What is Rapid Detox, and Does it Really Work?

There are some controversies surrounding this relatively new technique, and critics argue that the risks of the procedure and the lack of any training or therapy towards future drug avoidance make the program both dangerous and unlikely to offer any long term benefit.

Rapid detox, or instant detox, sounds like a miracle cure. I mean what addict wouldn’t welcome the avoidance of a few days in hell? The withdrawal period in an opiate cessation program is agony, and the fear of this withdrawal is enough to keep too many addicts using for years. And if as rapid detox promises, addicts can beat the majority of their withdrawal pains in just a few hours under anesthesia, isn’t it the best and most humane way to go?

Maybe…maybe not.

The issue, like most issues surrounding addiction, is not very clear, and an early practitioner of the procedure has even faced criminal charges for medical negligence over the deaths of 7 patients who underwent the procedure while under his care. How does rapid detox work? A patient undergoing rapid detoxification is put under anesthesia, and the opiate antagonist nalexone is administered. This drug completely blocks the opiate receptors, and leads to both accelerated withdrawal, and unimaginable agony if conscious. But since participants are kept under full sedation, the procedure remains completely pain free, and addicts wake a few hours later with no memory of any withdrawal pains experienced, and finished with the worst of the withdrawal symptoms.

What do the critics say?

Critics of the procedure argue that the cocktail of drugs injected to speed the withdrawal process is simply too damaging on the body’s of already health compromised addicts, and a number of eminent scientists have called the procedure unsafe. Proponents argue that although the procedure does carry risks, the risks of a life of opiate addiction are far greater, and since too many addicts remain using for years to avoid the pain of withdrawal, the rapid detox procedure saves a lot more lives than it ends.

Additional criticism of the procedure occurs when rapid detox centers release their abstinence statistics. The procedure, which costs upwards of $15 000, is reported to "cure" the majority of people that undergo it, and these statistics are garnered from follow up phone calls with participants of the program. Addictions professionals skeptical of the numbers point out that there has been no independent confirmation of the numbers as released, and that the abstinence statistics as given are only for opiates, and there is no way to known whether these addicts have not simply moved on to alcohol abuse, or abuse of another drug.

Addictions professionals, aware that essentially no therapy or training is offered in conjunction with the procedure, say that the basal causes of the initial abuse remain even after the physical addiction to opiates has been cured; and that even though the addict may not experience physical cravings for opiate type drugs, there remain the unresolved issues that led to the abuse in the first place, and if left un treated are very likely to contribute to further abuse down the road.

With their relatively high price tags, the rapid detox centers have been very popular with people who can both afford to pay for the accelerated treatment, and are also very attracted to a program that does not disrupt their lives, and allows for the complete detoxification over a weekend, and a return to work on Monday. The controversy surrounding the risks and benefits of the treatment continue, and while the procedure is certainly not "quackery" many suggest that the practitioners of the rapid detoxification procedure are guilty of making false promises, and that the risks of the procedure itself, and the risks of returning to the environment with no therapy or training towards drug avoidance, make the likelihood of long term success relatively low.

I now know what led me to abuse drugs and alcohol, and I also now know enough to recognize the situations that make relapse likely, and have the concrete skills needed to deal with the cravings and pulls to abuse when they arise. I am skeptical that withdrawal avoidance therapy alone would have been enough to change my behaviors and thinking over the long term, and have offered me enough to remain drug free to this day.

There are a lot of reasons why I don’t go back to use, but one of those surely is the memory of the agony of withdrawal, and if I had passed painlessly through detox, I wouldn’t now have that incentive to sobriety. Recovery takes time, and in my opinion, the therapy, counseling, peer sessions, and education are all an integral part of the process; and are all very likely needed for long term success.

3 thoughts on “What is Rapid Detox, and Does it Really Work?

  1. This blog is probably not still accepting comments – I’m not sure how that works – but in case I thought I’d add my opinion as someone that has undergone rapid detox successfully. In my opinion part of the reason I had a positive experience is that the doctor administering my detox insisted that I attend treatment after the detox and then after that I attended 12 step meetings. There really is no such thing as a quick fix for addiction. It is a disease that encompasses the entire family and one’s entire life. 48 hours by itself is not likely to change that all by itself…in my opinion.

  2. OOOH, Don’t get me going.

    I am an addictions therapist and work with addicts in actual treatment. I take great issue that proponents of rapid detox are promoting it as treatment. It is not treatment. I have seen claims made by people running these centers range from the unethical and unsubstantiated to outright falsehoods. Let’s see the controlled studies and the validated empirical evidence please.

    Bill Urell

  3. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your professional input, and I share your sentiments of skepticism over many of the released statistics. This is big business, and I don’t think that any of these rapid detox treatment centers have any real interest in compilling accurate recidivism rates.

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