Drug and Alcohol Detox: The First Step To Recovery

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Drug and alcohol detox is the first step to recovery and the first stage of any substance abuse treatment plan. This critical step in recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction involves removing toxins from the body. The treatment process can be intense and typically carried out in an inpatient facility specializing in drug or alcohol withdrawal.

There are outpatient detox programs for people with mild addictions that do not require a stay in a medical facility. It is suggested that if a person chooses the outpatient option, they have the support of either a palliative care nurse or a family member to help them with the detoxification process.

During detox, a person will experience an array of withdrawal symptoms which are a byproduct of discontinuing the use of an addictive substance. Withdrawals can cause various emotional and psychological symptoms

Suppose a person goes into an addiction treatment program for their detoxification process. In that case, they are closely monitored by doctors and nurses to ensure that their recovery process is safe and effective.

Many addiction centers offer their patients medications to help ease the unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms and therapeutic services to help combat the psychological struggles many experiencing drug and alcohol withdrawal experience.

Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on a person's mental health, physical health, substance abuse, the length of abuse, and the number of drugs or alcohol they were using.

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
  • It 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 outpatient detox. Medical detox is meant for severe addictions. Under this detox method, patients receive medications to alleviate drug and alcohol 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 a mild addiction, a 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 to 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 standard in the 90s. The method involved sedating patients during the detoxification process to sleep through most of the symptoms. However, the technique 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 the habit, 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 a combination of medical and psychological interventions to treat.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox occurs between 6 to 24 hours of the last drink and must be carried out with intense supervision. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms (heart attack, delirium tremors, seizures, etc.) begin immediately and can be severe. Individuals who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction are urged to seek professional care through an alcohol rehab center experienced in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be deadly, and it is not recommended that a person quits cold turkey without first consulting their primary care physician. There are outpatient alcohol rehab programs to help a person continue their road to recovery after completing detox. Some people who experience very mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms can benefit from cost-effective non-medical treatment through peer support. In late phases of alcohol detox, drugs such as naltrexone and acamprosate are used to prevent relapse.

Substance Abuse Detox

Benzodiazepines Detox

People detoxing from benzodiazepines detox often experience the same deadly side effects as those going through alcohol withdrawal. Both drugs can cause seizures which can be life-threatening. Benzo 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 highly 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 benzodiazepine or alcohol withdrawal, but detoxing from marijuana and THC can be complicated as addictions mostly co-occur with mental health issues. Often, the detox process from THC involves a treatment provider that can offer a safe and drug-free environment for the patients.

Stimulant Detox

Detoxing from Adderall, meth, or any other stimulant is less dangerous physically compared to opiate and alcohol withdrawal. Common symptoms often include intense mental health disorders like depression and suicidal thoughts, which can persist for up to four weeks. Intense outpatient detox is suitable for those detoxing from stimulants. Patients often find success if they enter a substance abuse treatment center after their detox is complete, where they can work on their mental and behavioral health.

Opioids Detox

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

Most addiction treatment centers offer detox as the first step of treating addiction, followed by other therapies that help rewire the brain's reward system. For a complete recovery, you need to select a treatment provider 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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