What is Opiate Detoxification?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 January 2019
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Opiate detoxification describes the ways in which people bring the body back into balance while withdrawing from medications that are called opiates. Opiates include drugs like heroin, morphine, Vicodin (hydrocodone), and codeine. When people become dependent on these drugs it creates a scenario in which the brain cells aren’t functioning as they should, and withdrawal from the medications can create severe health problems and a number of withdrawal symptoms that are anything from unpleasant to dangerous.

With the principle dangers of detox or continued addiction in mind, people have several options when it comes to opiate detoxification. One of these is ultra rapid detox, which is done at select medical centers around the world. Though initially hailed as a promising treatment for people, especially when it used anesthesia, follow-up studies on this method don’t justify its expense. It may risk death, and people do encounter withdrawal symptoms like pain, stomach upset, and anxiety, as soon as the anesthesia portion is over. It also may be no less likely to keep people clean than any other opiate detoxification method.


Other types of opiate detoxification involve the use of opiate agonist drugs, which act similar to the opiates to which the person was addicted. The big difference is that these drugs don’t have the same “high” involved. People use these drugs over a period of time to block the symptoms of withdrawal, and can gradually reduce dosing so they are not longer using any drugs, but the addiction to a drug remains and ending use of the substitute drug may be difficult. For conditions like heroin, the common replacement drug is methadone. Drugs that may be used as a switch also include buprenorphine and clonidine, which may be taken orally or administered via a patch.

Like ultra rapid detox, slower opiate detoxification will still have withdrawal symptoms, and many people find the combination of withdrawal and ending behavioral addiction to a drug difficult to accomplish. For this reason, many people who have become addicted to opiates use a drug and/or alcohol treatment facility to get started on ending all forms of addiction. Drug addiction is more than physical addiction, and handling the emotional content associated with opiate detoxification may improve ability to remain off drugs.

Another reason why people use treatment facilities is because they have medical staff. Sometimes opiate detoxification is highly dangerous, and quitting cold turkey is never recommended. People need medical care and observation during the early parts of detox, since there is some medical risk without this. Once through the worst part of withdrawal, patients can then begin to participate in things like counseling or twelve step groups that may help change their behavior so that drug use does not recur.



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