The symptoms of opiate withdrawal are uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. If you or a loved one is suffering from an opiate addiction, a medically supervised detox is the safest way to withdraw from these drugs. Following the detox, you can lay out a treatment plan to address the underlying causes of addiction.
When you’re quitting a substance your body has become physically dependent on, the only way around the withdrawal is through it. There’s no way to skip the withdrawal process, because your body needs to purge itself of the drug. However, there are medications and detox methods that can make an opiate withdrawal far less uncomfortable.
What Is a Medically Supervised Detox?
A medically supervised detox is a withdrawal process undergone in the care of a medical professional. Generally, these detoxes are done at a specialized detox center equipped with the medications and medical equipment that may be necessary.
Many hospitals and rehab centers have medical detox programs. When you enroll in a medical detox program, a doctor will help you ease off the addictive substance until your body isn’t physically dependent on it anymore. This approach is less dangerous than quitting “cold turkey,” because your body doesn’t experience as much of a shock.
After you’ve gone through the medical detox program, most professional teams will advise you to receive further inpatient care at a rehabilitation facility. If your medical detox program was conducted in a hospital, they may refer you to a rehab center. If your medical detox program was conducted in the rehab center itself, transitioning from one part of treatment to the next may be as simple as moving your room.
How Long Does an Opiate Detox Take?
The length and severity of symptoms will depend on the severity of your addiction. Withdrawal can be divided into four stages:
- Anticipatory – increased fear about the coming symptoms of withdrawal, along with drug-seeking behavior and cravings
- Early acute – increased anxiety and restlessness along with flu-like symptoms such as nausea and vomiting
- Fully-developed acute – the peak of physical symptoms, usually including tremors, diarrhea, increased blood pressure, and insomnia
- Protracted abstinence – acute symptoms have ceased to be present, but individuals may have insomnia and experience loss of energy and low blood pressure
The anticipatory stage occurs three to four hours following the last dose. The early acute stage sets in eight to ten hours after the last dose, and the fully-developed acute stage occurs one to three days after the last dose. The final stage, protracted abstinence, lasts the longest. People may experience protracted abstinence symptoms for up to six months following their last dose.
Cold Turkey or Tapering?
The two main types of detox you’ll find at a detox center are quitting “cold turkey” versus tapering your doses off over a period of time. Both have strengths and weaknesses associated with them, and the detox method that’s best for you will depend on the level of your addiction and your personal circumstances.
Pros of quitting cold turkey:
- Shorter overall withdrawal time
- No need to gain continued access to controlled or illegal substances
Cons of quitting cold turkey:
- A huge shock to the system
- Withdrawal symptoms are more painful than with tapering
- The risk of relapse is higher
Pros of tapering off the substance:
- Ability to slowly wean your body off the physical dependency
- Less acute withdrawal symptoms
- Lower risk of relapse
Cons of tapering off the substance:
- Longer withdrawal time
- The continued need to take the substance instead of stopping all at once
Usually a cold turkey detox is recommended only if you haven’t developed a high tolerance for the substance. If your tolerance is high, the chances of a bad reaction to a cold turkey detox are also higher. Tapering off the amount you take will help ease you into the detox. It won’t entirely alleviate the symptoms, but it’ll keep them from being as severe as a cold turkey detox.
When you check into the detox center, you can discuss your treatment options with your medical team. Together, you can decide which detox method is safest and most effective for you.
Medications for Detox
Medically-assisted detox is the most effective method for both detoxing from opiates and preventing relapses in the future. There are a number of medications that your medical professional might prescribe to reduce your drug cravings. Generally, your doctor will slowly taper down the use of these medications as your acute withdrawal symptoms taper off. In some cases, however, opiate blockers may be prescribed long term to prevent a relapse.
The following medications are the most common when detoxing from opiates:
- Clonidine – generally prescribed to treat high blood pressure and suppress withdrawal symptoms, available both in tablet form and as a patch that can be worn on the skin
- Methadone – prescribed to help patients taper off the substance they’re dependent on, and also used as long-term treatment for chronic opiate addictions
- Buprenorphine – prescribed for both alcoholism and opiate withdrawal to decrease symptoms of withdrawal and drug cravings
- Suboxone – prescribed to decrease cravings
- Naltrexone – prescribed to decrease withdrawal symptoms along with cravings
It’s very likely that your doctor will recommend at least one of these medications to help you through your detox. Detox is difficult enough to begin with — there’s no reason not to make it easier on yourself. The easier your physical detox is, the lower your chances of suffering a relapse partway through treatment.
If you have more questions about the different types of opiate addiction detoxes, or you’re ready to take the next step in your recovery, call 888-380-0342. Our trained counselors are available twenty-four hours a day.