Opiate Detox: First Steps Toward Recovery

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Addictions to opiates and other opioid drugs can affect all areas of life. Quitting these powerful narcotics can seem just about impossible, thanks to withdrawal symptoms that appear within hours of stopping. But with medical supervision and the support of trained professionals, it’s possible to detox from opiates comfortably and safely – and opiate detox gets you started on the road to recovery.

Inside Opiate Addiction

Strictly speaking, only two drugs are really opiates – morphine and codeine.  That’s because these drugs are derived naturally from opium, produced by certain kinds of poppies.  But they’re considered part of a larger class of drugs called opioids, which also includes opiate like painkillers that are completely or partially synthesized chemically.

That group includes heroin (derived from morphine), and painkillers including Vicodin, Percocet, Demerol and Dilaudid.  Because these drugs can be so easily abused, they’re all considered Class IV controlled substances.

Opiates work by slowing down activity in the central nervous system and blocking pain messages sent to the brain. They also affect the brain’s pathways for pleasure and reward, which keeps user wanting more.

Using these drugs can create new pathways in the brain and alters the way the body responds to the drug, so that stopping them shocks both the body and the brain.  The sudden lack of the drug triggers withdrawal syndrome – a group of symptoms that appear within hours of stopping the drug and can last for 7 to 10 days or longer.

Withdrawal Syndrome Has Many Symptoms

Opiate Detox

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For most people, withdrawal is difficult but not life threatening.  Opiate withdrawal symptoms usually include:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches, pains and fever
  • Anxiety, irritability and insomnia
  • Tearing and a runny nose
  • Diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Chills and “goosebumps” on the skin

Quitting opiates “cold turkey” and weathering these symptoms on your own rarely works. Unlike a true case of the flu, all it takes to get rid of the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms is to take another dose of the drug.  Users who try to get through withdrawal this way usually end up relapsing again and again, without ever really clearing the drug from their system.

Medical Detox Offers Support and Safety

Detoxing is the process of clearing the drug from the system, and that includes withdrawal.  For those with severe addictions, addictions to multiple drugs, or other health problems, withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, and detoxing under medical supervision allows for emergency interventions or other kinds of supportive care if needed. Medical detox comes in a variety of forms, including:

In all these situations, people undergoing detox can receive medications such as clonidine, naltrexone or methadone to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, as well as drugs for specific problems such as nausea or a runny nose.

Why Continue on in Treatment When I’ve Already Completed Opiate Detox?

After Detox Comes Recovery

Once detox is complete, it’s time to focus on long-term recovery. People who detox in a dedicated detox facility typically move on to either an outpatient or inpatient rehab program.  In both kinds of programs, recovering users work with counselors and therapists to learn new skills and adjust to a life without drugs.

Outpatient rehab programs allow people to stay at home and keep up with work and family while working on recovery – but that’s not always a good thing.  Inpatient rehabs provide a distraction-free place to concentrate on recovery, away from the conflicts and triggers of daily life.

This kind of program offers round the clock support and intervention whenever needed – and it works.  Recent studies show that about 75 percent of those who complete a residential detox and rehab continue recovery without relapsing.

Are you looking for help with an addiction to opiates?  Rehab can be your first step toward recovery – and we can help.  Call us at  800-584-3274, and an addictions professional will help you find the program that’s right for you.


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