The symptoms of detoxing off of any drug are always the exact opposite of the effects that the drug delivers when it is used properly and as prescribed. For example, a drug like alcohol is a sedative that makes people calm and relaxed and will even put them into a coma if enough is taken. Withdrawal off of alcohol is the exact opposite of this: it is characterized by anxiety, tremors, shakes, agitation, rapid pulse rate, sweating, high blood pressure, and insomnia.

Opioids are extremely strong painkillers. They relieve the intense pain of broken bones, surgery, kidney stones, etc. They can relieve almost any physical pain. Opiates also relieve emotional pain, like loneliness, anxiety, and boredom. So, the main symptom of withdrawal off opiates is extreme pain. The intensity of the pain of withdrawal is the equal but the opposite of the pain relief which the opiates provide. Because patients who come to detox are typically using such high doses of opioids, the pain they feel if they tried to go cold-turkey is quite extreme. Most patients cannot stand it. Some patients have described it to me that it is like having your bones scraped. Opiates also give people a strong burst of energy. Therefore, withdrawal from opiates leads to a very profound feeling of fatigue and lack of energy.

The pain of opioid withdrawal is so powerful that most people are unable to do it on their own. Even when they go to detox in a hospital and receive 24-hour attention and comfort meds, about 25% of people leave against medical advice before their detox is completed. This is why I am so proud of our detox method. We are able to comfortably and successfully get 98 percent of our patients though the detox phase and onto the blocking drug naltrexone. Once our detox is completed, people have a real opportunity to begin their journey into long-term recovery.

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