Rapid Drug Detox: Overview And Risks

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Rapid drug detox is an alternative to traditional detoxification methods. Although it is touted by some as a quick, painless alternative to a standard detox procedure, experts warn rapid detox doesn’t reduce the severity of withdrawal, and it can be unsafe.

Is Rapid Drug Detox Safe?

Rapid drug detox, also known as anesthesia-assisted detox, is an alternative to traditional detoxification methods that can rapidly cleanse drugs from the body.

This detox method has largely been studied within the context of opioid detoxification, which is known to be very uncomfortable, if not life-threatening for those undergoing withdrawal.

Unfortunately, while a painless, rapid detox may sound preferable, some studies have found that this method can be dangerous and may pose serious risks to a person’s health.

What Is Rapid Drug Detox?

Rapid drug detoxification is a detox method for opiates developed over 20 years ago as a quicker, allegedly less painful alternative to traditional opiate detoxification.

Through heavy sedation, and the use of medication, rapid detox is intended to both accelerate the detox process and reduce the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms.

How Long Does Rapid Detox Last?

Rapid detox is initiated in an inpatient setting, such as a detox clinic, and can last for anywhere from four to six hours, up to three days.

What factors can affect this timeline:

  • which drug(s) you’re dependent on
  • duration of drug dependence
  • duration of drug use
  • polysubstance use (i.e. use of multiple drugs)
  • rapid detox method used
  • other personal factors, such as mental health disorders

How Does Rapid Detoxification Work?

Rapid opioid detoxification can occur through several methods. The most common is precipitating withdrawal with an opioid antagonist and sedating the person.

What this looks like step-by-step:

  • precipitating withdrawal by administering an opiate blocker (e.g. naltrexone or naloxone)
  • inducing heavy sedation with general anesthesia
  • maintaining the anesthesia until withdrawal symptoms have dissipated
  • awakening the person

Within some programs, rapid detox will also involve overnight monitoring to ensure a safe and secure recovery from the opioid detox treatment and withdrawal process.

However, there are also programs that advertise a four- to six-hour detox process, whereby you can quickly detox, then leave the detox center and return to your normal activities.

What Is The Difference Between A Rapid Drug Detox And A Regular Detox?

Rapid opiate detox occurs on a shorter timeline than traditional opioid detox, which can last up to a week, or longer if detoxing from long-acting opioids like methadone.

Rapid detox providers also say that anesthesia-assisted detox can reduce the discomfort of withdrawal that is associated with a standard detox procedure.

The actual evidence to support this claim, however, is mixed. There is also evidence that rapid detox can, in fact, pose certain health risks that traditional detox does not.

What Are The Side Effects Of Rapid Drug Detox?

The side effects of rapid opioid detox can vary depending on the method that is used by the treatment provider, as well as other personal factors related to substance use.

While some rapid detox programs claim that rapid detox is painless, or at the very least less severe than traditional detox, research shows this isn’t always the case.

Depending on how heavily you are sedated, you may still experience withdrawal symptoms that you would similarly experience through traditional detox methods.

For instance, common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle and bone pain
  • strong opioid cravings
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • stomach pain
  • anxiety

Is Rapid Opiate Detoxification Safe?

A 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified numerous occasions in which people suffered severe side effects from rapid detox.

Risks, side effects, and dangers of rapid detox include:

  • vomiting
  • panic attacks
  • thoughts of suicide
  • cardiac arrest
  • pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • aspiration pneumonia
  • electrolyte abnormalities
  • high relapse rate
  • death

These side effects have been documented several times in clinical literature. Having a psychiatric illness or co-occurring health condition may increase the risk of adverse effects.

What Is The Safest Way To Detox?

The safest and most effective way to detox from drugs or alcohol is to find an inpatient or outpatient detox program that can offer medical support and supervision.

A traditional medical detox program can offer:

  • clinical supervision
  • behavioral support
  • medication for withdrawal symptoms (e.g. clonidine)
  • medication for cravings (e.g. buprenorphine, methadone)
  • IV fluids and nutritional support
  • follow-up coordination

While traditional detox programs may last longer than rapid detox, they are also safer and may be able to coordinate additional care within an addiction treatment program.

Rapid detox programs and at-home detox are generally not recommended by treatment professionals.

Find Drug Detox And Addiction Treatment Today

Call our helpline today to learn more about medically supervised detox or to find a high-quality detox program for drug addiction at a treatment center near you.


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