The first stage of the addiction treatment process is detoxification. The government definition of detoxification, as stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is the process by which the body clears itself of drugs by managing the acute and potentially dangerous physiological effects of stopping drug use.
In simple terms, it is a treatment meant to oversee the potentially detrimental effects of withdrawal on the human body and mind.
Throughout addiction, whether it be abusing alcohol or drugs, the human body develops a dependence on the substance — the individual must take the drug to feel normal. When that substance is taken away, there is potential for the body to react in a manner that can put the individual in danger.
Detox symptoms include, but are not limited to:
While experiencing these symptoms is extremely uncomfortable and at times even unbearable, the benefits of going through the process of detoxification and treatment far outweigh those of continuing addiction.
The most effective form of addiction detoxification is a medical detox administered in an addiction treatment facility. While self-imposed manners of detox are common, these facilities have an abundance of resources and support for those struggling with the negative effects of withdrawal.
Medical detox teams, after assessing the state of the patient (reviewing what drugs they have taken, how long they have been taking them, if they have ever been to treatment before, etc.) will tailor a program specific to their needs. Usually, these programs include a combination of prescribed medications, emotional support and supervision, nutrition, and sometimes even alternative medicine.
The main function of a medical detox team is to monitor the patient while they are progressing through treatment. The appearance of any kinds of discomfort or obvious struggle with withdrawal will indicate that some part of the process must be changed or even omitted completely. A benefit of actually being in a medical detox center is that there is always a licensed professional available to discuss symptoms or provide any adjustments that may be needed.
Detoxification is not a perfect process — the duration is different for everyone depending on when reliance on the medication subsidies and the patient feels they are stable enough to enter the next stage of treatment. It is important to note that detoxification is absolutely not the only form of treatment an individual struggling with addiction should partake in, rather it should be followed by other forms of rehabilitation.
Other Methods of Detox
Sometimes, individuals with addiction choose not to go through with medical withdrawal or are put in a position where they do not have access to a facility when in withdrawal (i.e. those in prison). Although a medically supervised detox is recommended and the safest most effective manner of detoxification, there are alternatives that can be partaken in.
Cold Turkey Detox
The cold turkey detox method is used when an individual goes from using every day to stopping altogether with no form of scaling down usage prior. The allure of this method is that it leads to a relatively quick road to sobriety. But, the sudden withdrawal can have some extremely negative side effects depending on the kind of drug that was being used.
Without support, the presence of withdrawal symptoms coming on so quickly at such an intense magnitude can be detrimental to the health of the user and eventually lead to relapse.
In contrast to the sudden withdrawal that comes with cold turkey, detox by tapering is the process in which users slowly scale down their drug use periodically to a point where they are no longer reliant on it. The slow reduction of the drug gives the body more time to adjust to withdrawal, making it much less dangerous than completely withdrawing all at once.
Although it is safer, there is still a risk of a relapse as there is with all forms of detoxification. One important factor to consider with the tapering method is that it takes much longer than the cold turkey method — however, this is often an advantage as withdrawing from many drugs is more effective over longer periods of time.
This method of detox is most commonly used on those who are addicted to opioid drugs like prescription painkillers or heroin. Rapid detoxification involves the patient being sedated while injected or provided with medication that essentially kicks the drugs out of the system by deactivating them.
Rapid detox is appealing because, like cold turkey, it only takes a few days to a week. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse does not recommend this method over traditional medical detoxification as its quick withdrawal time increases the rate of negative symptoms affecting the body. Because medical withdrawal has less risk factors than this method, there is no added benefit to choosing it over being admitted into a facility.
Detoxing safely means entering into a drug rehab program with medical detox. While challenging, the detox process is extremely rewarding for an addict who truly wants to change their life.
At Desert Rose Recovery, we provide our patients with the tools that they need to succeed in addiction recovery and beyond.