What You Need to Know About Detox in Opiate Withdrawal & Treatment

Woman with hat

Opiate addiction is considered an epidemic in the United States [1]. In fact, opiate overdose is one of the leading causes of death for Americans [1], and opiate withdrawal can be dangerous in and of itself.

Some opiates are prescription medications, while synthetic opiates such as fentanyl are illegal. All opiates have a high potential for addiction. This is because of the impact it has on the user [2].

When someone uses an opioid, they may feel really relaxed or euphoric [2]. This effect feels rewarding for the person using and can lead people to continue using. After consistent use, the user’s brain essentially becomes dependent on opioids in order to produce the chemicals that make someone feel good.

Over time, the person abusing the opioid will build up a tolerance and need more of the drug to get the effect they want. This leads to the person becoming physically dependent [2]. If someone’s body is used to having opioids and they stop using, they can experience withdrawal.

Signs of Opiate Withdrawl

For some people, withdrawal can cause serious physical harm and can be fatal [2]. For this reason, it’s important to know the signs of opioid withdrawal:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • High Blood Pressure [2]

The severity of these symptoms and how long they last depend on what type of opiates the person was using and how often the drugs were being used [2]. The withdrawal process can be extremely difficult physically and mentally.

This distress can make someone go back to using the drugs in order to try and make themselves feel better. This is why having medical support during the detox process can help someone safely come off of opiates and also increase their chances of maintaining sobriety afterward [2].

Medically-supervised detox treatment may include support in tapering off of the drug [2]. This means that someone gradually lowers how much of the opiate they are using. This is done until they are completely off of it or they are taking a medication for opioid treatment.

Teen struggling with addiction to an opiateThere are certain medications that doctors may prescribe in order to help people control their cravings for opioids. These medications can keep people away from illegal drugs and reduce the risk of relapse or overdose [2].

Successfully going through detox is a huge accomplishment. However, this isn’t the end of the road. Effective treatment for opioid addiction should include therapy [2]. This is because addictions are not just physical conditions [3].

Some addiction specialists believe that addiction can be traced back to emotional pain of some kind [3]. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, trauma, loneliness, or any other type of distress, addiction may be a way to cope with this pain. Research supports this [2].

People with mental health conditions or personality disorders are more likely to abuse drugs [2]. However, the proper type of therapy can help someone who is struggling with a mental health condition and abusing opiates to stop the drug use.

Therapy can also help people learn ways to cope with upset emotions aside from drug use. Therapy may include individual, group, or family therapy. Individual and family therapy gives people an opportunity to work through their unique individual or relational issues.

Group therapy is a space where people who are struggling or have struggled with similar issues can provide a judgment-free space. This can be a powerful form of support and accountability during the recovery process.

Gaining sobriety from opioids is likely to be uncomfortable and difficult, but it might be life-saving. Taking the steps to get sober may lead to a life that’s better than what you could imagine it to be.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, March 19). Understanding the epidemic. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

[2] Walker, L.K. (2021, February 8). Opiate withdrawal timeline, symptoms, and treatment. American Addiction Centers. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/opiate

[3] Maté, G. (2008). In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Books.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

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 March 8, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 8, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.