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What Happens During Opioid Detox and Withdrawal?

What is Opioid Detox?

Opioids, including both illicit drugs like heroin and prescription drugs like oxycodone, can cause severe addiction that can be difficult to break. Prolonged opioid usage can lead to severe physical dependence causing severe withdrawals when attempting to stop use, which can be extremely intense and uncomfortable. Stopping opioid use on your own is not only incredibly challenging, but it can also be difficult at times and often requires opioid detox. Often users will quickly relapse when attempting to stop using on their own in order to relieve withdrawals and cravings. A continuous cycle of stopping and resuming drug use can make quitting later on much more difficult as well. While opioid withdrawals are not life-threatening on their own, they can lead to complications that are life threatening such as extreme dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea causing organ failure or choking on vomit.  

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Medical detox programs can offer a structured and safe environment to help guide patients through the opioid withdrawal process. Professional drug detox programs provide around the clock medical care from physicians and nurses who can administer medications to ease withdrawals and cravings. Medication uses during opioid detox can not only ensure the patient’s safety but also a successful detox. Inpatient detox programs provide a drug and alcohol-free environment which helps avoid giving in to temptations and relapsing.

Supervised opioid detox and withdrawal may involve a gradual tapering down of opiates to help avoid acute symptoms. Some medications used may involve less potent opiate replacement to be used as a taper down method. Doctors will often prescribe other medications to help with opiate withdrawals and cravings. Some medications used during opioid detox include:

  • Methadone. Once widely used in opioid detox but has been largely replaced by buprenorphine. It is used to help patients ease off opioids they originally become dependent on. It is a long-acting opioid.
  • Buprenorphine. Commonly used to treat alcoholism, it is also highly effective for opioid withdrawal. As a partial agonist, it does not mimic the effects of strong opioids but does bind to the receptors to stop withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Clonidine. Used to treat withdrawal symptoms and high blood pressure, it is also especially useful in reducing anxiety and stress symptoms. The drug has little potential for abuse and physical dependence because it does not cause euphoric feelings and makes it easier to stop use after withdrawal symptoms have stopped.

All detox centers are different and will provide a variety of treatment methods besides medication assisted treatment. Many will also offer individual and group counseling to begin the process of treating underlying issues of opioid addiction. Holistic therapies such as acupuncture, meditation, nutritional counseling, and massage are widely being incorporated into treatment plans as well to help the detox process.

It is important to note that opioid detox is only the first step in the recovery process. While it can help an individual get sober, comprehensive treatment plans in drug rehab are required to help a person stay sober long term. Several levels of care are available in drug rehab including inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment to fit each individual’s needs. Treatment plans will be made up of various therapies and services to address the underlying causes of addiction, teach coping skills and tools to manage addiction long-term, and heal the body, mind, and spirit from the effects of substance abuse.

opioid detox

4 Steps of Opioid Detox

There are 4 steps in the opioid withdrawal process: anticipatory, early acute, fully-developed, and post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Depending on the severity of addiction and the types of opioids used, acute withdrawal typically starts within a few hours of a person’s last dose. Acute withdrawal involves flu-like symptoms and after it ends, mild, lingering withdrawal symptoms can persist for weeks or months later.

Step 1. Anticipatory Stage. Begin 3 to 4 hours after the last dose and is marked by increased anxiety or fear related to anticipation of withdrawal symptoms. Individuals will also experience cravings.

Step 2. Early Acute. Within 8 to 10 hours after the last dose, users can experience anxiety and restlessness increasing during this time. They will begin to feel flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, sweating, and stomach aches. Cravings persist and even increase.

Step 3. Fully Developed Acute Stage. One to three days after the last dose, opioid withdrawal symptoms will peak. Individuals can experience muscle spasms, tremors, insomnia, diarrhea, and increased blood pressure with cravings at their strongest point as well. After this stage, symptoms will begin to decrease and the person will start to feel better. The acute stage of detox can last around 7 days.

Step 4. PAWS. Up to 24 months after the last dose, individuals can experience mild, lingering withdrawals such as mood swings, cravings, anxiety, depression, drug dreams, irritability/agitation, poor concentration, and insomnia. These symptoms can be treated with medication and behavioral therapy. Individuals are also highly susceptible to environmental triggers that may lead to a relapse.

Withdrawal Symptoms from Opioids

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. Those with extensive opioid use may experience the most intense form of symptoms. There are other factors that can contribute to the type of withdrawal symptoms each person experiences as well such as overall health, how they administered the opioids and the presence of mental health disorders.

Opioids detox and withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Stomach aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constricted pupils
  • Muscle tremors
  • Fluctuating blood pressure

Recover from Addiction with Opioid Detox from The Detox Center of L.A.

The Detox Center of L.A. offers personalized treatment approaches to all types of drug and alcohol addiction. We provide in-house detox programs to help clients struggling with opioid addiction go through the withdrawal process as safely and comfortably as possible. Patients will be monitored 24/7 by a team of nurses and doctors and have access to FDA approved medications to ease opioid withdrawals. As a small, 6-bed facility, patients receive more dedicated time and attention than in larger facilities. Our therapists and staff know each patient personally instead of having to keep track of many new faces coming and going.

Once patients complete drug detox, they can easily transition into inpatient drug rehab at our facility. Our intensive treatment program will be tailored to your case and treat the underlying causes of addiction through several types of treatment including individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Dual diagnosis treatment is also available to address co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression. We also incorporate many holistic therapies into our treatment plans including yoga, meditation, nutritional counseling, and fitness classes to help our patients heal at all levels.

Often, individuals are hesitant to enter residential treatment because they usually imagine sterile and cold environments depicted in the media. The Detox Center of LA is comfortably furnished in a non-hospital setting and we provide our patients with several amenities from home. The rehab facility has an outside lounge area, basketball court, and movie nights. At The Detox Center Los Angeles, we offer a modern treatment approach that helps ensure residents are safe and comfortable during the opioid detox process.  We also provide housekeeping services and catered meals prepared by a private chef who creates nourishing, exciting meals.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, The Detox Center of LA can provide detox and rehab programs to help anyone achieve long-term sobriety. Please contact us today to learn more about our admissions process.


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Will my insurance cover treatment for addiction?

The Detox Center of L.A. accepts most major insurance providers and private healthcare policies. We offer free insurance verification as well as eligibility and benefits for both behavioral and mental health treatment services. Please fill out our insurance verification form here to verify your insurance.

What happens in addiction

Effective addiction treatment programs are tailored to each individual. Because of this, it will be a different experience for everyone. However, it generally involves a combination of detoxification, group and individual therapy, educational presentations, and aftercare planning in order to ensure long-term recovery. Upon arrival at The Detox Center of L.A., you can expect our professionally trained staff to create an individualized treatment plan based on your needs and treatment goals.