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If you have been abusing alcohol and drugs for a long period of time, it is highly likely that these addictive, intoxicating, and mind altering substances have affected your life negatively in many ways.
However, there is hope in making the decision to commit yourself to addressing these problems before they get out of hand. You might also already know that professional help, support, and treatment is available at reputable rehabilitation facilities - and this could be your best chance for achieving long term recovery and sobriety.
Still, you need to ensure that your goal for sobriety and abstinence includes a recovery plan comprised of a variety of steps and components. Among these, the first and probably the most important step would be to undergo drug detox. Performed under the supervision, care, and monitoring of a highly experienced team of medics and addiction treatment experts, this process may ensure that you withdrawal safely from your preferred substances while minimizing the potential and actual dangers that come with psychological and physical withdrawal after you stop abusing drugs/alcohol.
Of course, you should also keep in mind that agreeing to attend or asking for treatment is the first step you need to take before you can get started on the journey to full recovery from substance abuse and addiction.
In case this is your first time considering alcohol and drug rehabilitation, you might have various preconceptions and ideas about how drug detox works. You may, for instance, think that it is exactly the same as it is depicted in TV shows, movies, and pictures of people undergoing painful withdrawal.
However, you need to remember that there are several steps in the addiction treatment process - one of which is drug detox. Only through this step can you effectively withdrawal from your preferred substances of abuse in relative safety and comfort. This step is also required before you undergo actual treatment and rehabilitation.
Understanding Drug Detox
At its most basic, drug detox can be defined as the process through which alcohol and/or drugs are removed safely from your body and its internal systems. At times, the procedure might be combined with certain medications to ensure your comfort and keep you from suffering some of the more adverse dangers and effects associated with drug withdrawal.
In most cases, drug detox is performed at a medical facility or any other addiction treatment center where there are nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals on site around the clock.
However, most people may still choose to avoid addiction treatment and recovery because of the pain that comes withdrawal. Some of them might have tried to stop abusing their drugs of choice on their own but relapsed immediately after they started feeling the full effects of the withdrawal that came about as a result of this cold turkey mode of quitting.
If you are among these people, you need to keep in mind that drug detox at a reputable facility is the most effective way to quit your substance abuse and addiction. This is because these facilities will usually strive to greatly reduce any withdrawal symptoms you experience. They will also make your stay more comfortable and perform a variety of processes to ensure that you enjoy a regulated and safe end to your drug/alcohol use.
In particular, detoxifying your body after a period of abusing substances like benzodiazepines and alcohol can prove to be quite dangerous on account of the withdrawal process you are highly likely to undergo. This is mostly because such withdrawal can sometimes be accompanied by severe effects, including but not limited to cardiac arrest and seizures.
In such cases - as well as where many other intoxicating and mind altering substances are concerned - the recommended way to quit is by undergoing professional drug detox at the right treatment center.
Through professional detox, the doctors may even administer alternative medications to help you taper off your substances of choice. By so doing, they will effectively decrease the risk of your body and mind suffering adverse reactions - which is highly likely to happen when you abruptly stop abusing these substances.
In the case of both benzodiazepines and alcohol, other benzos might be prescribed to ensure you do not suffer withdrawal symptoms like seizure. During the tapering process, you will be brought down from your drug of choice in a slow and sure manner - which works more effectively than trying to quit cold turkey on your own. It may also decrease any adverse withdrawal symptoms as well as increase your level of safety. The doctors might also prescribe other medications to help you with drug cravings, depression, anxiety, and even sleep.
With opiate withdrawal, on the other hand, the process is rarely adverse or life-threatening. However, trying to quit these opiate drugs on your own can still prove to be so painful that you simply opt to continue using them instead. In such cases, drug detox may take the tapering method - much in the same way as benzodiazepines and alcohol.
The taper will usually be Subutex or Suboxone (a class of drugs known as buprenorphine) and it could help decrease any drug cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine studies show that it has higher chances of success than trying to quit on your own.
While undergoing drug detox, the doctors might also prescribe Vivitrol or Naltrexone. These drugs are effective because they will block the pleasure and opioid receptors in your brain. In the process, they may decrease any drug cravings you experience as well as block the effects that the opioids you have been abusing tend to produce in your body and brain. These drugs are also reliable because they may prevent your risk of overdosing in case you end up relapsing.
How Drug Detox Works
Since addiction to mind altering and intoxicating substances is a chronic condition, it is imperative that you take a time-tested and evidence-based approach to treat and overcome it entirely.
In most cases, the drugs and alcohol you abuse may latch on your brain and force you to suffer physical dependence to such an extent that your body and brain will start needing the substance of choice to continue functioning optimally.
