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How Painful Is Rapid Detox?

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Once you’ve made the decision to get treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, one of the most frequent questions we hear is about what the detox process is like. Often, once the decision is made to get clean, our instinct is to quit drug or alcohol use cold turkey. After all, we want to recover and get our lives back on track. But just how safe or painful is rapid detox?

Rapid detox, also known as ultra-rapid detox (URD) was developed in the 1980s as a way to help combat opioid addiction. It was often advertised as a quick, painless and easy way to overcome addiction. Today, however, it remains a controversial treatment option with research showing that rapid detox is far from painless, and in fact, it might even have devastating consequences.

What is Rapid Detox?

Rapid detox is often done in a hospital setting. When a person undergoes rapid detox to treat opioid addiction, he or she is put under anesthesia for a period of four to six hours. During this time, an opioid antagonist drug is administered to help get the opioids out of the body. After the withdrawal period is over, anesthesia is ceased. The patient is then monitored for several hours, typically overnight, and is then in most cases, he or she is released the next day.

It was thought that because the person is under anesthesia, he or she is unable to feel pain from opioid withdrawal. However, being under anesthesia does not prevent side effects or other significant risks to the body. Additionally, rapid detox does not address the psychological, social, behavioral or emotional factors that contribute to addiction. This makes it likely that the individual will once again turn to drugs to cope with the underlying issues that caused him or her to use in the first place.

Risks and Side Effects of Rapid Detox

Opioids are a class of drugs that should not be stopped cold turkey, especially if used over an extended period of time. One reason people use opioids is the fact that the drugs increase dopamine levels in the brain, helping the person to feel good. When the drugs are used regularly, the brain can no longer produce or absorb dopamine in the same way, requiring the drug for production of the hormone.

If opioids are stopped suddenly and dopamine levels sharply drop, individuals may experience several significant, painful, and risky side effects, including:

  • Psychosis
  • Delirium
  • Kidney failure
  • Pulmonary distress
  • Respiratory failure
  • Irregular or racing heartbeat
  • Reduced thyroid hormone
  • Increased cortisol levels
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cramping
  • Cravings
  • Agitation
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Headaches
  • Joint and back pain
  • Suicidal ideation

In some cases, the side effects of rapid detox have been life-threatening. In fact, there have been multiple individuals who have died within 72 hours of undergoing rapid anesthesia-assisted detox. Finally, because the underlying causes of the addiction are not addressed with rapid detox, the risk of relapsing remains high. When this happens, the individual faces a significant risk of overdose, especially if they use the drug at the previous level. This occurs because detox reduces your tolerance to the drug.

A Safer Option: Supervised Detox

It is clear that rapid detox is not a safe option for most people. However, supervised medical detoxification can help you get clean in a way that is safe and addresses the mental health, social, and behavioral aspects of your addiction.

With supervised detox, you will receive treatment in an inpatient or residential treatment facility where you can be monitored 24/7. During your stay, your vital signs, such as body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, will be monitored, ensuring that we can quickly respond to any changes. For some clients, a long-acting opioid might be prescribed as a way to help your body slowly wean without a high being produced. These longer-acting opioids are then slowly tapered, giving your body a chance to adjust and begin to produce and absorb dopamine and other hormones at the normal rate.

While you might be nervous about “trading” one opioid for another, the opioids used during detox and weaning do not produce the same high as heroin or OxyContin, nor do they have a likelihood of abuse and dependence. These medications will help your body wean from the short-acting drugs while reducing the likelihood of life-threatening side effects that can occur with more sudden withdrawal.

In addition to the long-acting opioids, withdrawal symptoms might be managed with medications to address insomnia, nausea, pain, anxiety or depression. You might also receive support from a counselor or therapist to help you learn techniques to cope with uncomfortable side effects and resist any cravings that might occur.

With a slower and more supervised detoxification process, the chances of relapse and cravings decrease significantly. Because your withdrawal symptoms are managed by your addictions team, there will likely not be the same strong desire to use again to cope with withdrawal, which is something that is typical for rapid detox. Supervised detox can last for several days to weeks, giving you a chance to be in a supportive environment where your medical, physical, and emotional needs are met. In addition, you will likely be offered long-term treatment to help address the root causes of your addiction so that you are better able to make safe and healthy choices in the future. This level of support can make your detox and recovery process easier to tolerate and increase your chances of making a full recovery.

Because the withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process can be intense and uncomfortable, the safest way to detox is under the guidance of a trained and qualified addictions specialist team. We have the experience and expertise to help make your detox process as safe and comfortable as possible. If you’re ready to take the first step towards a clean and sober life, our counselors are available 24 hours a day to support you. Call

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