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Understanding Rapid Detox

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 2.1 million Americans were addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, and another 467,000 were dependent on heroin. The opioid addiction is highly difficult to treat because of its severe withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pains among others.  

For many people suffering from an opioid addiction, the idea of going through detox and experiencing all the extreme withdrawal symptoms can be a big roadblock. Thus, it should come as no surprise that many addicts are looking for a less cruel and more productive detox alternative that has some therapeutic value. One detox alternative is the rapid detoxification that is a quick and relatively painless method, practiced in some clinics in the United States. Although still controversial, it has its benefits and its dangers and it one day might became the future of addition treatment.

What is rapid and ultra-rapid opioid detoxification?

Rapid opioid detoxification is a process that was established at the beginning of the 1990’s in order to reduce the length of hospitalization during detox. Unlike traditional detox that takes days or weeks to complete, the rapid detox only takes between 12 and 24 hours. This type of detox includes sedating patients with an oral opioid antagonist, such as naltrexone to trigger withdrawal, along with a intravenous oral sedation. In addition to the oral opioid antagonists and oral sedation, the patient might also receive muscle relaxants or other medications that will soothe any withdrawal symptoms. The term “rapid detox” is often used interchangeably with “the Waismann method” as he was one of the two physicians who introduced the technique.

The rapid detox takes place in an intensive care unit of a hospital where board-certified anesthesiologists with extensive experience closely monitor the patients. Once the patient wakes up from the procedure, he/she won’t be experiencing the discomforts of withdrawal. Patients are usually discharged within 48 hours following recovery from anesthesia and an assessment of their physical well-being.

Ultra-rapid detoxification is similar to rapid detox but uses general anesthesia to complete the procedure within hours. During this type of detox, the patient is sedated and given medications that stimulate instant withdrawal. The patient does not feel any of the pain of withdrawal and they have no memory of the process once they wake up.

Although rapid detox is more secure and less risky than ultra-rapid detox, both methods call for further research into their safety and efficacy.  

What are the benefits of rapid detoxification?

There are several advantages of rapid detox that would motivate a person to go through the process. The rapid detox is faster than a traditional detox program and the patient avoids the pain and discomforts he/she would otherwise expect. The patient is put under sedation and wakes up no longer physically dependent just 24 hours later. This is appealing to many people since battling with the withdrawal symptoms is one of the hardest things they have to do.

Moreover, the detox takes places in a hospital where experts manage the intense symptoms of an induced opiate withdrawal. The process is private and confidential and the medical professionals are all highly trained and experienced. The rapid detox is extremely fast and there are no or very little withdrawal symptoms. Many centers also state to have high success rates if treatment programs are utilized along with the detox.

What are the risks?

Rapid detox, as painless as it is, comes with major warranted concerns. The medical community is worried about the safety of this type of treatment option. Although it offers a quick withdrawal and minimizes the risks of relapse, rapid detox is not supported by clinical evidence.

Many experts believe that putting someone under general anesthesia is a serious procedure. Moreover, they also think that experiencing the withdrawal symptoms actually makes a person less likely to relapse in the future. The truth is that the pain that the patient experiences might be crucial for staying sober.

Although the patient is sedated during the process and cannot feel anything, this doesn’t mean that the procedure doesn’t take a significant toll on their body. Many patients report not feeling well after waking up. They often stay in bed for one to three days before they’re able to leave the hospital, and for some people, recovery time is much longer. In the most severe cases, patients have died during anesthesia-assisted rapid detoxification procedures.

NIDA states that rapid detox doesn’t lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Studies have shown that patients who underwent the rapid detox experienced withdrawal symptoms that were as severe as those who underwent buprenorphine-assisted or clonidine-assisted opiate detox. Patients treated with rapid detox showed no better resistance against relapse, a higher rate of adverse events, and reported a greater discomfort following detox than individuals who received traditional treatment.

Treating the person as a whole

Forcing the body to go through the tiring process of detoxification at an accelerated speed can be physically and emotionally draining. Overcoming an addiction is a lifelong process and any detox, rapid or traditional, is not a replacement for a full rehabilitation program.

Addiction is a mental illness. In order to overcome the addiction, addicts have to learn how to avoid triggers and unlearn some behaviors. They need to learn how to identify the root causes of their drug use, repair their relationships, and learn healthier coping skills. With the help of a rehabilitation program, many mental health conditions will be diagnosed and the person as a whole will be effectively treated.

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