As a direct result, if you decide to quit abruptly, it is highly likely that you may experience severe withdrawal symptoms that might eventually prove to be life-threatening. In such situations, it is highly recommended that you undergo drug detox through a pre-defined program - if only to ensure that these symptoms are safely managed.
As we mentioned earlier on, drug detox is usually the first step you need to take as you progress to eventual long term recovery. The detox facility might even recommend that you take medications to expel all remaining traces of the drugs and other toxins from your body as well as suppress any potential withdrawal symptoms that could force you to start abusing drugs again.
However, detoxification is typically designed to only deal with physical symptoms and adverse effects. This is why it is highly recommended that you have follow-up treatment to address all psychological issues causing, aggravating, or resulting from your substance abuse and addiction.
That said, drug detox usually takes part in a 3 step process that involves evaluation, stabilization, and full preparation. Consider the following explanations of each of these processes:
Evaluation is typically the first step in drug detox. It is used to determine your needs and preferences as well as find out the best treatment and detoxification process for you based on these needs.
During the evaluation, therefore, your physician will administer a number of physical tests to find out if there are any drugs - or traces of drugs - still remaining in your system. They may also measure the concentration of these substances. The process might also allow them to check you for any other co-occurring physical and mental health disorders.
Similarly, you might have to undergo an intensive assessment process to make sure that your doctor places you in the right level of treatment after you are done with the detoxification part of your rehabilitation and recovery.
With regards to drug detox and abstinence, stability refers to the process during which you discontinue your substance abuse completely through medically assisted treatment. The professionals at the detox center may even provide medical and psychological assistance at this stage if only to help you achieve a state of existence that is stable and free of all substance use disorders and other related conditions. After that, you may receive follow-up care and treatment.
This second stage in the addiction treatment and drug detox process may additionally focus on providing you with more education about your treatment plan as well as what is expected of you during recovery. At times, it might also involve your peers and family.
c) Full Preparation
Once you get to the preparation stage of your drug detox, the physicians, nurses, and other addiction treatment experts will often stress the importance of undertaking follow-up treatment either at an inpatient or at an outpatient rehabilitation facility.
This is because it is imperative that you understand that your failure to complete the entire continuum of treatment and care could potentially cause you to relapse and go back to your old habits of substance abuse.
In case you undergo detox at an accredited facility or hospital setting, the health professionals might even ask that you sign an agreement stating that you are willing to continue with your addiction treatment even after you are completely and successfully done with drug detox process.
Types Of Drug Detoxification
In most cases, you will find that drug detox takes the form of two models - social and medical. To this end, medical models are typically designed to help clients with poor physical health, severe withdrawal symptoms, and co-occurring disorders.
Social detox, on the other hand, does not require the use of medications in the drug detoxification process. Instead, it might rely on intensive behavioral counseling, therapy, and constant monitoring and supervision to ensure that your withdrawal is brought under control.
Social detox is mostly designed for younger, healthier people - including those that have no priority history of reacting adversely to the withdrawal process. Similarly, these models tend to be more affordable in comparison to medical drug detox.
In most of the detox facilities you will attend, it is highly likely that you find out that most medical professionals and experts use both models together at the same time. This way, they effectively ensure that their clients receive the best form of treatment by combining the benefits and minimizing the drawbacks of both of these detox formats.
Apart from the types of detox, you should also keep in mind that there are different levels in the process. According to ASAM (the American Society of Addiction Medicine), there are 5 main levels in this process. These include:
a) Ambulatory Detox
This is usually the first level in the drug detox process. It does not come with extended onsite monitoring. Instead, ambulatory detox can provide you with schedule evaluation that is medically supervised as well as referrals and intensive detox. Most of these services are provided n the outpatient setting and may help ease your process of making a transition to ongoing treatment.
b) Intensive Monitoring
On the second level of your detox, nurses, doctors, medics, and other detox experts will monitor you for several hours - particularly during the first few days after you start receiving treatment.
c) Clinically-Managed Detox
Otherwise known as residential detox, this process often focuses on providing you with social and peer support. As the 3rd level of detox, it also ensures that you receive the round-the-clock assistance, observation, and supervision you need as you undergo withdrawal and try to come down from drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances.
