What Is Opiate Detox Like?
For many, the idea of detox—short for detoxification—conjures up images of discomfort, sickness, and pain as the body recovers from drug or alcohol addiction. While detox can involve some physical and emotional challenges, it can also be a relatively manageable process when led by experts in a controlled environment.
Detox is a critical component of any recovery process as it allows the body a chance to “reset” without the presence of drugs and alcohol. This is particularly true for opiates, which affect the brain’s perception of pain and pleasure. Only by eliminating these drugs from the system will a person be able to rewire their body chemistry and brain functioning and return to a baseline level of health.
Why is detox so important?
Detox allows the body a critical opportunity to flush drugs from its system, which can be especially crucial for habitual and chronic drug users, who may not have been truly drug-free for years.
Detox by itself is not an effective treatment—research has found that many people who undergo detox without treatment later relapse. But without detoxifying the body before undergoing treatment, people entering recovery will struggle to stay sober and effectively retain the strategies they learn in treatment.
Additionally, the detox process allows the body to reduce the cravings usually associated with chronic drug and alcohol use. When the body and brain become adapted to the presence of these substances on a regular basis, a person can experience strong cravings and desires when that same substance is taken away. Through a carefully managed detox process, these cravings can be managed and reduced, making it much more likely that the person in recovery will avoid relapse risks and successfully complete treatment.
What happens during a typical opiate detox?
Though we often think of withdrawal as a process that occurs after a long period of chronic drug use, anyone who abuses opiates can experience withdrawal symptoms, even within 24 hours of stopping use.
This is because the body quickly becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug in the brain, where it lowers pain and increases feelings of well-being. Over time with more regular drug use, the body can even become dependent on the drug to maintain its equilibrium and will require more and more of the substance to meet its needs.
As a result, withdrawal will typically be less severe for someone who has abused opiates for a shorter time and more severe for long-term and habitual users.
Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, but they are typically broken down into stages. The early stages of opiate withdrawal usually involve less painful and noticeable symptoms, which can include:
- A sense of unease or anxiety
- Body aches and a sense of exhaustion
- Difficulty sleeping alongside low energy
As withdrawal proceeds and the body struggles with the absence of the drug, symptoms can become more intense and affect more parts of the body. These symptoms can include:
- Stomach cramps, diarrhea, and upset stomach
- Chills, achiness, and body pain
In a qualified detox setting, these symptoms can be carefully managed and controlled. In addition to helping people overcome the physical symptoms of withdrawal, detox professionals may also use methods to help manage the psychological and physical cravings associated with no longer having the drug in the body.
In some detox programs, these cravings are managed through medication, including methadone and buprenorphine, both of which are commonly used to make the withdrawal process less painful and encourage long-term relief from cravings.
What about after detox?
When conducted properly, the detox process is just the beginning of a complete recovery program.
Once a person in recovery has undergone a successful detox regimen, they should be referred to a qualified addiction treatment program where they can benefit from proven therapies and treatments to help overcome their addiction for the long term.
While detox focuses on the physical toll of drugs and alcohol, treatment programs focus on understanding why a person struggles with addiction and how best to understand, manage, and overcome these addictive behaviors.
A typical addiction treatment program will help a person:
- Understand why they are abusing alcohol or drugs
- Manage their drug and alcohol intake
- Learn coping strategies when tempted to relapse
- Develop behaviors and skills that will lead to healthy habits
- Continue ongoing therapy as they re-enter their everyday lives
Treatment often involves individual and group therapy programs, as well as therapy sessions with the family members and friends who will support the person when they return to their everyday lives. There are also typically therapeutic outlets for creativity like art therapy, recreation like outdoor exercise, and a sense of purpose like equine or animal therapy.
If you or a loved one are contemplating a detox program for opiates or other drugs, don’t hesitate to contact our team at Recovering Champions to learn more about your options. We’re available to help at 1-844-285-0086.
Recovering Champions Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.