms. These medications tend to be mild benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and hypnotics, which help with things like physical pain or discomfort, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and other common symptoms of opiate withdrawal. The overall effect of the medical treatment afforded by an opiate detox program is meant to mitigate any objections that people addicted to opiates might have of opiate addiction recovery, making opiate detoxification much less intimidating.

Opiate Detox Withdrawals

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It may not be as severe as alcohol withdrawal or benzodiazepine withdrawal — each of which are known to be potentially fatal if the symptoms aren’t treated — but opiate withdrawal is known to be very unpleasant. In fact, some have referred to the symptoms of opiate withdrawal as excruciating, and while that could be true depending on the severity of one’s opiate addiction, this only tends to be true because the majority of addicts only ever experience opiate withdrawal symptoms when they’re unable to get the drugs to which they’re addicted. In these instances, the withdrawal symptoms are untreated and unmitigated, which means that the person is experiencing the symptoms are their most intense and severe.

The withdrawal symptoms that occur when an opiate addict is unable to obtain and consume more of the substance of his or her addiction actually make much sense when one considers how opiates affect the brain and body. Derived from the opium obtained from the opium poppy, opiates are powerful analgesics, which means that they’re used to treat acute pain. However, when a person abuses opiates by taking them recreationally instead of to treat actual pain, the drug causes a euphoria while also dulling any sensations of physical distress. The consequence of this is an significantly increased sensitivity to pain, which is largely what is causing the physical discomfort opiate addicts feel when they’re unable to obtain the drugs to which they’re addicted.
But there are other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms in addition to the physical discomfort, each of which contribute to the overall unpleasantness of opiate withdrawal. In particular, a hallmark characteristic of opiate withdrawal is the experience of intermittent hot flashes and cold chills; in other words, a person will be extremely hot one moment, and then suddenly become cold. Meanwhile, the instances of being hot are accompanied by sweating, and throughout the withdrawal experience, individuals often shake or tremble, feel restless and anxious, sneeze frequently, have watery eyes and sniffles, become depressed, feel frustrated, and yawn frequently. Moreover, most people experiencing untreated opiate withdrawal suffer from the inability to sleep or relax and nausea that can become quite pronounced; this nausea could result in vomiting or dry-heaving, but most commonly is accompanied by diarrhea. However, it’s important to be aware that these are symptoms of untreated opiate withdrawal, but a person receiving opiate detox treatment will receive the care that’s necessary to substantially mitigate much of the unpleasantness of opiate withdrawal.

What are Opiate Detox Symptoms?

As described above, the experience of opiate detoxification without medical treatment is extremely unpleasant. Even though many of the effects of opiates originate in the brain, the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates are decidedly physical. However, the process of severing one’s physical dependence on opiate substances doesn’t have to involve discomfort. And the benefit of opiate detoxification treatment begins almost immediately upon arriving at one’s detox facility, which is when the outside world — all the people, places, things, and situations that contributed to his or her addiction and would distract from his or her recovery — falls away and leaves the person able to focus on recovery and relax while preparing for the current and upcoming stages of recovery.

The goal of detoxification treatment is to cleanse the body, ridding it of drugs, toxins, and any other harmful chemicals while restoring it to a state of health and stability. However, detoxification is a very physical process and is meant to help a person to regain their physical independence so that they can progress to the treatment phase of recovery without the distraction of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This means that those withdrawal symptoms must be addressed and overcome prior to beginning inpatient treatment.

Within the first day of opiate detox treatment, withdrawal symptoms are the most likely to manifest. Fortunately, being in a medical opiate detox program means that one has a team of detox specialists to ensure a person’s complete safety and comfort. It’s often said that the first few days of detoxification are the most difficult, but in instances of intense discomfort from withdrawal, most facilities will offer patients certain medications that are intended to alleviate withdrawal symptoms or promote health and wellness. For instance, it’s common for patients in opiate detox treatment to be given mild benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants, hypnotics, or sedatives, each of which can address withdrawal symptoms such as physical discomfort, anxiety, an inability to relax, and insomnia. In some instances, a patient might warrant the use of antidepressants or medication to alleviate nausea. Meanwhile, the patient is encouraged to relax, enjoy his or her accommodations, and — if he or she chooses — participate in any of the recreational and/or group activities that the facility might offer.

