The first step of any effective addiction treatment program involves detoxification. The purpose of medical detox is to enable an individual to safely withdraw from a substance while minimizing discomfort. As the person rids their body of the substance, the chemical dependency is broken. Difficult symptoms may occur when an addicted person stops using drugs or alcohol, but the supervision and care provided by a medical detox program can ensure the safety of each patient.
Medical detox can be effective for a variety of addictions. Research indicates that over 41 percent of admissions to detox centers are for the treatment of alcohol abuse. Opiate drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers, accounted for the most drug-related admissions, and marijuana was also responsible for a large number of cases.
The physical dependency that characterizes addiction is a result of chemical changes in the brain. These changes make it difficult and even dangerous for an individual to attempt to withdraw from a substance without help. Tapering off the substance of abuse can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms, and some medications can reduce cravings and act as a temporary substitute for the original drug of addiction. As the patient becomes more ready to live a completely drug-free life, the substitute drug can be reduced and finally stopped. Medical professionals closely monitor each patient at a detox center and provide nutrition, hydration and medical treatment if necessary.
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Different substances will cause different symptoms of withdrawal; a patient’s withdrawal symptoms will also vary depending on the extent and duration of the addiction.
Alcohol, for example, is a difficult substance to withdraw from: Sweating, anxiety, shaking and even seizures are common during the withdrawal process. For some individuals, a serious condition called delirium tremens may develop. The severe agitation, hallucination and confusion associated with this condition require prompt medical attention.
Opiate withdrawal can be an uncomfortable process, but it is rarely dangerous. Some common symptoms of opiate withdrawal are rapid heartbeat, insomnia, nausea and vomiting. Cocaine and crystal meth can cause intense feelings of depression during withdrawal, and some people may suffer from hallucinations.
The early hours of withdrawal can be intense, and it’s not uncommon to experience psychotic episodes or suicidal thoughts. The medical professionals at a detox center are trained to handle the needs of patients during this difficult period, and their first priority is to keep patients stable. Once a patient has been stabilized, they can focus on making the patient comfortable as they work through the detox process.