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Detoxification is the first stage of addiction treatment that involves removal of toxins from the body. The treatment process is intense and normally carried out in a inpatient facility. But for those with mild addictions, the process can be undertaken in an outpatient setting. If you choose the outpatient option, you will need someone to help you in the process – a palliative care nurse or a family member.

Sudden withdrawal of addicting substances from the body can cause emotional and psychological problems. Detoxification process is closely monitored by doctors to ensure that the patient recovery process is smooth. Detox is followed by medication and behavioral therapy to alleviate the negative impacts of withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms occur differently for everyone. Medications used depend on the type of substance being removed from the body.

General Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Sweating
  • Muscle pains
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Delirium tremens
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation

It is crucial to understand that detox is the first step towards recovery and does not cure the underlying genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors responsible for addiction.

Why Detox?

Detox safely manages the withdrawal symptoms associated with going cold turkey. This treatment is fundamental in preventing the uncomfortably sick feeling that occurs after sudden withdrawal from drugs. In most cases, the patients are given a safe substitute to lessen the impacts of withdrawal symptoms.

The goal of the detoxification process is to free the body and mind from drug dependency. The treatment is crucial in allowing individuals to regain their ability to control their cravings for drugs. Successful detox treatment limits painful physical and emotional experiences a patient can experience during the recovery process.

Detox is a critical phase in the treatment of addiction. It is important as it:

  • Provides you with medications that prevents lethal effects of sudden withdrawal
  • Gives you necessary medications to manage symptoms like insomnia and anxiety
  • Provides emergency care services in events of medical complications or severe withdrawal symptoms such as coma or seizure
  • Allows you to enjoy support from experienced professionals who will assist you along your recovery journey
  • You get supportive services including ongoing vital symptoms monitoring 

Detoxification provides better management of withdrawal symptoms and allows your body and mind to function without influence of a substance.

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The Process of Detoxification

Detoxification involves three main phases: evaluation, stabilization and continuous support.

1. Evaluation is the first step in any detox process and involves testing for presence of addicting substances in the body and measuring the concentration of substances in the body. At this stage, physicians conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine presence of co-occurring mental illnesses. Evaluation also comprises of analysis of medical and psychological conditions to determine the level of treatment and the choice of therapies for the patient.

2. Stabilization involves use of medical and psychosocial interventions aimed at helping the patient overcome acute intoxication and withdrawal symptoms. The process ensures that the patient is medically stable before being subjected to other drug addiction therapies. During this phase the family, employer and friends are involved in the process

3. Preparation process involves preparing the patient psychologically before beginning the complete drug addiction continuum of care. In some drug rehab centers, patients are mandated to sign a legally binding document that they will proceed into either 30-day, 60-day or 90-day programs after the detoxification process.

Types of Detox

Typically, there are two types of detoxification programs – medical detox and social detox. Medical detox is meant for severe addictions. Under this detox method, patients receive medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Medical detox is necessary for patients who:

  • Have more than one form of addictions
  • Are in critical health conditions because of psychiatric issues co-occurring with addiction
  • Lack adequate social support at home or work
  • Have complications arising from relapse
  • Have undergone the detox process previously

For patients with mild addiction, social detox is a viable option. You get to enter peer support groups or family therapy sessions that help keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. The social model is based on emotional care where individuals are placed in a supportive environment to enable them get through withdrawal with ease. 12-step programs by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are examples of social detox programs.

Quitting cold turkey is the most common method addicts use to attain sobriety. Less than 5% of people manage to treat their addictions with the rest falling back to drug dependence because of cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This technique can be deadly when a person suddenly stops using a stimulant, alcohol or an opioid.

Although uncommon in modern day detoxification processes, ultra-rapid detox was common in the 90s. The method involved sedating patients during the detoxification process so that they could sleep through most of the symptoms. However, the method proved ineffective as patients experienced severe symptoms as soon as they wake up.

How Long Do Detox Process Take?

On average, detox treatment should take about 7-10 days, but it can take less or more time depending on various factors. Age, type of addiction, co-occurring chronic illnesses, duration of addiction and family history are some of the factors that can influence the length of treatment.

The first three weeks are intense and individuals usually experience physical withdrawal symptoms like sweating, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. The effects of most of these symptoms can be reduced through medications.

Psychosocial symptoms such as anxiety and depression can last for months, requiring combination of medical and psychological interventions to treat.

Substance Abuse Detox

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox occurs between 6 to 24 hours of the last drink and must be carried out with intense supervision. Withdrawal symptoms (heart attack, delirium, seizures etc.) begin immediately and can be severe. Individuals with mild alcohol addiction can benefit from cost-effective non-medical treatment through peer support. In late phases of alcohol detox, drugs such as naltrexone and acamprosate to prevent relapse.

Benzodiazepines Detox

Unlike alcohol detox, benzodiazepines detox can take months because the process has to be slow to prevent severe side effects. Quitting cold turkey from benzodiazepines can be fatal. Inpatient detox is recommended for detoxing from benzodiazepines.

Marijuana and THC Detox

Heavy marijuana users can experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, irritability and anorexia. The symptoms are not as severe as those of benzodiazepines but detoxing from marijuana and THC can be complicated as addictions mostly co-occur with mental health issues. Detox process involves providing a safe and drug-free environment for the patients.

Stimulant Detox

Detoxing from Ritalin or any other stimulant is less dangerous as compared to detoxing from alcohol and opioids. Symptoms which include depression and suicidal thoughts can persist for up to four weeks. Intense outpatient detox is suitable for those detoxing from stimulants. Patients need access to safe places to sleep, eat and hydrate.

Opioids Detox

Opioid detox begins 12 hours after last dose taken. Withdrawal symptoms are similar of heroin and prescription opioids like oxycodone, fentanyl and codeine. Detox process takes about one week but it can last longer depending on various factors such as age and health conditions.

Most rehab centers have detox as the first step of treating addiction followed by other therapies that helps in rewiring the brain reward system. For a complete recovery, you need to select a center that offers other treatments after the detox process.

Relapse rates are minimal for patients that join support groups and attend after-recovery therapy sessions. Don’t stop at detox phase but develop a long-term treatment plan, if you want to maintain sobriety and avoid relapse after leaving a drug rehab.

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