Some drug detox facilities that provide this service might also permit some self-administered medications - particularly to ensure that you can effectively manage your withdrawal. In case you require other highly specialized treatments, the staff members might even be able to move you to the right facility.
d) Medically Monitored Detox
Also provided on an inpatient basis, this form of drug detox provides round the clock evaluation and withdrawal treatment and management in an inpatient setting. This fourth level of detox also involves professional teams of nurses and workers using physician-approved procedures and policies to help you overcome any severe withdrawal symptoms.
e) Medically Managed Detox
The fifth and last level in the drug detox process, this form of treatment is also provided on an inpatient and highly intensive setting. Through it, you will also receive medically directed evaluation as well as withdrawal management around the clock.
This form of detox is usually best suited for the most severe (and sometimes unstable) substance abuse disorders and addictions - especially when these bring about intense and troubling withdrawal symptoms. In such situations, you might find that you require round the clock and on-site nursing and medical care services. These treatments are also typically offered in hospital settings, sometimes even with life support equipment and machines.
Irrespective of the level of treatment you end up in, it imperative that you keep in mind that drug detox is not always enough to keep you from resuming your substance abuse and addiction.
Therefore, if you decide to stop your treatment and rehabilitation at the detox stage, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to effectively maintain your sobriety and abstinence in the long term. This is why you need a continuum of constant care and monitoring to ensure that you recover fully.
In most cases, you will find support groups and therapy sessions might help you achieve a drug-free life sooner and more effectively. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, you will work with therapists to recognize all the negative behaviors that often lead you to start using drugs as well as curb them.
You can also undertake other intense forms of therapy to help you recognize triggers that might otherwise cause you to relapse and start using drugs and/or drinking alcohol as well as avoid them so that you do not relapse.
Support groups, on the other hand, can provide you with the best platform through which you can express yourself. Through these groups, you can also connect with other people sharing similar experience. You are additionally encouraged to rely on these groups as your main source of support particularly during your most difficult times. Last but not least, you can turn to these groups when you need people to hold you accountable for your abstinence and sobriety.
Dangers Of Cold Turkey Quitting
Every intoxicating and mind altering substance comes with its own unique set of adverse withdrawal symptoms. You are highly likely to experience these symptoms when you suddenly stop your drug use or significantly reduce the dose your body has become accustomed to.
Based on the drugs you were abusing as well as the duration of time you were using them for, it is highly likely that you are will experience considerable pain and discomfort once you decide to suddenly quit.
Many addicts and substance abusers feel uneasy with the proposition of drug detox. Others simply assume that they have it within themselves to withdrawal from these drugs on their own such as by quitting cold turkey or using over the counter self-detox products before riding out any withdrawal symptoms that make themselves manifest.
However, doctors and other addiction treatment specialists highly discourage you from taking this route in your recovery - particularly because they may pose severe risks for your health and wellness.
Instead, you might want to consider proper medical intervention through drug detox as provided in highly controlled settings and environments. This is because the withdrawal symptoms you are likely to experience when you start detoxing your body can prove to be so dangerous to your wellness and health. Some might even prove to be life-threatening, particularly in case your addiction and substance use disorder is also accompanied by other underlying medical issues and problems.
Although the detoxification process might initially sound frightening to you, remember that professional drug detox will allow you to withdraw safely and in a secure, safe, and warm environment. Additionally, the treatment experts will monitor and evaluate you around the clock - all the while ensuring that your withdrawal is as tolerable and as painless as humanly possible.
Quitting cold turkey, on the other hand, could cause you to suffer acute withdrawal symptoms that may lead to various physical and psychological problems ranging from severe seizures to mild flu-like conditions. Protracted withdrawal, on the other hand, could potentially cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It is for this exact reason why it is highly recommended that you ensure your withdrawal process is managed in a drug detox program. The help provided will reduce or completely eliminate these adverse withdrawal symptoms.
SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) reports that there are 2 main types of addiction withdrawal - protracted withdrawal and acute withdrawal.
Acute withdrawal refers to the process through which the initial symptoms of withdrawal will appear after you suddenly discontinue your drug abuse and/or alcohol intake. These symptoms are usually the exact opposite of the effects that you experienced when you were abusing drugs - which is why they vary from one substance to the next.
The duration of this period of acute withdrawal will also vary between different drugs and goes as follows:
- Stimulants: 1 to 2 weeks
- Opioids: 4 to 10 days; although methadone might take 14 to 21 days
- Nicotine: 2 to 4 weeks
- Cannabis: 5 days
- Benzodiazepines: 1 to 4 weeks, or 3 to 5 weeks in case you choose to taper off or reduce your usual daily dose on a gradual basis
- Alcohol: 5 to 7 days
Protracted withdrawal - also known as extended withdrawal, chronic withdrawal, or post-acute withdrawal - refers to any other symptoms that last beyond the durations listed above. In most cases, protracted withdrawal is lesser studied even though it can also be a major influence in causing you to relapse.