Can You Detox From Opiates at Home?

Opiate painkillers are extremely powerful and dangerous narcotics, which is why they can only be obtained from a physician who prescribes them only when it’s deemed to be in the patient’s best interest. In other words, the benefit of the opiates — usually an improved quality of life — must be greater than the potential dangers and possibility of addiction. It’s due to the danger posed by opiates that so many people who attempt to abuse the drug end up overdosing, and with more than 15 million people in the U.S. abusing opiate painkillers, there are a lot of people who are putting themselves in serious danger.

Although it’s not typically thought that opiate withdrawal can be life-threatening, detoxing from opiate drugs at home while unsupervised is still discouraged for a couple key reasons. The most obvious reason is that a person detoxing at home won’t have a detox support team that consists of physicians, nurses, detox technicians, and other staff members whose job is to help a person to cleanse his or her body and return to a state of physical health while remaining safe, comfortable, and relaxed. By comparison, detoxing at home means that a person is on his or her own, having no one who’s knowledgeable of opiate detoxification to help him or her navigate what can be a very intense experience. Additionally, a person is significantly more likely to detox successful by receiving opiate detox treatment than he or she would be if detoxing at home; in fact, experiencing the full, unmitigated intensity of withdrawal might put a person off the idea of recovery altogether and is why fear of withdrawal is one of the main reasons that addicts are resistant to recovery.

Attempting to detox on one’s own at home is also discouraged since a person’s home environment is often found to have been a contributor to his or her becoming addicted to opiates in the first place. This means that a person detoxing from home is attempting to detox in the very same environment that triggered or stimulated the initial substance abuse. In such instances, it would be all but impossible for a person to successfully detox at home.

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How Long Does It Take to Detox From Opiates?

Everyone heals at his or her own pace. Moreover, a person’s needs frequently differ in many ways from the needs of someone else. This has complicated the treatment of addiction because there’s not on specific curriculum or set of techniques that will address every person’s needs and give each of them an optimal chance at achieving long-term recovery. In fact, the diversity of patient needs is why most treatment facilities offer a variety of treatments and therapies with which patients can individualize their treatment programs.

Similarly, opiate detox treatment programs are meant to be adapted to each individual’s needs and, therefore, don’t have a set length of time during which a person is required to complete his or her detox. There are many things that can factor into how long an opiate detoxification might take, including the length of time a person has been addicted, the specific opiate to which the person is addicted, his or her daily opiate intake, whether the person suffers from any other physical health problems, and so on. On the short end, opiate detoxification might take a week while some people might require a month; generally, a person is expected to need between one to two weeks of opiate detox treatment.

If you or someone you love needs opiate detox treatment and are unsure of where to begin, Detox Local can help. We have created a network of the best and most effective detox facilities in the country, and we use our network to help anyone find the detox treatment they need to jumpstart the recovery process and begin their journey to health. For more information, a free assessment, or if you have any questions, call Detox Local at 866-315-7061. There’s no time like the present to free yourself or your loved one from the deadly disease of opiate addiction.

  • Each day in the U.S., more than 2,500 youths aged 12 to 17 abuse an opiate painkiller for the first time
  • The average age for first-time opiate abusers is currently 13 to 14
  • Between 60 and 70 percent of adolescent opiate abusers admit that they are obtaining opiate painkillers from the medicine cabinets in their own homes
  • Hydrocodone is the no. 1 most commonly abused and diverted opiate drug in the U.S.
  • Physicians and addiction counselors have admitted that opiate painkiller addiction is the hardest addiction to treat
  • 52 million Americans over the age of 12 admit to having abused opiate painkillers at least once in their lives
  • Although the U.S. population represents only 5 percent of the global population, Americans consume between 75 and 80 percent of the world’s prescription drug supply
  • 54.2 percent of all opiate abusers report getting painkillers for free from family and friends
  • It’s estimated that there are currently 4.7 million Americans who are currently dependent on opiate drugs
  • The sale of prescription opiates has increased more than 300 percent since 1999
  • Approximately 7 percent of all people who receive prescriptions for opiates become dependent