Detox is a term often heard in the health and fitness sphere, but many are unaware of its importance in the world of substance abuse rehab. What is detox, and how can it help you? Learn more through this post.
Perhaps you have heard of the term “detox” as a form of wellness and weight loss remedy. These are do-it-yourself concoctions that supposedly help you “flush out” the toxins in your body.
When you want to solve an addiction problem, the mechanism of detoxification does make sense. You may want to get rid of the “toxins”, which are the remnants of drugs or alcohol in your body—while safely managing the effects of withdrawal.
However, this process may not be familiar to some people. It is easy to assume that substance abuse rehab is mostly going to meetings, talks or seminars—there is actually more to it than that. For the sake of enlightenment, we will be defining detoxification in the angle of substance use disorders (SUD) while addressing some common questions.
What Is Detoxification?
Detoxification is the process of flushing out the circulating substances in the body. If you have been misusing alcohol or drugs for quite some time, it is possible that your body has developed a substance dependence. This means that your brain functions with a “need” for the drug or alcohol, which explains the addiction.
It is a challenge to resist substances at will if your brain and body remain biologically dependent on the drug. This is what detox is attempting to halt or even reverse.
Detox is usually the first step in the rehab process because it functions as a catalyst. It is the initial, 180-degree turn which gives you the opportunity to break free from the effects of withdrawal and cravings. This process is professionally supervised, some with the use of prescribed medications along with constant monitoring and bed rest. The medical term that alludes to detoxification in medicine is called medically supervised withdrawal.
In summary, substance detoxification has three main purposes:
- Curbing the effects of withdrawal: One of the main reasons why individuals find it hard to quit an addiction is because of the unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening effects of withdrawal. The process of detox helps by ensuring that people are medically supervised during the withdrawal period. This is also a time where professionals will provide treatments necessary to make the withdrawal period as safe and as comfortable as possible.
- Minimizing substance dependence: Drug or alcohol detox is also a time where patients may be given antagonist or partial agonist drugs. These drugs either counter the effects of substances abused (antagonist) or provide a lesser potency (partial agonist). The goal of giving these types of medications is to lower the threshold of the patient’s dependency on drugs and alcohol.
- Preparation for the treatment proper: It is very difficult to start on therapies, support groups, and habit-changing interventions if you are not physically ready to do so. During detox, you will be provided with sufficient rest, nutritious meals, and enough space to clear your mind in preparation for the treatment proper.
Can I Detox At Home?
Another curious question coming from those who plan to be addiction-free are do-it-yourself alternatives. Detox for drugs or alcohol at home is possible, but usually not recommended. In many cases, it is not effective and in other instances, it can even be dangerous. It also depends on the corresponding medical evaluation to see if the person meets the criteria to be able to perform detoxification at home.
Below are some of the risks you can encounter when attempting to detox at home:
Lack of medical supervision during withdrawal
The major risk when trying to detox at home is the lack of professional guidance. For example, alcohol abuse sufferers may run the risk of suffering from delirium tremens (DT) a rapid onset of hallucinations, confusion, and cardiac symptoms which can be fatal without medical supervision. Other drugs may have very uncomfortable withdrawal effects which are considered medical emergencies as well.
Unmodified environment triggers
Say there is a chance that your detox at home becomes effective. Being substance-free may be short-lived if there are no changes in your environment. If there are still drug or alcohol triggers, or if there are loved ones who are enablers in your home, you will most likely end up drinking or taking drugs again.
Another potential risk is personal errors you may encounter when trying to detox at home. Many medications used to counter the effects of addictive substances require a doctor’s prescription. You may not be aware of the right dosage, or how to administer the medicine for it to work effectively. Inaccurate methods can lead to a possible overdose, dangerous withdrawal, or an ineffective detox process.
Given these risks, it is ideal to have detox in a trusted, high-quality rehab facility. Medical professionals will be assisting you through the process while ensuring that your alcohol or drug detoxification is as safe and comfortable as possible.
What Is The Process Of Detoxification?
Once you contact rehab professionals about detox, perhaps you may be thinking about the actual process that occurs. This initial step may slightly be different for everyone, but here is a general guide that can help give you an idea:
Step 1: Medical assessment
Admitting yourself to a rehab facility does not mean you will automatically go through a detox. Those with mild addictions or prefer an outpatient treatment may benefit from other options than an initial detox.
Thus, a medical assessment is important to help professionals determine if you do need a detox. You will fill out forms and will be asked to take bodily fluid samples to determine the severity of your condition. These tests will help addiction specialists decide what kind of detox will be provided as well.
Step 2: Inpatient admission
After reviewing the results of your assessment, the next step is being admitted for treatment in the rehab’s inpatient facility. The medical staff will monitor your vital signs and overall wellness during the detox period.
Depending on your case, they will also provide medications needed for you to have a safe withdrawal. Even with professional assistance, drug and alcohol withdrawals can be challenging and uncomfortable, to say the least. The goal of the medical staff is to ensure that this intensive period will be as safe and comfortable as possible.
Also, it is important to note the possible side effects of detox during this time:
- Addiction cravings: During detox, the body’s chemical makeup is “shaken up”, leading to a multitude of symptoms that bring discomfort. At this period, you may experience intense cravings for alcohol or drugs, as your brain leads you to think that it is the only thing that will bring you relief.
- Muscle pains: Muscle pains are also a common side effect during detox. You may feel as if you have run a triathlon with the overall muscle aches and pains immediately after stopping to take the addictive substances.
