What You Should Know About Opiate Detox

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Opiates, a family of drugs that includes morphine, heroin Oxycontin and a large number of other painkillers, are commonly used both for medicine as well as abused for recreation. However, when someone needs to have his or her system purged of these drugs, an opiate detox is what’s in order. Of course, for those who are going to go through the experience, it’s important to know certain things.

How It Works

The human body naturally cleanses itself of substances, if given time, and opiates are no different. For individuals who have only experienced light opiate use, such as through normal medication, there is often not a need for a detox as such; all they have to do is wait and the drug will be filtered out of their systems. This doesn’t mean there won’t be some discomfort and light opiate withdrawal symptoms, but no medical assistance should be required. The reason is that, while the body might crave opiates, light use hasn’t led to a crippling reliance on the drug.

Detox from opiate

Opiate detox can save your life!

For those who have been using opiates longer, or in greater amounts, the physical dependance is greater. So, rather than just experiencing withdrawal pangs and lighter symptoms like sweating, nausea and goose flesh, opiate detox for addicts can have much more serious consequences. In many cases detoxing too suddenly can lead to shock, damage to the body and even death.

Gradual Opiate Detox

For more extreme cases of opiate addiction and usage, it’s important to step down usage as part of the opiate detox. Additionally, it’s important that medical personnel be on hand in case anything does go wrong, or the opiate user goes into shock. It’s for this reason that many detox programs for individuals with more intense usage habits tend to be in-patient centers rather than out-patient ones.

The theory behind gradual opiate detox is that it allows the user to step down slowly, getting his or her body used to the smaller and smaller amounts of opiates in its system. Once the body has reached a much smaller level of opiates, then usage can stop altogether safely. It’s akin to coming down from the roof of a tall building, and just jumping off a few stairs. It’s safer, easier and while it might be scary, painful or uncomfortable, it’s much less likely to result in permanent damage or in death that a sudden stop would very likely cause the user.



Opiate abuse can lead to physical health complications, tolerance, dependence and addiction that is difficult to treat, difficult to overcome and equally difficult to detox from.  In cases where opiate dependence becomes so severe that the user experiences extreme physical opiate withdrawal symptoms, there is a need for safe, effective opiate detox that doesn’t pose potential risks and dangers to the user.  Without a safe method of opiate detox, the user could face uncomfortable and potentially fatal side effects during this difficult time.

The safest method of opiate detox is to stay in close contact with a medical professional, preferably in a hospital or inpatient opiate addiction treatment facility so that any and all side effects that occur during the early phases of opiate withdrawal can be treated.  If you or a loved one is addicted to opiates and needs help, follow these steps to ensure a safe and effective opiate detox with minimal chance of relapse and minimal risk to the user:

1.  Seek Medical Help

detox of opiate

Opiate detox should be done under medical supervision.

Do NOT attempt to detox at home alone!  If you are trying to stop using opiates and are feeling opiate withdrawal symptoms, seek medical help immediately to ensure your own safety.  Medical care is available to ease the process of opiate withdrawal and to ensure the safety of the patient during detox.

Medications can be provided to help alleviate many of the symptoms of withdrawal and to help ease the cravings or urges that come to go back to previous drug abuse behaviors.  In the event that serious side effects associated with the detoxification process do occur, a medical facility will have the means to provide immediate treatment to keep the patient in good health.

2.  Consider Inpatient Treatment Unless Addiction is Mild

If you are addicted to opiates and the addiction is moderate to severe, if you’ve tried to quit using opiates in the past and failed or if you’ve suffered adverse reactions during opiate detox in the past—you should seek inpatient treatment to ensure a safe opiate detox.  Inpatient treatment will provide around-the-clock medical care and trained professionals who know how to spot the danger signs or potential hazards will be with you every step of the way.

3.  Know Your Meds

Many medications are available to assist in the effective treatment of opiate addiction and to provide a safe opiate detox.  Knowing what medications are available and how each works can help you during the most difficult stages of detox.  There are a wide range of medications that can be used to control cravings, stop withdrawals or ease other symptoms.  Talking with your doctor or treatment provider upfront about these medications can make the entire process go more smoothly and more safely.

