Detoxification is a natural way that our body rids itself of impurities. In fact, our bodies detox many substances every day. Detox from drugs and alcohol is an important first step in addiction recovery.
Drug and alcohol detox begins when a person first abstains from substance use and may last anywhere from a few days to a few months. Most addictive substances, including alcohol, must be processed through several body systems before the body and mind can heal from substance abuse. Detox can be challenging, but right support system helps make detox a vital first step toward wellness.
Detox does trigger a temporary withdrawal process when it comes to drug and alcohol dependence. Withdrawal is a feature of both drug dependence and addiction. In other words, experiencing withdrawal after stopping or significantly reducing drug use is not, in and of itself, indicative of addiction. While all individuals who are addicted will be dependent on drugs, not all individuals who are drug-dependent are addicted. To diagnose addiction, other factors must be taken into account, such as the user’s psychological attachment to drugs and behavioral signs.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence notes that general withdrawal symptoms include:
|– Shakiness and trembling||– Sweating|
|– Nausea and vomiting||– Headaches|
|– Anxiety and jumpiness||– Depression|
|– Loss of appetite||– Insomnia|
The specific experience of withdrawal that a substance abuser experiences will relate to the drug of abuse and personal factors, such as overall health and any pre-existing health conditions.
While the physical experience of withdrawal can vary from person to person, the settings in which detox treatment occurs are limited to at-home (going “cold turkey”), a residential or outpatient treatment center, or a hospital.
Specifics of Detox
One main question regarding detox is how long it takes. Detox times vary but can take from two or three days to two weeks. The length and severity of detox often depends on the type of drug abused and the client’s specific situation. Although detox is a natural process to the extent that the body is trying to habituate to the absence of drugs, detox is not risk-free. First, withdrawal from some drugs, such as opiates like heroin, can be painful and, in a limited number of cases, may lead to seizures or other health-related side effects. Second, drug cravings are likely to arise during the withdrawal process. Once a person has detoxed, drug cravings can lead to a relapse, and then possibly an overdose (which may or may not be fatal).
It is important to continue a cautious awareness even after detox is complete. The weeks and months after rehab are a vulnerable time for recovering individuals; it can take up to a year for the brain to get back to successfully managing impulses and balancing emotions. Sadly, some individuals relapse to their original dose of substances, only to experience physical overdose.
From a physical standpoint, detoxed individuals are clean. However, psychologically, they have a memory of the level of drug abuse they experienced prior to rehab. If drug abuse is resumed, there is a likelihood that the recovering person will default to what he formerly abused, but the body’s tolerance has lowered through detox and the period of abstinence. Once the body has detoxed from drugs or alcohol, those former doses may be lethal. Full rehab treatment may prevent these tragedies through education, a strong support system, and enough time to become well.
Simply put, despite all appearances, the recovering person is not really walking around in the same body he had before rehab. Giving a recovering body the same amount of a drug of abuse that the drug dependent or addicted body received brings the risk of overdose. It is a well televised dimension of addiction that many overdoses occur after recovery. There are numerous reports of celebrities, after being abstinent for years, relapsing and binging on dangerous narcotics such as heroin. A binge is not even necessary – even one use after detox and abstinence can prove fatal.
The Dangers of At-Home Detox
Dr. David Sack, a medical doctor who is board-certified to treat addiction, points out that almost all addiction treatment specialists are in unison on one score: detox should occur in a licensed detox facility, not one’s living room or any other non-clinical environment. The detox process is too risky and too important in the recovery process to go it alone or under the supervision of untrained family members or friends, however concerned they may be.
The following are some features of the withdrawal process and benefits of undergoing a detox in a professional setting:
- Unpredictability: A person who seeks detox cannot predict what the withdrawal process will actually be like until it’s underway, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and start out the process in a detox facility that can properly manage any complications.
- Pain management: Withdrawal can be painful, and the experience varies in length and intensity from person to person, which can prove frightening and dangerous.