- Nausea and vomiting: Experiencing a sick feeling that makes you want to vomit is one of the body’s ways to signal discomfort. It is possible to experience dizziness, loss of interest in food, and persistent vomiting during this time. Staying hydrated is important if you experience these detox side effects.
- Anxiety and depression: Aside from physical effects, you may also experience psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. The sudden drop of brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin may give you mood swings–negative thoughts are bound to appear.
- Fatigue: The muscle pain and nausea may also contribute as a factor why most people experience fatigue during detox. The body is struggling to function with the drastic change, which is why we can expect bouts of weakness as well.
These side effects may seem distressing, but like that famous saying, “there is a light at the end of the tunnel”. Consider the detox period as your most intense part of treatment–sometimes, things have to be the worst in order for it to be better.
Step 3: Stabilization
After the detox period which lasts for 3 days up to 2 weeks, you will eventually experience a more stable state. This is the final stage of detox and you will be provided with further instructions on how to go about your treatment proper.
As you recover from detox, you will be ‘discharged’ by the medical staff, but may continue to receive treatment within the facility. However, the treatment options are more rehabilitative in nature, of which the goal is to address the addiction from its roots.
These processes help establish the reason why detox is not recommended to be done at home. Generally, it is a challenging time for your body and mind–it is better to be at the hands of professionals in order to receive the most effective treatment.
What Medications Are Used For Drug Detox?
Another common question is what are the drugs used for detox. This is a question that needs to be addressed, especially for those who are susceptible to prescription drug misuse. Many addiction treatment facilities take a custom-fit approach in detox, making sure that we note your case history to give the best treatment possible. The type of medication will depend on the type of substance used, so it will not be the same treatment for everyone.
Having said that, there are two main routes for detox:
- Providing antagonist and partial agonist drugs
- Tapering down dosages of the substance
Benzodiazepines may be provided to help slow down bodily functions during alcohol withdrawal. Since this has a potential for abuse, it is recommended that this is done on a short-term basis. Valium and Librium are common prescription names to help relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Cocaine is a stimulant, which means that a common part of its withdrawal symptoms are anxiety and depression. Thus, the drugs used for a cocaine detox program are antidepressants such as Desipramine or Phentermine to help counter mood swings. Opioid withdrawal may not be life-threatening as compared to alcohol withdrawal, but symptoms are nevertheless uncomfortable for many. The common drugs used in opioid detox are: Methadone: This drug is a partial agonist that helps recreate the effect of opioids. It can help in removing opioid dependence, but its use must be monitored closely as it can also be habit-forming when taken long-term.
Detox by drug
Clonidine: A prescription drug used to treat high blood pressure, it can aid in opioid withdrawal as it lessens the flood of adrenaline in the body. A surge of adrenaline during opioid withdrawal is common, causing some of the known symptoms such as nausea, sweating, anxiety, and muscle spasms.
Naltrexone: This drug is used just after the intensive detox period where your body is more stabilized. Using this medication is meant to help you lessen cravings for opioids by countering its effects on the brain.
Naloxone: A medication that is used to treat opioid overdose. In emergency cases, Naloxone is injected or provided intravenously to reverse the effects of opioids even when the person has lost consciousness.
Benzodiazepines may be provided to help slow down bodily functions during alcohol withdrawal. Since this has a potential for abuse, it is recommended that this is done on a short-term basis. Valium and Librium are common prescription names to help relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Cocaine is a stimulant, which means that a common part of its withdrawal symptoms are anxiety and depression. Thus, the drugs used for a cocaine detox program are antidepressants such as Desipramine or Phentermine to help counter mood swings.
Opioid withdrawal may not be life-threatening as compared to alcohol withdrawal, but symptoms are nevertheless uncomfortable for many. The common drugs used in opioid detox are:
Methadone: This drug is a partial agonist that helps recreate the effect of opioids. It can help in removing opioid dependence, but its use must be monitored closely as it can also be habit-forming when taken long-term.
What Happens After Detox?
Perhaps you are wondering, what is life after detox? At Sunshine Behavioral Health, our addiction specialists won’t leave you hanging after the treatment process. We provide care in every step of the way, no matter what stage of addiction recovery you are in.
After detox, you can expect to undergo treatment programs that are a perfect fit for your condition as well as your preferences. You can choose to undergo the following programs:
- 12 Step Rehab
- Non-12 Step Rehab
- Faith Treatment
- Holistic Treatment
- SMART Recovery
- Luxury Rehab
You may combine these methods or do them successively. These evidence-based programs are meant to target the causes of addiction (both internal and external) for each individual.
Although it is recommended to undergo the whole treatment process as an inpatient, there are some circumstances where outpatient treatment is the next-best-choice. After detox, you may also choose Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP). You can receive services within the rehab center without being admitted in the facility, or you will be provided further recommendations and instructions on services within your local area.
Detox: It’s A Challenge, But It’s A Start
Consider being addiction-free like a mountain you want to climb. Detox is like your first steps–it can be nerve-wracking, challenging, and sometimes it can feel like you are on the verge of giving up. However, the first step is usually the hardest. When you get past those trying moments, it can be easier for you to achieve long-lasting sobriety through continuous commitment.
- Msdmanuals.com – “Substance Use Disorders”
- Pharmacytimes.com – “Opioid Agonists, Partial Agonists, Antagonists: Oh My!”
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Acute Alcohol Withdrawal: Alcohol Use Disorders”
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond”
- Fda.gov – “The Clinical Use of Naloxone”
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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