How Medically Assisted Detox Helps People Cope with Opiate Withdrawal
Over the past decade, opiate abuse practices have become commonplace on a global scale. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 12 to 21 million people struggled with heroin and prescription pain pill addictions in 2010. While many of these people may have tried to break the addiction on their own, the effects of opiate withdrawal can easily overwhelm a person’s efforts.
Medically assisted detox treatment provides the type of physical support needed to help recovering addicts overcome distressing withdrawal symptoms. As opiates exert very specific effects throughout the brain and body, medically assisted detox treatment approaches can vary in terms how they counteract opiate drug effects.
For people struggling with long-time opiate addictions, medically assisted detox offers a proven treatment approach for helping a person break an opiate addiction.
Opiate Drug Effects
Long-term opiate drug use warps brain chemical processes and functions and essentially diminishes a person’s functional capacity, will and motivation. As the brain becomes more tolerant of opiate effects, brain cell regions undergo considerable damage in the process.
Once a person stops using, drug cravings and withdrawal effects make it all but impossible for him or her to maintain abstinence for any length of time. Without some form of medication therapy support, recovering addicts are left to fight an ongoing battle for months, and sometimes years into the recovery process.
The Role of Medically Assisted Detox
While standard treatment approaches can help a recovering opiate addict maintain abstinence for a while, the potential dangers associated with relapse place a person at serious risk of overdose should relapse occur. Opiate related overdose incidents have more than quadrupled since 1999, which speaks to the rising rates of opiate addiction in the U. S. as well as the high potential for relapse.
More than anything else, medically assisted detox reduces the risk of relapse by eliminating the two factors that drive continued drug use: drug cravings and withdrawal effects. By eliminating the biggest challenges to ongoing abstinence, recovering addicts can move forward in the recovery process.
Medication Treatment Approaches
In general, three types of medication treatment approaches can be used in medically assisted detox:
- Agonist medications
- Antagonist medications
- Partial agonist medications
Agonist medications produce the same effects as addictive opiate drugs without producing a “high” effect. Antagonist medications block the effects of other opiate drugs, which essentially blunts the effects of addictive opiate drugs.
Partial-agonists combine the effects of both agonists and antagonist drugs thereby reducing withdrawal and drug cravings while blunting the effects of other opiate drugs. The blunting effect is designed to prevent a person from getting high should a relapse episode occur.
Types of Medications
The three most commonly used medications used in medically assisted detox include:
Methadone works as an agonist medication, which greatly reduces the degree of withdrawal and drug cravings a person experiences. Buprenorphine works as a partial agonist, which works well for recovering addicts who are at high risk for relapse. Naltrexone works as an antagonist drug, which also works well for people at high risk of relapse.
A person’s individual circumstances and addiction level most often determines which type of treatment will best meet their recovery needs.