The United States is currently grappling with the worst public health crisis the nation has seen in its long history. A recent U.S. News & World Report article points to how the opioid crisis has become America’s deadly new normal. The opioid crisis has pushed drug abuse and fatal overdoses to record highs in three waves over the last 20 years.
The wave involves a combination of legal and illicit opioids, and it has initiated a scenario where Americans are much more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a car accident, according to a report by the National Safety Council.
From 1999 to 2006, the death rate began to rise steadily because of prescription opioids, and this was the spark that exacerbated an already volatile heroin problem. In 2007, the death toll rose slower as knowledge about prescription-fueled addiction grew, and legal action threatened the pharmaceutical industry.
The final phase of the opioid crisis began in 2014 when the deadly opiate drug fentanyl became increasingly accessible. It was during this span where the death toll began to rise to epidemic levels. In 2017, the age-adjusted opiate death rate reached 14.9 per 100,000 people — up from 2.9 in 1999.
Many people may wonder if they can detox from opioids safely on their own. All addiction specialists and those in the addiction field will advise strongly against this, but if you are adamant about it, we will give some advice on what you can do.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of medications that act on opioid receptors present in the brain and spinal cord. They encompass prescription opioid medications and illegal opioids. Primarily, they work to block pain signals from reaching the brain, and they also reduce feelings of pain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The reason these substances are addictive is due to their second function: their ability to stimulate the brain’s reward area. This action allows opioids to trigger a massive release of dopamine in the brain’s limbic reward system, producing profound euphoria for the user. This sensation is what provokes people to want to repeatedly use opioids.
This is what compels people to become physically and psychologically dependent on opioids rather quickly.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies most prescription opioids as Schedule II controlled substances, meaning they “have a high potential for abuse, which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.”
Heroin carries a Schedule I designation, which means it has no current, acceptable medical use and, therefore, carries a high potential for abuse.
Commonly Abused Opioid Drugs
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), commonly prescribed opioid drugs include:
- Oxycodone (OxyContin)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Fentanyl is also prescribed for pain, but it is widely used for illicit purposes as it is often added to heroin, cocaine, and Xanax pills to boost potency. Commonly abused illicit opioids include:
Have a Plan
While detoxing from opiates is not as dangerous as it is with benzodiazepines or even alcohol, it is still a situation where medical detoxification needs to be considered. You must speak to a doctor or addiction specialist before devising your plan, and the professional needs to approve the process before it takes place.
If you are struggling with drug addiction, specifically opiate addiction, it is likely you are not in the right frame of mind to attempt a detox without supervision. Trying to detox alone can have serious repercussions, so it is in the person’s best interest to mitigate risks at any point possible.
If you decide to be at home, a safe at-home detox must begin with a doctor’s blessing. You must consult with an addiction specialist first who can be your guide through the rigorous process.
A specialist offers a thorough assessment of your status and warns you of potential risks associated with detoxing from opiates at home.
They Will Ask Specific Questions Relating to Your Drug History, Such as:
- How long have you been using drugs?
- How frequent were your doses?
- Are you currently under the influence of any substance?
- Are there any mental health conditions that you have?
- Have you attempted to stop using drugs in the past?
- Do you have support at home?
For the detox to be effective, you need to answer the questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge. By not doing this, you are only hurting your chances of getting sober. The answers will decide your level of care and be the guide toward success.
Opioid Withdrawal Timeline
Opioid withdrawal symptoms manifest not long after the substance leaves the body. There is no one standard timeline for the onset of opioid withdrawal. Several factors can influence how and when someone experiences withdrawal.
According to WebMD, the factors that can influence the duration and severity of withdrawal include:
- Your overall health
- How long you have been using the drug
- How long it has remained in your system
- Whether you are quitting cold turkey or taking other drugs to help you quit opioids
Other factors include:
- Your substance abuse history
- Whether you are abusing opioids with other substances like alcohol, cocaine, or benzodiazepines
There is a general timeline that opioid withdrawal does follow. According to Healthline, the timeframe for opioid withdrawal resembles the following:
First 24 Hours: Generally, within the first 24 hours after your last dose, you will experience the early symptoms of withdrawal, which includes symptoms such as insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, tearing of the eyes, runny nose, excessive sweating, and muscle aches.
Days 2-4: After the first day, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal will become more intense and peak during this period. Symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure will likely manifest.
Days 7-10: After a week or so, the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal will diminish greatly or stop altogether. However, psychological symptoms, like anxiety and depression, can linger.
Beyond: It is not unusual for depression, anxiety, and cravings to persist for several months after opioid use stops.
Unfortunately, our minds tend to acclimate to drug use quickly, but adjusting to where you were before drug use takes much longer. When the substances your body becomes dependent on for normalcy disappear, the brain and body will return to a normal level of functioning. When this process takes place, withdrawal symptoms can develop and be extremely uncomfortable in the case of opiate withdrawal.
Opiate withdrawal, which is commonly linked with symptoms of the flu, can be severe. While it is rare, opiate withdrawal can be deadly, but it is more likely to lead to relapse than death.
In the situation when a user has decreased their tolerance, they may ingest their usual dose, which might cause an overdose.
Medications and therapy that are accessible in detox may make relapse less likely.
Withdrawal Symptoms Include:
- Muscle cramping
- Opiate cravings
At-Home Detox vs. Traditional Treatment
At-home detox may seem like a reasonable solution to your problem. You don’t have to enter treatment and can feel like you’re on the road to recovery, but there are areas you can’t ignore.
A side effect of this process is relapsing. An accredited detox center can be the most effective way of addressing opiate addiction and offers relapse prevention education.
Statistics back up the effectiveness of traditional treatment, and someone whose primary intention is to get sober should consider attending traditional treatment and not risk harming themselves. It is an uncomfortable and tedious process, and if something unexpected does occur, it will be much easier to overcome any obstacle in the presence of specialists than being alone.
A traditional treatment center boasts decades of data to back up its claims about effectiveness. Seventy percent of people who attend around-the-clock care was free of drugs on discharge, whereas 37 percent in outpatient care.
The support the facilities offer can help keep you on the right path toward recovery. While attending the program, you will be removed from the community where your drug use took place. Staying home during this time may sound good in theory, but if you are serious and want to take this process seriously, you must attend around-the-clock care.
At-home detox does not provide the relief of medications or supervision that you would receive at a facility, and as mentioned above, if something bad does happen, you want an expert on your side.