When someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs, they will often need to go through a detoxification (detox) process, as an important first step in their recovery from addiction.
Detox is based on the principle that someone who is physically unwell will struggle to tackle any underlying mental health problems. Therefore, the purpose of detox is to tackle the physical side of addiction as a first step, so that patients are prepared to address the psychological features of their addiction, as part of an intensive addiction rehab program.
What is Detox?
Detox is the process by which all traces of alcohol and drugs are removed from the body, ensuring that a person is physically stable and ready to start therapy to overcome their addiction. It is not always a part of substance abuse treatment but is often expected when entering rehab.
Alcohol or drug addiction results in people’s bodies become used to having these substances in their system. When these substances are gradually reduced and removed during detox, the brain will have to adjust to the sudden drop in these chemicals. This typically causes people to experience a set of unpleasant symptoms known as ‘withdrawal symptoms.
The detox process aims to minimize the negative impact of withdrawal symptoms and make the experience as safe and as comfortable as possible. The most effective form of detox is one that is medically assisted and supported by trained specialists. This usually happens within a specialist detox center or treatment facility, under the care of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
Attempting to detox on your own is rarely successful and likely to bring unnecessary withdrawal symptoms. People who want to achieve sobriety on their own often become de-motivated by many failed attempts.
What Happens During a Medically Assisted Drug or Alcohol Detox?
The first step in a medically assisted detox is for patients to have a thorough medical assessment in order to build an accurate picture of their individual needs. During this assessment, an expert will gather information on a patient’s medical history and details about their addiction, and use this to develop a personalized detox plan.
When the amount of alcohol/drugs in a patient’s system is gradually reduced, they will typically begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Drug withdrawal symptoms and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be quite similar, so many people going through detox may experience similar symptoms.
However, the type of withdrawal symptoms that are experienced, as well as how severe these are, depends on how long a person has been addicted to alcohol or drugs, the type of substance that they are addicted to, how much they have been consuming, and their general mental and physical health.
It is important to understand that each person experiences detox in a unique way, and each new detox is entirely different, regardless of whether someone has gone through detox previously.
In order to help patients to cope with withdrawal, they will be given appropriately controlled medication as part of the detox process. There is no medication that prevents all withdrawal symptoms, but some types of medication can help to ease anxiety and depression, enable sufficient sleep, and counteract as many other problems as possible.
Research has shown that supportive and compassionate care is just as important as medication in enabling successful detox and the best possible outcomes for patients.
Side Effects Of Detox
The process of drug detox can be painful and dangerous. This is why medical detox is so important. Detox with medical supervision allows patients to detox in a safe and comfortable environment. The extent of supervision is different in inpatient and outpatient rehab.
A medically supervised detox prevents dangerous complications of drug and alcohol withdrawal.
Although medical detox limits the symptoms of withdrawal, some are unavoidable. Some of the most common side effects may include:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Body discomfort
- Mood swings
- Poor sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
Drug Detox During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman has a strong motive to quit drugs. Drinking alcohol or using drugs while pregnant can harm not only the mother but also the fetus, as these substances cross the placenta. Detox, especially if done cold turkey, can cause stress on the fetus such as preterm labor or severe fetal distress.
Detox with medical supervision is an absolute must for pregnant women, as withdrawal symptoms may be especially harmful to the fetus. The goal of detox for pregnant women is to prevent relapse and manage pain.
Detox specialists can keep fetuses safe and healthy by treating pregnant women in detox.
Doctors often prescribe medications to stabilize pregnant women in detox. Alcohol and opiate detox usually pose the most risks to the fetus.
Detox By Drug Type
Detox is more difficult for some people depending on the drugs they used. Depending on the drug, withdrawal symptoms may be more physical or more mental.
Cocaine withdrawal, for instance, is psychological. Detox involves managing initial cravings and anxiety. But alcohol withdrawal includes physical symptoms that can cause seizures or death in some cases.
Detox often includes medications that mimic the effects of drugs to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Medications may also target co-occurring disorders or general discomfort.
Drugs that are most dangerous to detox from, and often require medication, include alcohol and Benzodiazepines. The drugs that are considered the most uncomfortable to detox from are Opioids, especially Heroin.
How Long Does Detox Take?
As aforementioned, the length of detox can vary based on several factors. Generally speaking, withdrawal symptoms from alcohol may level off inside of a week (if users are attempting to quit drinking alone, especially after heavy use, they may face serious health risks and even death during that week.) Other drugs, like Benzodiazepines, may require a longer detox timetable; it could be up to 2 weeks or longer.
In just about every case, however, the time that it takes to get the harmful substances out of the body is generally less important than making long-term changes to ensure that the user won’t relapse — and that recurring triggers can be managed effectively.
Both inpatient and outpatient rehab can help those struggling with problematic use of drugs or alcohol not only get through detox as quickly and comfortably as possible but also gain new coping strategies that will enable them to weather any unpleasant mental or physical symptoms of withdrawal that may occur down the line.
In the worst-case scenario, a user attempts to detox on their own and either succumbs to their health complications or ends up relapsing shortly afterward; this causes the whole cycle to begin again. One of the best ways to break that cycle for good is through treatment.
Can I Detox At Home?
Choosing to detox at home can be dangerous and potentially deadly. Quitting “cold turkey” or without medical supervision can lead to serious issues such as seizures and severe dehydration.
There are inpatient and outpatient detox programs that help prevent dangerous complications. People with severe addictions should seek inpatient detox because withdrawal can be fatal. Inpatient detox includes 24-hour support and monitoring.
Life After Detox
Detox is just the first part of addiction treatment. Detox on its own is usually insufficient for a successful recovery. Individuals seeking addiction treatment need to treat the psychological part of their addiction.
They can accomplish this with counseling, support groups, or an inpatient rehab program. Contact Hathaway Recovery to find a treatment plan suiting you.