The Process of Medical Stabilization for Opiate Addiction

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Contributor: Staff of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

It is so easy to become addicted to opiates and so very difficult to break that addiction. Opiate drugs, this includes heroin, impact an individual on every level, physically, mentally and emotionally. Medical stabilization for opiate addiction and detox from opioid drugs is not quick nor easy.

In order to achieve a successful detox, the medical team must know two important facts in advance: the type of drug used and the length of duration. Both of these issues must be established before any detox is started.

The team must exactly know what the person has been taking. It isn’t enough to say OxyContin. The number of pills each day, the milligram strength, as well as the use of other drugs, must be disclosed.

The Importance of Having the Specifics

What’s more, the root of administration must be made clear. Was the drug ingested, injected or inhaled? If ground up and inhaled through the nose or transformed into a liquid and shot into a vein, the symptoms associated with withdrawal will prove more severe.

Alcohol involvement in the medical stabilization for opiate addiction is a game-changer. The detox process when alcohol has been abused looks entirely different than if the person had exclusively swallowed pills or injected heroin. This is because, unlike pharmaceuticals, alcohol can cause death during detox.

Knowing what specific medications and how often is crucial, as is the last time of day they used. Drug withdrawal tends to follow a particular time trajectory, so it is relevant as to how recently the substance was placed into the body.

Woman sitting in window sill and thinking about medical stabilization for opiate addictionHeroin withdrawal usually begins approximately 12 hours after the last dose and peaks around the 24-hour mark.

Duration of use is also germane. An adolescent dependent on pills for one year will have a vastly different experience than an adult who has used heroin for five years.

Typically in detox, somewhat mild symptoms are initially experienced: minor nausea, slight depression, and agitation. In time, symptoms ramp up in severity and include, palpitations, elevated blood pressure, muscle cramping, diarrhea, anxiety, and vomiting.

These symptoms can be excruciating. To make matters worse, as physical symptoms increase, craving for the drug becomes intense.

Unfortunately, the only factor that can alleviate this reality is time. Medical stabilization for opiate addiction and complete opiate detox takes approximately five to seven days.

During this time, the nursing staff monitors 11 different signs and symptoms of withdrawal to determine the severity of detox using the clinical opiate withdrawal scale or assessment (COWA).

To ensure safety, close watching of vital signs must be part of this process. This monitoring includes oxygen saturation rate, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiration rate, etc. A seizure could result if not carefully watched.

Additionally, other medical problems that the individual might have, such as diabetes or hypertension, must also be managed throughout the process.

When Addiction Requires Detox

If a person requires detox, the importance of the experience, knowledge, and understanding of the treatment team cannot be understated.

At Timberline Knolls, we know if a woman is using alcohol, has a vastly complicated history of drug use, is in very poor health or is prone to seizures, she should detox in a hospital. However, if these conditions do not exist, she is not only safe in our care but will receive the compassion she deserves.

man smoking on a bridgeWe know how hard detox is because we have watched women go through it for years. Therefore, we do everything possible to ease the discomfort of withdrawal with anti-nausea medication, anti-diarrheal, hydration, cold or warm packs, rest, etc.

The greatest hope we can give them is that when someone is in the mild to moderate stage of withdrawal–depending on the nursing assessment–the physician will evaluate and determine the best time to start Suboxone.

The primary reason why most detox attempts fail is the person’s relentless craving for the drug. Suboxone is a medication that suppresses this intense desire, which allows the person to focus on recovery.

Although difficult, it is important to know that opiate detox is possible. With qualified people providing medical management, stabilization, and support, a person can move from a life of complete dependence on drugs to a life of freedom.

Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

Timberline Knolls is a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls, ages 12 and older, with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also available in nearby Orland Park, Ill., for women to step down or direct admit. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 630-755-5173. We are also on Facebook – Timberline Knolls, LinkedIn – Timberline Knolls and Twitter – @TimberlineToday.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 1, 2017
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.