Opiate Detox: Symptoms, Dangers, and Treatment

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Chronic use or misuse of opiates or opioids like fentanyl, heroin, and oxycodone can lead to physiological dependence. Once you develop a dependence on opiates, you require the drug to continue feeling normal. Suddenly quitting opiates will lead to unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms.1 Due to the distressing nature of these symptoms, professional opiate detox may be necessary to comfortably and safely withdraw.

In this article:

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can range from mildly unpleasant to extremely distressing and severe. These symptoms may include:2,3

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Opiate Detox: Effective Withdrawal Management

Opiate detox centers can help manage your opiate withdrawal symptoms and cravings and provide you with other supportive care you may need.

Withdrawal symptoms can be so uncomfortable that some people relapse to alleviate the symptoms, even if they genuinely want to stop using substances. Opiate detox programs supervise this process and provide medical and emotional support. There are different types of detox centers, such as inpatient, intensive outpatient, and outpatient.

Inpatient Detox Centers

Medical detox is available in inpatient detox centers, in a hospital setting, or within an inpatient rehab program. Inpatient medical detox, which involves living at the facility, involves 24/7 medical care, monitoring, and supervision.

Doctors and other treatment providers supervise the opiate withdrawal process to ensure it is done safely.4

Interventions may include:

  • Opiate withdrawal medications like methadone or buprenorphine
  • Supportive care, such as IV fluids
  • Detox counseling
  • Case management
  • Referral to addiction treatment

The length of inpatient opiate detox varies depending on the type of opiate you were using, the length of your addiction, which withdrawal medications are used, and how long the tapering process is. If you attend inpatient detox in a freestanding clinic or hospital, then the opiate detox process may be a few days to a couple of weeks. If you attend detox as the start of your inpatient rehab program, then once you successfully go through withdrawal, you’ll begin your treatment plan. This treatment plan, consisting of various treatment modalities and therapies, may last from 30 to 90 days.

Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization Detox Programs

These detox centers allow you to live at home and work outside the facility. You would attend this program for several hours per day, several days per week. Intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs offer less support than inpatient detox programs because the program isn’t 24/7; however, you still get a high frequency of care.

This type of program may be a good fit for you if you aren’t able to attend inpatient opiate detox due to scheduling or responsibilities. That said, outpatient may not be the best detox option if you don’t have a strong support system that can help you outside of treatment.

Outpatient Detox Programs

Outpatient providers offer significantly less support than intensive outpatient or inpatient centers. Some outpatient programs only function to provide medication and do not provide other types of support, such as counseling or peer support groups.6

Medications for Opiate Detox

Opiate detox medications can help alleviate unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as well as opiate cravings. Detox centers might use any of the following medications to support you during withdrawal:2

  • Methadone: This full opioid agonist medication helps relieve cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It also works to block the desirable effects of opioids, which helps prevent relapse. Methadone can be used long-term to lower the risk of relapse.
  • Buprenorphine: This partial opioid agonist medication alleviates opiate withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It has a ceiling effect, which means its opioid effects plateau at moderate doses, effectively lowering the risk of overdose.
  • Clonidine: This adjunctive medication can help reduce certain withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, or cramping. It is usually combined with methadone or buprenorphine.

Can you Detox from Opiates at Home?

While opiate detox isn’t typically dangerous, it can be, especially in the event of excessive vomiting leading to electrolyte imbalances and severe dehydration.2 Detox can also be extremely painful and uncomfortable, which may cause some people to return to opiate use to relieve these symptoms. For these reasons, choosing to detox in a professional program can be beneficial.

Ways to Help Detox from Opiates

You might be wondering if there are ways to help detox from opiates at home and what helps when detoxing from opiates. If you are determined to detox at home, it’s vital to talk with a medical provider for guidance. A doctor may be able to advise you on how to taper off your opiate use. Tapering is when you slowly reduce the dose you are using.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends tapering 10% a month off your usage.7 It’s important to taper off opiates instead of quitting cold turkey.7 This can help prevent or lessen opiate withdrawal symptoms.

If you are determined to detox from opiates at home, it might be helpful to use over-the-counter medications to manage certain withdrawal symptoms like diarrhea or muscle aches. When detoxing from opiates, talk with your doctor to find out which over-the-counter medications are safe to use during this process to make it more comfortable. It’s important to have a strong support system while detoxing at home.2

Research also shows that certain holistic treatment options, particularly Chinese medicine and acupuncture, are effective in treating opiate dependence.8 Acupuncture is also shown to be a natural pain relief method.9 Meditation and mindfulness are also helpful in managing pain.10 Incorporating these types of holistic treatments into your at-home detox plan can make the process more manageable and comfortable.

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Comparing Opiate Detox Centers

When choosing an opiate detox center that is right for you and your needs, you will want to consider many different factors, such as:

  • Medication vs. non-medication: Some detox centers may offer medication to assist during the withdrawal process, while others may not.
  • Detox setting: You’ll want to decide if you are looking for an inpatient or outpatient detox program.
  • Location: Narrow down your choices by deciding if you want to travel for inpatient detox or go close to home. And if you choose outpatient detox, you’ll want to find a program that is easy for you to get to.
  • Cost and insurance: Some detox centers may not take insurance. Find out ahead of time if they take insurance and if they accept your insurance. You can also call your insurance company to find out what detox centers are in-network. Some opiate detox programs may be government-funded and are free for certain people. There may also be opiate detox programs that accept cash only. Centers like these may offer payment plans or sliding scale fees.

How to Find an Opiate Detox Center

Finding an opiate detox center can be overwhelming or confusing. However, there are a few ways to find an opiate detox center, including:

  • Search for “opiate detox near me” in your search browser. There may be local options near you that you can contact. Ensure the detox centers you come across are for opioids because other programs, such as outpatient alcohol detox, might not be a good fit.
  • Ask for a referral from a doctor or other treatment providers, such as a therapist or addiction counselor.
  • Ask supportive peers. People that you meet in peer support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) may have completed a detox program and can give you a recommendation.
  • Call your insurance company to see what options they have in-network. Insurance companies can give you a list of providers covered by your insurance plan.

If you think you could benefit from an opiate detox program, call 800-407-7195(Who Answers?) to speak with a specialist.

Resources

  1. National Library of Medicine. (2021) Opioid Misuse and Addiction.
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2022). Opiate and opioid withdrawal.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription Opioids DrugFacts.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions.
  5. Dydyk, A., Jain, N., & Gupta, M. (2022) Opioid Use Disorder.
  6. National Institutes of Health. (2018, January) Types of Treatment Programs.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d) Pocket Guide: Tapering Opioids for Chronic Pain
  8. Doosti, F., Dashti, S., Tabatabai, S.M., & Hosseinzadeh, H. (2013) Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine in the treatment of opioid-dependence: A review. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, 3(3), 205-215.
  9. National Library of Medicine. (2019, September 16) Alternative Medicine.
  10. Zeidan, F., & Vago, D.R. (2016) Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: A mechanistic account. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 114-127.

the Take-Away

Chronic use or misuse of opiates or opioids like fentanyl, heroin, and oxycodone can lead to physiological dependence. Once you develop a dependence on opiates, you require the drug to continue feeling normal. Suddenly quitting opiates will lead to unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms.1 Due to the distressing nature of these symptoms, professional opiate detox …