What You Need to Know About Medical Detox from Opiates

Learn more about the process of medical detox from opiates and where to find the treatment you need.

What Are Opiates?

It is not uncommon for the words opioid and opiate to be used interchangeably. Although these drugs share many similarities, their differences are important to note.

An opiate is a drug derived from the seeds of the poppy. This means opiate drugs are organic chemicals that occur in nature. On the other hand, opioids are synthetic. This means opioid drugs are chemically produced. Unlike opiates, the compounds used to make opioid medications are not found in nature. Another important and slightly confusing fact to remember is that all opiates are opioids, but not all opioid drugs are classified as opiates.1

Common Opiate Drugs

Opioid drugs are separated into three categories; synthetic opioids, semi-synthetic opioids, and opiates.2

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are entirely man-made substances. Common synthetic drugs include:
  • Demerol
  • Tramadol
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opioids are partially manufactured and partially derived from natural chemicals. Examples of this category of drugs include:
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Heroin
  • Hydromorphone


Opiates are derived from chemicals found in nature. Examples include:
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Opium

Why are Opiates Dangerous?

Medical detox from opiates is a crucial first step toward safely achieving sobriety. But why are opiates so addictive and dangerous? And why is medical detox from opiates necessary?

Blocks Pain Signals

When used as directed by your medical provider, opiates are a practical part of pain management plans. Many providers prescribe opiates for short-term use after surgical procedures or similar medical needs.

Opiate and opioid drugs interact with specific areas of the brain responsible for sending and receiving pain signals throughout the body. When you use an opiate, the brain cannot send or receive pain signals in the same way. Instead, it enhances feelings of relaxation and pleasure.

Highly Addictive

Opiates are highly effective pain medications. This is part of what makes them so dangerous. Opiates cause feelings of euphoria and relaxation. At their prescribed doses, opiates have a sedating, pain-relieving effect. But tolerance to their effects is often quick to develop. The desire to continue feeling “good feelings” may lead some to take larger and more frequent doses than recommended. As tolerance builds, larger doses are needed to achieve the same effects.

In high doses, opiate use can have deadly outcomes. Due to how they work in the body, opiates slow your heart rate and breathing. When you take too high a dose, your heart and respiratory rates can become dangerously slow or stop, leading to cardiac or respiratory arrest.3

Opiate Withdrawal

Most drug overdose fatalities are related to opiate and opioid use. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the fatality rate from opiate abuse rose by 38% for opiates and 56% for synthetic opioids between 2019 and 2020.4

Medical detox from opiates provides a safe way to overcome dependence on these highly addicting substances. Even when used as directed, developing a physical addiction to their effects is possible. Without medical detox from opiates, you will likely experience difficult withdrawal symptoms when trying to reduce or stop using them.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

The time it takes to develop an addiction to opiates varies from person to person. Knowing what the symptoms of opiate withdrawal look like can help you or a loved one get into a medical detox for opiates program to help manage your symptoms. Opiate withdrawal usually begins within twelve hours of your last dose.

Examples of common opiates withdrawal symptoms might include:5

  • Sweating, fever, and goosebumps
  • Body aches
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Difficulties with sleep and insomnia
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Stomach cramping
  • Dilated pupils
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat and rapid breathing
  • Seizures

Dangers of Opiate Withdrawal

Although many symptoms of opiate withdrawal are not life-threatening, it is crucial to remember that detoxing alone can be unsafe. Medical detox from opiates at a treatment program like Essence Healthcare ensures you have the medical support needed should complications arise due to various withdrawal symptoms.

During opiate withdrawal, a condition called opiate withdrawal syndrome may develop. The symptoms, often “flu-like,” can lead to persistent vomiting and diarrhea. Should this occur, dehydration, high blood sodium levels, and heart failure are possible. These potential complications of opiate withdrawal are reduced by starting your sobriety journey in a medical detox from opiates.5

What Does Medical Detox from Opiates Entail?

Medical detox from opiates helps you slowly taper opiate use. Each person who begins a medical detox from opiates will have a different experience. The timeline for detox varies from person to person, but generally, most symptoms resolve within a week.

Factors such as the severity of use, duration of use, and the type of opiate play a role in determining detox symptoms and length. A medical detox from opiates like that at Essence Healthcare provides a safe, comfortable environment where medical providers can help you manage your symptoms.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Depending on your specific needs, medical detox programs typically use specific medications to help reduce the intensity of your opiate withdrawal symptoms. These medications include buprenorphine, Suboxone, and Methadone.

Buprenorphine can help you taper off opiates while helping control cravings. Methadone and Suboxone are often used for long-term maintenance to help maintain abstinence and reduce the risk of relapse after treatment ends.6

Medical Detox from Opiates and Aftercare with Essence Healthcare

Although a medical detox from opiates is a crucial first step toward overcoming opiate addiction, detox is not a substitute for treatment and post-treatment aftercare. Residential and outpatient addiction therapy programs help you understand more about the roots of addiction.

Therapy also enables you to learn and practice crucial coping and relapse prevention tools you can use to maintain sobriety. Essence Healthcare uses evidence-based therapy models and alternative treatment options to provide a holistic therapy approach for all our patients.

Tailored, Lasting Support

In addition to our residential or outpatient addiction treatment programs, our Essence Healthcare team will work with you to ensure a plan is in place after treatment ends. Aftercare arrangements usually include ongoing addiction counseling and peer support groups (such as Narcotics Anonymous). After treatment, participating in therapy and peer groups is a proven relapse prevention tool.

Reach Out Today and Begin Healing

If you are ready to take your first steps towards tomorrow free from the challenges of addiction, contact a member of our admissions team today to learn more about medical detox from opiates at Essence Healthcare.

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.