Detoxing and Withdrawal from Opiates – PART TWO: Medical Detox and Ongoing Treatment
[Note to Reader: This is “Part Two” of a 2-part blog-post—“Part One” can be found in the archives.]
Even with the increasing efforts of researchers in the field of addiction and the proliferation of addiction treatment centers around the country, the opioid epidemic has continued to have a horribly destructive affect on countless people’s lives — not just those who find themselves with an opiate use disorder, but their families, friends and work associates, as well. According to the most recent statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 46,00 people die annually in the U.S. from an opioid overdose. However, if you or someone you know has an opioid dependency, it can be safely and effectively treated at a substance abuse treatment center using medical detox and a range of behavioral therapies.
(It should be noted, since opiate withdrawal is different from other types of withdrawal, in that it can actually result in death—see below for possible complications—it is highly recommended that one seeks the assistance of medical support and addiction treatment specialists to help in the recovery process.)
For those who want relief from their dependency on opiates and know they’ll be safer off undergoing medically-supported detox, what happens once one has decided to get help from a treatment center?
After arriving and going through the treatment center’s intake process, the person will meet with a medical doctor specially trained in addiction medicine and therapeutic recovery processes. Based on the doctor’s evaluation and assessment, he/she will develop an appropriate treatment plan to suit the person based on their medical history, the type of opiates they’ve been using, and how long they have been using them.
Typically, medical drug detox for opioid use disorder involves the supervised administration of medications that act on the same brain receptors as opioids do, but without producing the “high” associated with opiate use. These medications enable a person to stop using opiates with significantly lessened levels of pain and discomfort, compared to the severe withdrawal symptoms typically experienced without medical detox. Some of the more commonly used medications in drug detox to treat opioid use disorder are buprenorphine, naloxone, naltrexone and methadone.
In an article written by Beth Sissons in Medical News Today, the importance of having medical support is clarified: “A doctor may need to prescribe other medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms and make the detox process easier. They will also be able to provide any necessary supervision during the withdrawal period to monitor how the body is coping. By doing this, they can help prevent complications.”
The fact is, though opiate withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, it is generally not life-threatening. However, serious complications can occur, including severe vomiting and diarrhea—which dehydrate the body and can raise sodium levels in the blood to the point of causing heart failure—as well as aspiration (breathing the stomach’s contents into the lungs) or seizure.
For these reasons, it’s highly advised a person seek the help of a treatment center staffed by specialized healthcare professionals when coming off opiates to prevent complications.
Following one’s successful completion of medical detox, treatment centers can provide counseling and behavioral therapies to assist in one’s continued recovery, helping to build healthier life skills, attitudes and behaviors related to living without drug use. Based on their past success rates, the widely accepted 12 Steps programs and a number of evidence-based therapies are commonly used to help in the ongoing recovery from opioid use disorder, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy and family counseling. Also, developing a recovery network and group support are highly encouraged follow-up practices to strengthen one’s foundation in recovery.
By reaching out for help and going through medical detox for an opiate use disorder, a person may be able to significantly ease the symptoms of withdrawal and successfully move forward into a new life in recovery, free from the enslaving grip of active addiction.