Detox And Withdrawal
As we mentioned earlier, different substances create different withdrawal symptoms when you quit - whether during drug detox or via cold turkey quitting. However, although the acute withdrawal symptoms will differ from one substance of abuse to the next, it is now commonly accepted that these symptoms are typically the opposite of the main effects of these substances.
That said, withdrawal is often a dangerous predicament to undergo - which is why it is highly recommended that you only do so under the right drug detox program where the problem is managed by trained and licensed medical professionals.
Some of the acute withdrawal symptoms arising from the most commonly abused substances include, but are not always limited to:
- Delirium tremens (rare but deadly)
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Blurry or double vision
- Body pains
- Decreased muscular control
- Dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
- Strange dreams
- Irrational rage
- Weight gain
- Chills or fever
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Increased appetite
- Slow movement, or lack of movement
- Slow thoughts
However, you need to remember that every case of withdrawal is highly individualized and might result in other additional withdrawal symptoms - depending on the rate of discontinuing your substance use, the existence of any other diagnosis, as well as the severity of your addiction.
Since acute withdrawal can be intense and life threatening, your drug detox program might prescribe medications to help you ease these severe symptoms - although this is not true for every program.
Either way, you need to ensure that this phase of withdrawal is overseen, supervised, and under the care of medical professionals. This is especially so if your addiction is particularly severe. Otherwise the symptoms might prove to be so dangerous that you will relapse. Medical detox is also recommended for opiate, benzo, and alcohol withdrawal.
Duration Of Drug Detox
In most cases, drug detox might last anywhere between 3 and 10 days. It will mostly depend on your personal history with drug abuse as well as your patterns of substance use and addiction.
As we mentioned earlier, the first stage will comprise an evaluation. During this stage, doctors will try to determine how long your detox should last as well as if there any need to use medications to make the process easier and more comfortable for you. Once the process starts, the detox regimen might be decreased or increased depending on the reactions that are observed in your body and in how your mind is functioning.
In some cases, drug detox might reveal other additional diagnoses that are unlikely to be observed when you try to detox on your own or go the cold turkey way. This is because the medical staff may conduct blood tests and determine if you need any additional help.
While suffering from active addiction, you may put your body at high risk for communicable diseases like Hepatitis B and C and HIV as well as significant liver dysfunction - among other ailments.
Therefore, seeking drug detox at an accredited and reputable facility, these diseases can be identified at the earliest opportunity. After that, the facility will create a treatment plan that is appropriate to dealing both with your addiction and withdrawal as well as with the additional diagnoses.
Therefore, if you choose to forgo medically-assisted drug detox, these viruses and diseases (if any) will go undetected and progress even further - eventually causing additional physical and mental health problems in the future. In fact, when Hepatitis, HIV, and liver dysfunction are left untreated they might prove to be fatal in the long term.
Once you are done with detox, you may be required to transfer to an inpatient or an outpatient rehabilitation facility. However, some of these addiction treatment centers provide drug detox services on-site - although detox facilities sometimes exist as standalone centers.
Even as you continue considering drug detox, you might wonder how long you can expect to spend at the program. In most cases, the average duration is between 5 and 14 days - although it might run longer depending on such crucial factors as:
- How frequently you were abusing drugs/alcohol on a daily basis
- The amount and doses of the substances you were taking
- The duration of time you spend abusing drugs and/or alcohol
- The existence of any underlying medical and mental health conditions
- Whether you were abusing more than one intoxicating substance while you were still actively addicted
Benefits Of Drug Detox
In most cases, you will find that the goal of drug detox is to ensure that you are able to overcome your psychological and physical dependence on mind altering and intoxicating substances. Additionally, detox can help you ensure that your body regains its natural vitality while your brain gradually starts functioning like it normally does.
That said, if you decide to start on alcohol and drug detox through any program that is part of a more comprehensive addiction treatment and rehabilitation protocol, the staff members will try to achieve 3 main objectives to ensure you have the best chances of recovering fully.
First, they will try to provide compete evaluation. Next, they will help you achieve full stability - both psychologically and physically - and ensure that you are completely substance free. Last but not least, they will start preparing you to make the transition into more intensive drug and alcohol addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
Apart from safety and comfort, drug detox may increase your chances of recovering successfully from active substance abuse and addiction. It can also address all underlying mental and physical health issues. Overall, detoxification will make it easier for you to transition to an inpatient or an outpatient treatment and rehabilitation program so that you gain the most benefits from the entire process and you emerge from treatment fully recovered and living a lifestyle of long term sobriety and abstinence.