What Is Opioid Detox?

Opioid detox is a set of medical interventions with the intention of safely and successfully clearing the body of Opioids and toxins. The main goal of Opioid detox is to minimize the impact of withdrawal symptoms that can be highly unpleasant and produce intense discomfort.

Detoxification is not a full substance abuse treatment plan, but it is a critical initial step. Therefore, an opioid detox program is not meant to cure long-standing psychological, social, and behavioral problems related to substance abuse. For some people, detox is the first experience with a treatment system and the first step towards recovery.

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Opioids are often legally prescribed and can be highly addicting. Their chronic use leads to dependency and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. All opioids, such as Heroin, Morphine, Vicodin, Oxycodone, and Codeine, produce similar effects that block pain and produce feelings of calmness and euphoria. After continued use of Opioids, the brain becomes incapable of functioning properly without them. Opioids produce very similar withdrawal symptoms, but they vary in severity, time of onset, and duration of symptoms depending on a number of factors including the type of Opioid and frequency of use. There is a typical pattern of symptoms that occur during the withdrawal of Opioids:

6-24 Hours After Drug Use Has Stopped:

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Development of anxiety and depression
  • Nausea and vomiting

36-48 Hours After Drug Use Has Stopped:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Sweating and running nose
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Watery eyes

48-72 Hours After Drug Use Has Stopped:

  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain and tremors

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) does not recommend that practitioners or clinicians attempt to manage Opioid withdrawal symptoms without medication. People who are dependent on Opioids have a limited pain tolerance and management of withdrawals without medications can cause extreme discomfort and unnecessary suffering.

The Process of Opioid Detox

Medical experts believe in three essential components that must be incorporated into a detoxification process in order to be considered complete and adequate. Opioid detox must include evaluation, stabilization, and should foster the patient’s entry into treatment. Once someone has gone through Opioid detox, they are encouraged to continue with substance abuse treatment in order to avoid relapsing.


Evaluation consists of testing for substances of abuse in the blood, measuring concentration, and screening for other mental and physical conditions. During evaluation it is important to assess the patient’s medical and psychological history and social situation in order to determine the appropriate treatment after the patient has withdrawn successfully from Opioids.


Stabilization begins with letting the patient know what to expect during Opioid detox and their role in their recovery. During this time, a medical professional helps the patient through acute intoxication and withdrawal in order to achieve medical stability and become substance-free. Stabilization is often accomplished with the assistance of medications, but in some cases, medication is not used.

Fostering the Patient’s Entry into Treatment

The final component of detoxification focuses on preparing the patient for substance abuse treatment and encouraging them to follow through with a care plan that is created alongside a team of licensed treatment professionals.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medicated-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapy, to provide a holistic approach to Opioid detox and substance abuse treatment. The key to staying Opioid free typically involves long-term medication along with counseling or group therapy. There are three FDA-approved medications commonly used to treat Opioid addiction:


Methadone is the most commonly used medication used for Opioid detox and can be used to treat addiction to Heroin and all other Opioid antagonists. The use of this drug is highly regulated and can only be prescribed in specially certified clinics or hospitals. Methadone reduces Opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms while blocking the effects of  other Opioids. The length of time for this treatment varies, and patients must work alongside a physician in order to gradually reduce Methadone dosage and avoid withdrawals. 


In 2002, Buprenorphine became the first medication approved to treat Opioid dependency that is allowed to be prescribed and dispensed in physicians’ offices. This medication was created as an alternative to Methadone maintenance and has made Opioid detox more easily accessible. Buprenorphine helps lower the potential for misuse, diminishes the effects of physical dependency, and increases safety in cases of overdose. 


Naltrexone is another FDA-approved medication that is used along with other therapies for Opioid detox. This drug works differently than Buprenorphine and Methadone and blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of drugs such as Heroin, Morphine, and Codeine. Naltrexone is reported to reduce Opioid cravings and if a person relapses, it prevents the euphoric effects of other drugs. In order to be prescribed this medication, a person must have completed Opioid detox.

What Are My Options for Opioid Detox?

Inpatient Opioid Detox

Inpatient detox treatment facilities provide around-the-clock medical supervision, daily monitoring, and proper medication for pain and withdrawal symptoms. This type of setting is considered the safest and has shown to be most successful, in both the short and long-term.

Outpatient Opioid Detox

In an outpatient program, the patient commutes to a facility for treatment and returns home afterwards. Outpatient programs for Opioid detox are best suited for less severe addictions or for those who have responsibilities they cannot leave behind for extended periods.

Rapid Opioid Detox

Rapid detox is another option for Opioid detox but one that has not shown positive long-term results. Rapid Opioid detox can result in pulmonary edema or cardiac arrhythmias. This method was more common in the past but is still considered unproven and controversial.

Find Opioid Detox

If you or someone you love has an addiction to Opioids, help is nearby. Opioid detox is difficult, but sobriety can be achieved with the correct combination of therapies. Contact a provider today that can help you find a detox program.

Author: Ginni Correa – Last Edited: June 28, 2021

Clinically Reviewed by: David Hampton – Last Reviewed: January 15, 2020

Our Clinical Reviewers are certified addiction professionals who verify the information on Opioid Help to make sure we provide the most accurate, correct, and updated information to our readers.

Read more about David Hampton


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol Series, No.45.

WebMD. (2018). Treating Opioid Use Disorder With Medications. Retrieved on December 9, 2019 https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/breaking-an-addiction-to-painkillers-treatment-overvew#1