- Supervision: Professional staff in attendance adds a layer of protection against giving into any drug cravings that arise and ultimately against relapsing.
- Detox alone is never enough: Starting rehab in a specialized detox program sets the recovering person on an excellent track for the entire recovery process.
The positive influence of completing a professional detox program cannot be underestimated in terms of giving the rehab process the best odds overall. As Dr. Sack notes, the results of a 2012 Johns Hopkins study showed that continuing treatment after detox significantly increased substance addicts’ likelihood of remaining drug-free at the six-month mark. The study found that although there is a 65 to 80 percent relapse rate one month after discharge from rehab, those recovering persons who continued drug treatment were up to 10 times more likely to remain abstinent.
Commitment is a main key to successful recovery. Attendance in a specialized detox program is not only evidence of a commitment to rehab, but also a way of giving oneself the best chance possible of staying on the right track to long-term abstinence.
Medication Assisted Detox
As the world-renowned Mayo Clinic discusses, withdrawal from certain types of drugs, such as opioids, depressants, and stimulants, can be professionally managed with FDA-approved medications. These prescription medications include methadone, buprenorphine (alone or in combination with naloxone), and naltrexone. Although it may be controversial to use drugs to taper substance abusers off drugs and make the withdrawal process more comfortable, some individuals prefer this route.
Some addiction specialists recommend a medicated detox and maintenance program while others view it as yet another substance to have to overcome in the long-run. It is important to note, however, that not all rehab centers are equipped to offer this form of treatment, known as medication-assisted treatment. Such an inquiry will therefore have to be made in the process of looking for a treatment center. The Canyon does provide Suboxone (buprenorphine) treatment, but this care is tailored to each individual’s personalized treatment plan and may vary.
Buprenorphine can be effective during opioid detox. Subutexis a branded drug used during this process, while Suboxone is most often used as part of maintenance therapy. The difference between Subutex and Suboxone is that while both have the same main active ingredient, buprenorphine, Suboxone includes naloxone, which is a chemical bulwark against misuse (i.e., when a person tries to abuse Suboxone, the naloxone can cause undesirable effects to set in, creating an abuse disincentive).
When a drug-dependent or addicted person undergoes medication-assisted detox, she is not detoxed in the traditional sense. The drug of abuse, such as the prescription opioid hydrocodone, is replaced with a safer opioid, buprenorphine. In this way, the maintenance drugs are still present in the person’s system. The goal is to taper the patient off the safer opioid (buprenorphine) over time.
USA Today reports on the controversial practice of “rapid detox.” For most addiction specialists, this practice is viewed as a quick fix that isn’t safe. Although there are different variations of treatment, one method is to have the client sleep through the process of withdrawal. When the client awakes, he is supposedly detoxed from the opioid of abuse and undergoes stabilized on the opioid replacement drug. The process is often advertised to take as little as two days.
Critics point out that clinical trials of the effectiveness of this treatment are minimal. An overwhelming volume of research and direct clinical experience supports the notion that the longer a person remains in treatment and follows an effective aftercare program, the greater the likelihood of long-term recovery. A rapid or ultra-rapid detox does not follow this methodology. Furthermore, the process of rapid-detox often carries significant risks.
The greatest challenge for rapid detox is that while it may help some people to achieve abstinence, it is not sufficient to help them maintain it. Further, are people who opt for rapid detox going to commit to a 30-to-90-day recovery program to help them treat the emotional and mental health causes behind addiction? While it is not helpful to make assumptions, it is necessary to make recommendations – recovery most often starts with detox. The stronger this first step, the more committed to the process a person will likely become.
The staff members at The Canyon are equipped with the highest credentials and decades of experience in treating every phase of drug treatment, beginning with detox. We offer a wide range of detox options, suitable to different patients and overseen by consulting physicians. We understand that relapse is part of the disease of addiction, but we also know how to help our patients develop the best skills for living a life of lasting recovery. Contact us today to learn how we can help.