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What Should I Expect from an Opiate Detox?

What Should I Expect from an Opiate Detox?

Learning what to expect from an opiate detox can help you overcome addiction and stay sober

Getting sober can feel like arriving in a foreign country in which you do not speak the language or understand the currency. The process is disorienting and overwhelming, perhaps most of all during detoxification—the process that allows the body to rid itself of a drug, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)[1]. If you or a loved one in San Diego would like to learn more about what to expect from an opiate detox, including different ways to undergo the process, read on.

Getting Sober: Early Steps

Accepting the invitation to get help and step toward recovery can be daunting. Many individuals feel highly stressed by the prospect of leaving the life they know and entering a completely different world. Knowing what to expect from the recovery process is one way to make the process easier.

Most treatment plans are highly individualized, yet all start with the step that takes you through the front door of the rehab you’ve chosen. Count on taking care of business first. Most centers request payment and insurance details up front, if you haven’t already taken care of them by phone. With that detail out of the way, you can focus on your recovery, first meeting your care coordinator, the point person who will connect you to your treatment team and provide the initial overview of your treatment plan. You will also tour the facility, if you’re able, learn house rules and meet your roommate. This stage of treatment can be fast or slow, depending on the pace you set. The point is to get you oriented as quickly as possible. People who are heavily intoxicated or suffering from extreme use may even skip it altogether for health reasons.

Detox and Beyond: Cleaning House

A survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 2.6 million people received treatment for alcohol or drug addiction in 2011. Of those, heroin and other opiates accounted for the largest percentage of drug-related admissions. To avoid risking your health and joining their ranks, caution bloggers writing for Psychology Today[2], opiate drug users should never stop “cold turkey.”

Even if your life is not endangered, withdrawing abruptly can be notoriously painful. Withdrawal causes brutal side effects, several of which include the following:

  • Stomach pain
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

Without help, the pain of detoxification alone is enough to lead many individuals back into using; they pick up again even though they sincerely wish to get sober, just to avoid the symptoms. If you’ve chosen to enter rehab, however, you do not need to be overly concerned about this. One of the chief aims of opiate detox at professional facilities is managing withdrawal with the right combination of medication and oversight. Depending on the severity of the addiction, detox takes between three to 30 days. Several chemical options for detoxing that may be suggested include the following:

  • Methadone – A long-acting opioid drug, it affects opioid receptors just enough to eliminate withdrawal symptoms without providing a “high.” The dose is slowly tapered over time to avoid physical dependence from occurring.
  • Subutex and Suboxone – Both drugs activate opioid receptors, reducing cravings and preventing withdrawal. Subutex is given in the first few days of treatment. Suboxone is given during the maintenance phase of treatment and requires eventual weaning in order to avoid forming a second addiction.
  • Clonidine – This blood-pressure medicine reduces the “fight or flight” response that is heightened during withdrawal. However, since it does not diminish cravings it is typically used in conjunction with other medications.

Recently, centers offering anesthesia-assisted detoxification have become an option for people wishing to accelerate the detox process. With this ultra-rapid approach, individuals are placed under anesthesia for four to six hours and given naltrexone, a medication that blocks opioid receptors and, subsequently, withdrawal symptoms. Studies published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse[3], however, are skeptical about detoxing this way, believing that it is no more beneficial than more conventional treatments and increases risks such as fluid accumulation in the lungs, metabolic complications and a worsening of psychiatric disorders.

Take Your Time: The Golden Rule for Treatment Stay Length

Although a desire to rush through opiate treatment is understandable, scientific evidence builds a strong case against it. A 2009 study supported by the National Institutes of Health[4], found that length of stay was the most important factor that predicted positive treatment outcomes. Benefits included the following:

  • More post-detox treatment – People who spent several weeks withdrawing were found to need more time to work out psychological and emotional underpinnings of addiction.
  • Brain recalibration – A minimum of 90 days is necessary for the brain to heal enough to begin thinking clearly, a prerequisite for avoiding relapse
  • Practice – Being thrown back into society too fast can be overwhelming and lead to relapse. Receiving oversight from experts can help you establish your recovery grounding and establish new habits such as attending support group meetings, talking with a sponsor or therapist, and building sober friendships will strengthen your recovery outside of the structure of rehab.

Once rehab ends attending 12-Step meetings or other community support groups, seeing a therapist or working closely with a physician can help you keep the door to drug use permanently barred. And remember, kicking an addiction is hard work. If quitting opiates were easy, World Health Organization (WHO)[5] estimates that roughly two million people in the United States are addicted to prescription opiates would be lower. Nevertheless, sobriety is worth the effort, and yields inestimable rewards. The process may not unfold overnight, but with help you can move forward step-by-step toward a better future.

Help For Opiate Addiction

If you or someone you love in San Diego is struggling with addiction to opiates help is available. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to wellness. Don’t go it alone. Please call today to learn how you can find the road to recovery.


[1] Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/frequently-asked-questions#

[2] Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-addiction/201001/alcohol-benzos-and-opiates-withdrawal-might-kill-you

[3] Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/

[4] Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment

[5] Retrieved from http://www.who.int/en/