4.  Have an Advocate

It may be your best friend, your spouse, your parent or another family member—most importantly, you need an advocate to speak up for you in the event that you cannot.  Opiate detox can be dangerous, it may get ugly and there may be a point in which you cannot speak or cannot actively think on an appropriate level about your treatment.  If this should occur, you must have an advocate who knows what you want and how to speak up for you—this will ensure that you get the best treatment and care that is really right for you.

5.  Keep it Safe

Finally, the most important thing to remember when you go into a scenario of opiate detox is to keep it safe.  Don’t go about it alone, don’t attempt opiate detox without medical care, don’t try to quit cold turkey and make sure that if you do quit, someone knows about your addiction and your desire to quit.  Keeping yourself aware of the potential hazards associated with opiate withdrawal can also help you to stay safe during opiate detox.

There are many potential warning signs of opiate addiction that friends and family members of an addict mistakenly overlook or fail to recognize.  In some cases, recognizing the early warning signs of an addiction to opiates can help you find proper treatment early on and prevent the need for lifelong medications or extreme intervention methods in order to stop the dangerous addiction in its tracks.  These are some of the most common, and often overlooked signs of opiate addiction that anyone who is taking opiates or who knows someone who is taking opiates should be on the lookout for.

1. Physical Appearance Changes

signs of addiction

An opiate-addicted person may become pale, lost or gained weight, look tired, and generally not pay attention to appearance.

Various changes in physical appearance may occur when a user is becoming tolerant or addicted to opiates.  Opiate dependence can lead to the user looking pale, sick, tired or otherwise unkempt.  These are some of the very first signs of opiate addiction and the most commonly overlooked.

Opiates are known to cause weight gain, as opiate use often increases people’s preference for sugar, according to the US National Library of Medicine. Because of this preference for sweets, dental pathology, weight gain, and loss of glycemic control are often seen in opiate addicted individuals.

2. Lying about Opiate Use

addicted to drugs

Addicts will often lie about or cover up their drug use.

Do you know someone who is using opiates and taking more than he or she is prescribed? Have you confronted him about the opiate abuse and been lied to? Frequent lies are a common sign of opiate addiction that can easily be overlooked simply due to an inability to confirm whether the user really is lying or not.

If you suspect that someone isn’t being truthful to you about their drug use there are certain things you can do. The Mayo Clinic advises trusting your gut instinct, educating yourself about what kind of drugs are on the market in that time and what their effects are, and getting help from a drug addiction treatment professional.

3. Denial

drug addiction

Addicts often deny they have a problem – to their loved ones and themselves.

Opiate dependence can lead to addiction and denying the fact that too many opiates are being used or that there is a problem ensuing is not going to stop opiate addiction from setting in.  Denial is one of the very first signs of opiate addiction and also the easiest to overlook.

Individuals who are becoming dependent upon or addicted to opiates may deny their use for a couple of reasons, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. On one hand they may simply conceal and deny the amount of drugs they are taking, or that they are using at all, as a means to keep worried loved ones at bay. On the other hand, though, individuals may deny their problem because they themselves are not fully aware of what their substance abuse is doing to them, and how big of a problem it may be. Denial is a very common facet of opiate addiction.

4.  Stealing to Supply Habit

addictive behaviors

Opiate addicts may steal when they do not have money for their habit.

Opiate addiction can lead a user to do things that he or she would not otherwise do such as stealing from friends or family to feed their habit. Addicted individuals often feel like they have to steal in order to support their habit and keep opiate withdrawals at bay.

Opiate withdrawal occurs when an individual has developed a dependence on opiates. This can happen whether the drugs are being taken legally or illegally, and involves the need for more opiates than usual to get the same effect. When an opiate-dependent individual does not have the drugs their body depends on, they will begin feeling sick, anxious, will have trouble sleeping, and more. These opiate withdrawal symptoms, along with drug cravings, often lead people to steal to supply their habit.

5. Mood Swings

symptoms of addiction

Opiate addiction often causes intense mood swings.

