Drug Detox: What Is Substance Detoxification?
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Drug addiction is more than substance dependency, it is a multilayered psychosocial phenomenon, and that is why the drug detox process is equally complex. A detoxification program will address the physical side of addiction, but the individual should be aware that it can take months until the brain will be able to return to the pre-addiction state.
Learn About Drug Detoxification:
- What Is Drug Detoxification?
- Why Shall One Need Detoxification?
- Which Drugs Require Detox?
- Why Is Drug Detox Important?
- What Are The Types Of Substance Detox?
- What To Expect During Drug Detox?
- What Are The Side Effects Of Drug Detox?
- What Are The Dangers Of Improper Substance Detox?
- What Are The Next Steps After Detoxification?
- How To Choose The Right Detoxification Option?
What Is Drug Detoxification?
Through detoxification or detox from drugs, alcohol or drug concentration in the body is reduced and finally eliminated, and the addictive substance is removed from the body. The procedure can be performed in an outpatient drug detox clinic or an inpatient setting, but the second option is more efficient. Some people choose to do a home detox with drug detox drinks and other products and methods found on the internet, doing more harm than good.
A complete detox process can last up to 7 days. There is also the rapid drug detox procedure, but it comes with an increased risk of medical complications and even death.
Why Shall One Need Detoxification?
Drug detoxification is the first step for the treatment of addiction. Addiction or dependency is the state when the body has become accustomed to consistently elevated levels of a particular substance making the person feel they are functioning normally only when they are taking the drug. When that drug is stopped, the individual who has developed an addiction will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which are both uncomfortable and dangerous if no treatment is applied.
Through drug and alcohol detox, the individual manages to go through this process is a safer and more comfortable way, under the guidance of specialists, in a medical setting.
Drugs That Require Detoxification
There are various types of drugs that people can become addicted to, and some of them are harder to stop than others.
Here are some of the ones that require detox:
The side effects of the detoxification process from stimulants, such as amphetamine and cocaine, are very uncomfortable and can last for weeks after drug cessation. The symptoms vary in intensity and get stronger towards the end of the withdrawal period. The individual might also feel depressed, severe emotional, and physical discomfort, and experience a crash leaving them with no energy. During the detox program, the patient will be given benzodiazepines to help with the withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines are other drugs with serious withdrawal side effects such as anxiety, irritability, and nausea, among others. That is why benzodiazepines detox is based either on gradually decreasing the amount of drugs, or switching to other types of benzos, or a phenobarbital substitute.
Heroin and Opiates
Withdrawal from opioids sets in about 12 hours after the last drug intake, and it’s at its worst in about day three. Opiate detox treats trembling, nausea, cramping, trouble breathing, and salivation, among others. With medical detox, the patient slowly weans off the drugs thanks to medication based on buprenorphine and methadone.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms of the detox from alcohol include sweating, anxiety, hallucinations, and depression, which can persist for days or weeks. According to NIDA, detox from alcohol is among the most dangerous types of detoxification, posing the threat of delirium tremens and seizures. Medical alcohol detoxification is based on several drugs such as Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Disulfiram.
Why Is Drug Detox Important?
Drug detox in detox facilities is the first step in the treatment of addiction. Even after the alcohol and drugs have been stopped, they remain in the system for several days or even weeks, causing withdrawal symptoms. These can often be dangerous, causing a stroke, seizure, or worse.
Types of Substance Detox
Clinics offer various addiction treatment strategies depending on the individual’s needs, the drug abused, the patient’s health, and the period of addiction.
There are two main types of detoxification:
Social or Non-Medical Detox
Social detox is a non-medical type of treatment, and it implies the abrupt stop of the drug use or going cold turkey but under the supervision and care of professionals. The patient is offered psychological and emotional support during the withdrawal process, and no medication is given to manage the symptoms or possible complications.
This method is efficient, but it also comes with some challenges. The biggest one is the possibility of an unpleasant withdrawal process, as the patient has to endure all the withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be quite severe. That is why many patients relapse in an attempt to get rid of the unpleasant symptoms and cravings. This method is usually offered by inpatient detox centers.
As the name suggests, during the medical detox for drugs, the patient receives medical treatment to prevent or help cope with the withdrawal symptoms and their complications. Medical detox or medication-assisted treatment is a crucial part of the process of drug addiction treatment. The purpose of the medications used is to decrease cravings, nausea, headaches, insomnia, depression, and many other side effects of drug withdrawal. Sometimes IV detox drips are also used in medical settings to restore the chemical balance in the body.
Rapid and Ultra Rapid Detox
Scientists do not approve this method and, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews has issued a warning regarding the safety of this method and its life-threatening risks. Despite this, there are still many drug detox facilities that perform it. During the fast drug detox, the patient is placed under anesthesia and given medication to start the withdrawal process. The purpose is to keep the patient under anesthesia until the withdrawal symptoms wear off.
What To Expect During Drug Detox
The medical detox program is done under the care and supervision of mental health specialists and medical professionals. The scope of this method is to increase the patient’s comfort and safety levels and to prevent possible complications during the withdrawal process. Medication is administered to reduce severe cravings and to ease the side effects.
The social detox is a short-term program, with non-medical strategy, for patients who are addicted to substances that can be stopped at once, not gradually as in medical detox. This method relies on hands-on treatment approaches, such as professional support during the detox period and peer encouragement.
Side Effects of Drug Detox
Although the purpose of detox is to limit or prevent withdrawal symptoms, some of them cannot be avoided.
Some of the typical adverse reactions to substance detox include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Body discomfort
- Tremors and shakes
- Racing heart
- Panic attacks
Dangers of Improper Substance Detox
Depending on the type of drug used, the person’s medical history, and the chronicity of the abuse, improper detox can lead to uncomfortable and even fatal adverse effects.
Some people choose at-home drug detox, with kits bought on the internet. There are also detox teas and the Thomas Recipe for opiate withdrawal. Some people even try detoxification pills. What they do not know is that this can result in serious complications. Withdrawal can cause seizures, delirium, and hallucinations, all requiring immediate medical management.
Next Steps After Detoxification
Detox is only the first step in addiction treatment. Once the body is clean from drugs, the patient has to continue the rest of the rehab treatment to overcome both the physical and psychological dependence.
To be able to remain sober for the months and years to come, the patient also has to address the behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that have pushed them towards substance abuse, and this is the purpose of the next step in recovery: rehabilitation.
The patient can choose among inpatient, outpatient, or partial hospitalization rehab, depending on the level of care needed after the detox program.
Rehab therapy is an integral part of the success of the entire program. Through extensive therapy and counseling, the patient can address the issues that have led to the addiction.
There are various types of counseling and therapy:
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Family therapy
- Experiential therapy (this is usually offered at holistic detox centers)
Even after the initial rehab program is completed, the recovery process is not over. Recovery will last for the rest of the patient’s life. A counselor will talk to the patient and create a plan for aftercare. Many patients continue to attend therapy sessions regularly post-rehab, and some of them even accept scheduled drug testing to be kept accountable for their sobriety.
How To Choose The Right Detoxification Option
Anyone who wants to enter a detox program but does not know what to choose should first ask their therapist or physician for recommendations of the best addiction treatment centers. Then the person should do their research on the internet to find out more about that clinic or center. One should learn about their detox programs, if they are accredited, read some reviews of the previous patients and even get in touch with the facility and ask some specific questions regarding their detox program. There are also many free detox centers that are state-funded.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2006. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64115/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Medical detoxification. 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification.
- Gowing L, Ali R, White J. Opioid antagonists under heavy sedation or anaesthesia for opioid withdrawal. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=16625552
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