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Do I Need Detox? Understanding Withdrawal from Opiates

Opiates have a long and complex history. Intertwined with humans since their earliest documented use amongst the Sumerian people 8,000 years ago, opiates have provided a great deal of pain relief and caused an inordinate amount of suffering. As the opioid epidemic in this country continues to ravage the country, it is important to understand the mechanism of opiates on the body and brain as well as how to treat the addiction which often follows the use. The starting point of treating opiate abuse starts with detoxification. In this guide we’ll detail the effects of opiate withdrawal as well as best practices for a safe and effective detox at our Wichita detox and rehab. 


Understanding Opiate Withdrawal


Before getting into the necessity of a medically supervised detox, it’s imperative to get a solid grasp on withdrawals and why they occur. When opiates are ingested, they go to work on the reward centers of the brain releasing large amounts of dopamine which create intense feelings of pleasure. As an individual continues to use opiates, their body and brain adapts to the presence of the drug. The brain stops producing dopamine on its own. When the drugs are stopped, the brain and body have a negative reaction resulting in withdrawal symptoms. Opiate withdrawal is both psychologically and physically debilitating, making detoxing a significantly challenging obstacle. 


Withdrawal Symptoms


While not usually directly life threatening, opiate withdrawals are severely unpleasant and side-effects such as dehydration can create life-threatening conditions. The most common symptoms of opiate withdrawal are:

Flu Like Symptoms: The beginning stages of opiate withdrawal consist of fatigue, muscle and bone aches, fever, chills, extreme restlessness and sweats. While similar to the flu, these symptoms feel much more severe than a typical bout with the flu.

Gastrointestinal Distress: The next stage of the withdrawal process is nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain/cramping. This is where things can potentially get dangerous if not managed. Dehydration can occur quickly and put an individual at risk of a potential medical crisis. 

Psychological Distress: Profound anxiety, deep depression, feelings of hopelessness and irritability are common during withdrawal. These psychological effects, when coupled with the physical symptoms, can be debilitating. 

Drug Cravings: This is the symptom which most commonly leads to relapse during withdrawals. The overwhelming urge to use opiates feels all encompassing. The body and brain are in pain and knowing that ingesting more opiates can put an end to all the suffering is usually the breaking point for most opiate users if not properly managed. 

Insomnia: During the withdrawal process most people experience an inability to sleep. Lack of sleep can have serious side effects and exacerbate the other withdrawal symptoms. 


When is Detox Necessary?


Detoxification is the safe and supervised management of withdrawal symptoms while the body works to heal itself and clears out all opiates from the system. Recovery can’t begin until the body is cleared of all drugs. However, not everyone who uses opiates will require detox. Understanding the necessity of detox depends on several factors:


Severity of Addiction: Those with a severe opiate habit, usually characterized consuming large amounts daily and prolonged use, are more likely to need detox. Those in this category will experience much more challenging withdrawal symptoms and require more management. 

Duration of Use: The longer someone has been using opiates, the higher the likelihood of needing to detox. Long-term opiate use has a much greater impact on the body and brain than someone who's only been using for a short time. 

Health Conditions: Pre-existing medical conditions can cause complications and put an individual at a greater risk of a medical emergency during withdrawal. As such, these people should be under the strict care of medical supervision during detox. 

Failed Attempts at Quitting: When an individual has tried to quit opiates on their own multiple times with no success, detox becomes essential. There is no shame in not being able to stop on your own - it is not a question of willpower. 


At the end of the day, the decision to seek out professional detoxification services should be based on individual circumstances. However it is important to remember that when in doubt, seek help. Consult with treatment professionals that will help to assess your situation and suggest the most appropriate route of treatment. These conversations are free of charge and can help to avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering. Our staff is available 24/7 to talk with you or a loved one about opiate withdrawal and the detox options available. Give us a call or reach out directly via our website. You don’t have to suffer alone.