Opioid detox is an important early step in the process of recovering from an addiction to heroin or prescription pain medications. Detox, or detoxification, is the stage of treatment when you stop using addictive drugs and allow those toxins to dissipate so they’re no longer in your system. In an addiction treatment setting, detox can be a phase of treatment or a stand-alone treatment service, and it usually involves management of withdrawal symptoms.
Some people who are considering getting help for opiate addiction have trouble getting past the fear of facing drug withdrawal. They might have heard that drug withdrawal can be uncomfortable, painful, or even lethal (more on that below). They might have tried to quit using on their own, only to be discouraged by the discomfort they felt from withdrawal. However, opioid detox anxiety shouldn’t stop anyone from getting help for their addiction. The facts about opioid withdrawal make it clear that a legitimate treatment setting is ideal for getting through the physical effects of opioid dependency.
Is Opioid Detox Safe?
Detox from any drug will be accompanied with withdrawal symptoms, and the kinds of symptoms experienced differ depending on the drug and other factors. There are even differences in withdrawal symptoms, or their intensity and duration, between different kinds of opioid drugs. In general, someone undergoing opiate withdrawal might expect some of the following symptoms:
- Muscle aches/restlessness
- Runny nose/watery eyes
- Anxiety/difficulty sleeping
- Irritability/depressive state
While these are definitely unpleasant, they’re not deadly, right? That’s mostly true. Opioid withdrawal isn’t fatal. But if the symptoms aren’t properly cared for, they can lead to acute or fatal situations. The most important aspect of treating opiate withdrawal is making sure the person going through withdrawal stays hydrated. Vomiting and diarrhea, two common withdrawal symptoms, can cause dehydration, which can be dangerous if it’s not treated by drinking more water.
This is the biggest reason why getting professional help for detox can be preferable to the alternatives. It’s important that the person experiencing withdrawal is continuously supervised to make sure they’re getting fluids down and their other symptoms are given some relief where possible. Although a family member might be able to do that for someone detoxing at home, other situations can be a lot less accommodating to the experience of detox. People with housing insecurity, people at risk of being incarcerated, or those with few family or social relationships face more uncertainty about the conditions in which they might find themselves withdrawing.
So, is opioid detox safe? In general it is, especially compared to alcohol or benzodiazepine detox, which both involve withdrawal symptoms that can be lethal. But going through opioid detox alone and without access to resources like drinking water—that’s the real danger. In addition to providing supervision and easing the withdrawal symptoms, a professional detox setting can also help the person make it to other side of detox without relapsing. No one likes to feel bad, so it’s only natural that withdrawal might cause motivational issues or even relapse. Recovery from addiction is a long-term process of disease management. Making it through detox can provide someone in early recovery with a sense of accomplishment that carries them forward into the later stages of treatment and recovery.
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