Detox | 4 min read

Rapid Detox: Risks, Considerations, and Things to Know

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On August 30, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On July 31, 2020

Evils of Rapid Detox
Reading Time: 4 minutes

First used in the 1980s to help people overcome opioid dependency, rapid drug detox is now advertised as a quick and painless miracle cure for opioid addiction. Unfortunately, these claims disregard the severe damage opioid addiction leaves behind in its wake. The evils of rapid detox lie in its inability to support recovering addicts in the areas where support is most needed. Physical, emotional, and psychological health risks abound when rapid detox is used as a “one-stop treatment cure” for opioid addiction.

What Is Rapid Detox?

Rapid drug detox is designed to condense a one to two-week withdrawal process into a painless, four- to six-hour period. The procedure entails using anesthesia to place the body in a sedated state. During this time, doctors administer medications that flush opioids out of your body. By the time you wake up, your body has already gone through the withdrawal process, and you’re released from the hospital within 48 hours, barring complications. As with all things in life, it probably is if it sounds too good to be true.

Rapid Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms

People caught up in the throes of opioid abuse experience withdrawal effects whenever the body needs a “fix.” As your body develops a physical dependence on the drug’s effects, it can no longer function normally without adequate amounts of the drug in your system. These conditions cause withdrawal effects to develop. Anyone struggling with opioid abuse is well aware of how uncomfortable and even excruciating withdrawal can be. Not surprisingly, fear of withdrawal is a primary reason that keeps many people from undergoing detox.

Opioids, like heroin and prescription painkillers, are some of the most addictive drugs you can take. Opioids integrate seamlessly within the body’s central nervous system (CNS), where your brain can’t tell the difference between the drug and the brain’s endorphin chemicals. Once addiction takes hold, significant alterations have been made in the brain and the body’s systems. Most notably, opioids force the release of massive amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates key bodily functions, including:

  • Movement
  • Emotions
  • Memory and learning
  • Pleasure and reward processes

For these reasons, you may still experience withdrawal after going to a rapid detox clinic. Once opioid abuse stops, the brain and CNS have lost the ability to secrete the level of dopamine your body needs to function normally. This means you can experience withdrawal symptoms in one or more areas dopamine regulates. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Severe depression
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feelings of despair

Dangerous Effects of Rapid Detox

Going through a rapid drug detox procedure is comparable to going “cold turkey,” which places an incredible strain on the body’s systems. In effect, your visit to a rapid detox center can cause potentially dangerous and even life-threatening side effects, a few of which include:[1,2]

  • Psychosis
  • Respiratory failure
  • Heart irregularities
  • Feeling suicidal
  • Liver failure
  • Delirium
  • Death

Risk of Relapse after Rapid Detox

Drug addiction, in any form, becomes a vicious cycle of drug abuse and physical decline, which is why it qualifies as a disease. In turn, relapse rates for addiction run as high as 40 to 60 percent, the same rates for other forms of chronic disease, like hypertension and diabetes.[3] In addition, the painful side effects of rapid drug detox or “cold turkey” alcohol withdrawal increase the risk of relapse.

While a rapid drug detox procedure does a good job of flushing opioids out of the body, it also leaves your brain in a dopamine-depleted state, as mentioned beforehand. Dopamine plays a critical role in keeping your mind and emotions stable. Many people turn to opioid abuse to cope with daily stress and emotional duress, so the risk of relapse runs incredibly high when dopamine levels plummet.

The Overdose Risk Following Relapse

Once you leave a rapid detox center and return to your normal life, your brain and body begin restoring normal functions without the drug’s effects. While abusing opioids, your body gradually tolerates the drug to the point where it requires large doses to produce the desired “high” effect. When drug use stops, the body’s tolerance for opioids decreases considerably. People who relapse after detox often attempt to pick up where they left off, ingesting the same amount of opioids they took before in terms of the amount of opioids they take. Since the body can no longer process large amounts of the drug, the risk of overdosing looms larger than before.

Medical Detox: The Safer Option

While medical detox doesn’t deliver the overnight results afforded through a rapid detox clinic, it’s just as effective at relieving withdrawal discomfort, if not more effective. Medical detox provides round-the-clock care that typically takes five to seven days. Treatment teams monitor your vital signs along the way and administer medications to treat withdrawal symptoms. With opioid addictions, specialty medications, such as Suboxone and methadone, can be used to gradually wean your body off the effects of opioids and, in the process, eliminate withdrawal discomfort.

Medical Detox Treats the Mental and Physical Effects of Addiction

The procedures used by rapid detox centers only address the body’s physical dependence on opioids. Unfortunately, physical dependence is only the tip of the iceberg when a full-blown addiction has taken root. Addiction warps the areas of the brain that affect your judgment and decision-making and the areas that form your priorities and motivations. These effects remain unchanged, even after opioids have been flushed from the body. In other words, you’ll still think and behave like an addict after a rapid drug detox procedure.

Medical detox centers treat both the physical and psychological effects of addiction. Psychological treatment entails helping you see how addiction has skewed your thinking and provides you with the tools you need to build a drug-free lifestyle. Without this line of treatment, there’s a very real and definite risk of relapse.

Seek Treatment If You Need Help

No one wants to go through any more pain and discomfort than necessary, so it’s understandable why rapid detox has become all the rage. However, it helps to remember that medical shortcuts seldom produce effective results. A rapid drug detox shortcut can cause more harm than good and even be fatal so consider all your options carefully.

If you or a loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, we can help you take the next step. At Ascendant’s drug and alcohol treatment center in New York, we help individuals safely and effectively break their addictive patterns and begin their recovery journey. Contact our New York rehabilitation center anytime to discuss your options with one of our caring, knowledgeable staff.

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Amanda Stevens


Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. Read more

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  1. Collins ED, Kleber HD, Whittington RA, Heitler NE. Anesthesia-Assisted vs Buprenorphine- or Clonidine-Assisted Heroin Detoxification and Naltrexone InductionA Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2005;294(8):903-913. doi:10.1001/jama.294.8.903
  2. CDC. Deaths and Severe Adverse Events Associated with Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Opioid Detoxification — New York City, 2012. Published September 27, 2013. Accessed August 30, 2022.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Treatment and Recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published July 2020. Accessed August 30, 2022.