Opiate addiction can lead to mood swings that include almost bipolar-like instances. The user may be at the “top of the world” one minute feeling euphoric and good and then “in the gutter” the next minute feeling awful. Depression and extreme highs followed by extreme lows are common signs of opiate addiction.

Data gathered by the Department of the Interior shows that both while an individual is under the influence of opiates and while they are not they will likely display major mood swings. If this kind of behavior is not normal for your loved one and they display other opiate addiction signs, it could be time to seek help.

6. Trouble at Work or School

drug abuse consequences

Getting in trouble at work or school, especially when out of character, is a sign of drug abuse.

Many people who abuse opiates and become addicted will begin to slack off at work or school. There may be a loss of a job or failing grades in the early stages of opiate addiction. As the addiction progresses, the likelihood of holding a job or maintaining good grades continues to slip away.

An addiction to opiates makes it difficult for people to maintain the routine aspects of their lives as their priorities switch from these things to getting the next high. The connection between having trouble at work or school is very strong, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Health it is one of the factors that warrants a closer examination into possible opiate dependence for the individual in question.

7. Relationship Problems

opiate abuse

It can be difficult for opioid-addicted individuals to maintain relationships.

One of the most common signs of opiate addiction is the relationship troubles that ensue as a result of the opiate abuse.  You may notice that a loved one spends more time getting high and less time caring about his or her relationships with friends or family or you may notice that it seems like opiates are simply more important than priorities.

As the Australian Drug Foundation and others contend, another factor that leads to relationship problems for opiate addicts is that they often lie to and manipulate their loved ones, sometimes for money to pay for their habit. This creates tension on both sides, and often leads to serious family and relationship problems. It can be very difficult being the loved one of an opiate addict. One thing you can do for your loved one is to try and get them help, rather than dismiss or ignore their problem.

8. Deteriorating Mentally on a Wide Scale

opiate addiction signs

Drug addiction causes a loss of memory, reasoning, and other mental functioning.

Is your loved one no longer alert or aware of important matters? Do things seem oblivious to him or her or does it seem like he or she is in a constant haze?  Opiate addiction can cause mental deterioration as the user becomes more dependent on thought processes associated with finding the next dose of opiates and getting high and less dependent on priority thoughts that really matter.

The deterioration in cognitive abilities of someone who is addicted to drugs is so strong, in fact, that the US National Library of Medicine describes addiction as a ‘disorder of altered cognition’. In addition to the dominance of drug-seeking behaviors over an individual’s thought process, the memory, attention, reasoning, and impulse control of drug addicted individuals are all likely to be impaired to some degree. Sometimes these changes are hard to detect in someone else, but can be recognized by the individual in question themself.

9. Lack of Hygiene

opiate-addicted person

A general lack of attention to hygiene is common in opiate addicts.

Just as physical appearance is a common sign of opiate addiction, a lack of hygiene is another one of the more common signs of opiate addiction that can be overlooked. You may chalk it up to your loved one feeling depressed or not feeling well—but really they are simply not caring for themselves because they are suffering a much deeper problem.  They may not bathe regularly or they may decide to spend less time taking care of their body through diet, exercise or other means.

Due to the changes in their pattern of thinking, which focus on drug-seeking more and more, opiate addicts often lose sight of their personal hygiene. Lack of hygiene in opiate-addicted individuals can be dangerous, especially for intravenous drug users. The University of Arizona explains that infections and disease-spreading often occur due to poor hygiene and unclean needle preparation.

10. Living in Shambles

opiate abuse symptoms

Opiate addicts may live in disorganized, messy conditions.

Did your loved one once care about his or her home and how it looked but now seemingly doesn’t care at all?  Many opiate addicts will live in what the average individual could consider messy, inappropriate and essentially shambles.  The home may be unkempt, the habits of the user are often inappropriate and morally or socially wrong and the way of living will just seem overall messy as the opiate addiction progresses and takes over the user’s life.

With medication-assisted opiate addiction treatment this has been shown to improve for addicts, and for their families. According to  a study from the British Journal of Medical and Health Sciences, the quality of life for former opiate addicts improved with buprenorphine and naloxone treatment. Where previously individuals were living in terrible, unkempt and unhealthy conditions, treatment was able to help improve these conditions.



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