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Understanding the Opiate Detox Process

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When a person has been addicted to opiates, whether they are recreational drugs like heroin or prescription opioids, it can be a very difficult process to stop. Many people will choose to continue doing the drug rather than face the difficulties of withdrawal and cravings.

Detox is the first step in dealing with an addiction to opiates. Here are some of the most significant aspects of opiate detox explained.

How Opiates Affect the Brain

As you take opiates, they change the brain's functions by binding to the opioid receptors "related to pain, movement and emotion" (CESAR). The drug causes a feeling of euphoria and acts as a central nervous system depressant. This is why people have so much difficulty in detoxification. The brain is now trained to receive these feelings of euphoria and pain relief, and they are highly addictive. Detox ends this exchange, to which the brain has become accustomed, and cravings set in.

Opiate Abuse Cravings

Cravings for opiates can become very intense. People who abuse opiates regularly will find themselves wanting to take the drug all the time. When you begin the process of detoxification, your body will crave the drug strongly. This can be curbed by slowly decreasing the amount of opiates taken in by the body.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

It is normal to experience withdrawal symptoms during detoxification. Many people feel flu-like symptoms (such as nausea, chills, and vomiting), but opiate withdrawal has other symptoms as well. Pain in the muscles is a common withdrawal symptom, as opiates are pain relievers. There are also behavioral aspects to opiate withdrawal; people begin to feel anxious or irritable which can be difficult for the patient and loved ones. Often in opiate detox clinics, these symptoms are controlled with medications.

Detox is not the final step. Many patients believe that once they have finished with the detoxification process, they are "cured" of their addiction. This is not so. As stated by the NIDA, "addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease."

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A person who wants to stop abusing drugs should attend regular therapy sessions following detox in order to truly work on his or her addiction. Many detox clinics will have information on how to seek this next stage in treatment.

According to Harvard Medical School, "opiates are outranked only by alcohol as humanity's oldest, most widespread, and most persistent drug problem." Detoxification from opiates is a slow process, sometimes lasting as long as a week or more depending on the severity of the addiction. It should be done under the care of medical professionals, usually in a hospital or detox clinic. If you understand the process itself, and go into it ready to take the necessary steps to fight back against your addiction, it can be the first successful part of your recovery.

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