The word detox makes the process sound simple. Some envision a period of rest and relaxation while the toxins in the body just drift away. Perhaps the commercials of spa-like retreats lull people into this false reality. The truth is that detoxing from opioids can be hard. It can also be dangerous. Trying to detox from opioids yourself or outside of a hospital environment can not only put your health at risk, but it can also put your future sobriety at risk, as well.
This Is Your Body on Opioids
When people are dependent on opioids, their bodies and brains have physically changed. Do you need to use more of the drug than you once did? That is because your body has adapted to the opioids. In essence, you become tolerant to the effects of the substance. Your heart, your blood vessels, your intestines, even your skin have come to expect a constant supply of opioids. While opioids deaden pain, the nerves and receptors that detect pain actually become hypersensitive after long-term opioid use. When you stop taking opioids, as in a do-it-yourself detox, the body’s organ systems react violently to the absence of the drug.
Opioid detox, without any medical support, is simply opioid withdrawal.
This Is Your Body When Opioids Are Stopped
Opioid detox, without any medical support, is simply opioid withdrawal. Withdrawal from opioids causes several symptoms and signs that follow a predictable time course. For short-acting opioids, like oxycodone and morphine, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal occur within as little as six to 12 hours after the last dose. For longer-acting opioids, like the fentanyl patch and extended release morphine, symptoms of opioid withdrawal may not appear for as many as 30 hours after the last dose. Once withdrawal symptoms start, however, they build in intensity and rise to a peak within 48 hours.
People who are withdrawing from opioids are often irritable and restless. They crave more of the drug—not necessarily for the “high”—but more so to stop the feeling of withdrawal. Their pupils dilate and their eyes water. They become sweaty and get goosebumps. The nausea, abdominal cramping and vomiting can be overwhelming.
Since opioids slow down the gastrointestinal tract and cause constipation, withdrawal from opioids causes the gastrointestinal tract to speed up, leading to potentially severe diarrhea and possibly dehydration. Withdrawal is so uncomfortable, such a dramatic change from what it’s used to, the body releases hormones that increase blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. These changes can be particularly dangerous for people with underlying heart conditions, but poses at least some risk to anyone detoxing from opioids. Since nerve and pain receptors have become hypersensitive, even mild pain can be excruciating. This pain can make the symptoms of opioid withdrawal worse.
The Importance of Inpatient Opioid Detox
Given the many changes that occur to the body during opioid detox, this period can really be thought of as its own medical illness. Consider a person with severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A doctor would admit the patient to the hospital to monitor their condition and provide treatment. The physician would order powerful anti-nausea drugs and intravenous fluids to treat dehydration. The doctor would also check the blood for electrolyte imbalances and replenish them, as needed. Imagine if that patient also had an elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. The doctor would use heart rate monitors and ECG readings to detect abnormalities and signs of danger for the heart. In the hospital setting, rapidly acting intravenous drugs could be given to reduce blood pressure and heart rate.
Since people who are detoxing from opioids experience these serious symptoms, why would they not be treated in the same way?
Beyond these, an inpatient hospital environment offers the resources and supervision required to make opioid withdrawal—opioid detox—as safe and comfortable for the patient as possible. When treatments are needed, they can be given intravenously so they work more quickly. Each patient’s individual experience with detox is unique, so it is important that skilled medical professionals are available to assess, diagnose and treat issues as they arise. In short, inpatient detox provides the level of care needed to effectively manage this difficult transition from sickness to sobriety.
Taking Inpatient Detox A Step Further
The goal of detox is to reset all of the changes that took place in the body when the person was abusing opioids. This means resetting pain receptors, resetting the gastrointestinal tract and resetting the brain. Hitting the reset button can be difficult for all the reasons described above, but once detox is finished, the work of abstinence, psychotherapy and behavior modification can begin.
The Waismann Method® operates on a rather simple principle: Use the latest medical techniques and our discoveries in neuroscience to provide patients with the most effective, comfortable and dignified treatment for opioid use disorder. Using anesthesia-assisted rapid detox and other forms of medical detoxification treatment, the Waismann team has helped thousands of patients achieve freedom from opioid dependence. Since the Waismann team operates in an accredited hospital, patients have access to a full complement of medical specialists to ensure adequate medical withdrawal management.
Rapid detox under anesthesia and close medical supervision speeds up the detox phase, in essence, to reset the body faster. Instead of experiencing the irritability, bodily changes, and pain of the withdrawal experience, the Waismann method® helps patients essentially “sleep” through the detox phase so that they come out the other side reset, refreshed and ready to begin their life in sobriety.