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Detox Fear and Misinformation – Why quitting opioids is easier than you think!

By Dr. Karl Benzio MD

Page Overview

According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 23.5 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem (9.3 percent of persons aged 12 or older). Of these, only 2.6 million—11.2 percent of those who needed treatment—received it at a specialty facility. Addicts have many reasons for not getting help, but after denial, one of the most common (and the one based mostly on misunderstandings and myths) is fear of detox. Yes, detox can be uncomfortable, but no, it should not keep you or your family member from getting help.

Opioid detox may not be as hard as you think. People like to talk things up, exaggerate, and focus on the negative aspects of detox. In order to make up your mind whether or not to enroll in a rehab program and go through detox, get the facts. Then you can be prepared and know what to expect so you can fully commit to detox and recovery. Making decisions based on facts is the primary skill necessary, not only to overcome addictions, but also to live a fulfilled life, so let’s start using that skill now.

Detox is Not Always Painful and Difficult

Detoxing from opioids is not medically dangerous, and while detox might be uncomfortable for a while, symptoms fade relatively quickly. In fact, some people – such as those who took prescription painkillers during a stay in the hospital or after an injury – don’t even know they are going through detox; they just think they have the flu.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can consist of body aches and pains, shakes, headache, runny nose, teary eyes, restlessness, nausea, and diarrhea. If you can get over a nasty flu, you can get through opioid detox. As with any kind of medical issue, your body chemistry, health history, resiliency, and ability to trust the people helping you during recovery will significantly affect your withdrawal struggle.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms vary from individual to individual. Symptoms generally include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Insomnia
  • Goose bumps
  • Excessive yawning
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heartbeat<
  • High blood pressure

There is Relief for Opioid Detox

Sadly, people believe two powerful and damaging myths about detoxing:

  1. Detox is always very painful (we debunked this myth in the earlier section).
  2. The only way to get through detox is white-knuckle it because nothing makes it easier and the tortuous pain is the punishment you have to pay for being an addict.

Thankfully, this second myth is no longer true because amazing medical advancements over the last 40 years produced many safe medications for opioid detox. In fact, the medication options doctors can prescribe for medical relief during opioid detox outnumber those for withdrawal from any other kind of substance. Medications can relieve pain, manage nausea, stop diarrhea, help you sleep, and even shorten detox time. Supervised medical detox provides those in recovery with the option to use certain medications to reduce the harm and help minimize withdrawal symptoms. Safer replacement opioids, such as methadone or Suboxone, are used to ease extreme withdrawal and cravings over several months to slowly wean a long-time heavy user off all substances.

Another detox option, although controversial, is rapid opioid detox. In rapid opioid detox, the patient is admitted into a hospital setting, put under general anesthesia, and given medications to quickly wean the body off of opioids. While opioid withdrawal typically begins within 12 to 24 hours and lasts 72 hours to 1 week, rapid detox takes a matter of hours. Most patients still have some withdrawal symptoms, but they are usually significantly less. This type of detox is costly and must be done at a licensed facility equipped with medical staff to ensure safety given the significant sedating meds and anesthesia used. If you are planning on pursuing this type of detox, do your homework and check up on the facility’s safety practices first.

With the Right Program, You Will Have Huge Support during Detox

With the right detox program and staff, you won’t be alone, and this is so vital for anyone who is about to detox. Stopping opioids cold turkey is not a challenge you should try, or need to do, on your own. Not only are you putting your physical health at risk by trying detox alone (because you can become dehydrated, weak, and sick), but you lose out on the emotional, spiritual, and psychological support as well.

Emotional support to calm your feelings, psychological support for connection and caring, and spiritual support for hope and divine intervention are essential during detox. These special supports provided by caring people help you resist your urge to leave detox and use again. The right program minimizes your withdrawal symptoms, heals your battered body with the right kind of nutrition, exercise, and rest to recover, and offers you therapy designed to motivate and empower you to endure detox. A strong opioid detox program provides caring and compassionate staff able to give you psychological encouragement and skills beginning with detox so you have a strong foundation to take the next steps in rehab to regain control of your life.

Addicts Need Detox

Another myth people often believe is only harder street drugs require detox. The fact is prescription opioid painkillers are every bit as addicting as most street drugs, and the body goes through withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped. If you have been abusing prescription painkillers or other opiate drugs like heroin, you need to give your body time to recover and heal from those toxins. You need detox before you can hope to be clean and sober.

Detox is just what it sounds like. It allows your body to detoxify, or get rid of the toxins and cleanse itself from the drugs, clean out all the body’s systems, and prepare the physical brain and psychological mind for sobriety. Once you have successfully detoxed, you can think clearly and have the physical strength and nutrients to focus on the transforming rehabilitation that lies ahead.

Past Failure Does Not Mean Future Failure

The right detox can and will work for you. Some individuals are afraid that because they’ve failed at detox and recovery in the past, they won’t ever be able to make it through detox ever again. This is not true. I’ve seen many people fail detox, even a number of times in the past, but then handle detox when given the right team to help them. Relapse in the past is not a life sentence, and many people go on to find lasting recovery even after failing in the past. But you need to learn from your past failures. Maybe the program wasn’t right for you and maybe you need to look for something different. Most importantly, make sure you find a program which addresses not only the physical and psychological aspects, but also the spiritual component. A Christian staff you trust and are experienced in all aspects of detox and recovery will replace your hopelessness with promise, hope, and faith for a new and joyful path in your journey with God to peace.

Not Choosing Detox is Even More Painful

Detox wont be a cakewalk, but with professional help, it will be managed well and the hurt can be reduced. In fact, part of Harm Reduction Therapy is the prescribing of medications to ease the withdrawal suffering. But if you are afraid of some detox discomfort, remember, not going to detox isn’t harmless either. Think about all the pain, suffering, sorrow, frustration, anxiety, fear, demoralization, hopelessness, financial and relational pressure, danger and risk you experience when you are using opioids.

If you are addicted to opioids, you are at the fork in the road with two options: Go to detox or continue using. They both have some pain. It would be nice if a third option existed, the one with no pain. But unfortunately, that painless fantasy option does NOT exist. Both of your two real options have discomfort. The detox option has way less long-term pain, and when done properly, has minimal acute pain. The avoid detox and continued using option, well …… you already know the pain, suffering, and loss for you and your loved ones associated with that option. Please take in the facts we present here to you and choose a good detox addressing spirit, mind, and body.

Detox is Not the End

People sometimes put all their hope in detox and want addiction to be gone as soon as the drug use is stopped. Addiction doesn’t work this way. Addiction didn’t happen overnight and addiction does not go away overnight. Detox is only the first step in recovery, and needs to be followed by rehabilitation of the mind and spirit. When you enroll in a detox program, you should also have a rehab program (in the form of inpatient or outpatient therapy) lined up so you can seamlessly transition into this second phase of recovery as soon as the withdrawal symptoms don’t interfere with your thinking and functioning.

Detox helps heal the body, but true recovery occurs when you heal the mind and the spirit. Through various talk therapies, positive mentors, and Bible study and prayer, you will experience a transformation that impacts your entire being, leading to a renewed mind and lasting recovery.

If you need detox and rehab, be sure to get the facts before you decide whether or not you want to go through with it. Opioid detox doesn’t have to be as bad as you think, and with the right kind of help, you will find this is just the necessary – and achievable – first step toward a sober life.