One of the hardest and seemingly impossible tasks is to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Getting lost in the cycle of addiction may seem like a never-ending process, but fortunately, there is a big step that someone can take to safely remove substances from their body and start on the path to recovery. Medical detoxification may sound like something that is painful, but it is the first step on the long road to recovery. In some cases, the person in question may wonder if detox is the right choice for them, and they may wonder if it is worth the often painful process of withdrawal — you’re not alone if you feel this way.
In 2015, more than 20 million Americans aged 12 or older were reported as having a drug or alcohol addiction and in need of treatment. Unfortunately, however, only 11 percent of them actually sought out the treatment necessary. While the prospect of detox may seem scary, the alternative is much worse. In the year following, 2016 saw more than 64,000 deaths according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a result of an overdose.
Detox is a vital first step when it comes to saving the love of yourself or a loved one. It also makes a tremendous difference in the success of addiction recovery. The Journal of General Internal Medicine notes that 61 percent of people were able to complete outpatient treatment programs after first going through detox.
Detoxification is a process aimed at managing acute substance addiction and withdrawal. The primary objective is to clear the substance from your body and minimize the damage caused by substance abuse. Another goal is to help the person who’s in the initial stages of withdrawal to get through them as painlessly as possible. Once this has been accomplished, it will allow you to move onto a more comprehensive portion of addiction treatment.
Detox allows people on the path to sobriety to have a better chance for success in rehab. A person who attempts rehab without first detoxing will not enjoy the same level of success as someone who medically managed their drug withdrawals. Detox enables people to focus more on recovery and the issues that cause addiction as opposed to worrying about withdrawal symptoms. Not addressing this issue before treatment may cause someone to relapse even when they’re in recovery.
A medically supervised detox is the only path for these advantages. In a carefully monitored and controlled environment, addiction specialists can assist you in ways that cannot be achieved in a standard rehabilitation center. Detox is a complex and challenging medical process even when done under the supervision of professionals. Attempting to detox on your own can be dangerous, and sometimes, life-threatening action. If you have determined a sober lifestyle is what you would like to achieve, it is essential to seek professional help to mitigate the dangers associated with this delicate process.
Some people may think it doesn’t matter where or how they detox. Their main objection is to stop using drugs, but this is not an ideal attitude toward sobriety to have. Abrupt cessation of drugs or alcohol, a process known as going “cold turkey,” can put the body into shock and bring on intense withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from depression, anxiety, fever, chills, nausea, muscle pain, seizures, hallucinations, tremors, and more. Depending on which drug or drug(s) you were using, this can last from a few hours to days, and in some cases, a few weeks or more.
It is nearly impossible to predict the length or severity of these symptoms, especially without the assistance of medical care. Every person is different, and the process of rehab must be tailored to your individual needs to ensure the best possible outcome. Even if you can manage the extreme discomfort, withdrawal from certain substances can be fatal without professional supervision.
Alcohol and benzodiazepines are notorious for the dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can occur as a result of sudden cessation. Tremors and seizures are extremely common, and if done without medical help, they can lead to death. Detoxing at a medical detox treatment center ensures that someone is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make sure you are safe. The staff can administer medications that can help you through an uncomfortable withdrawal period.
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Now that the importance of detox in a controlled environment has been discussed extensively, you may wonder which detox treatment will be the most beneficial for your needs. As mentioned previously, the entire addiction treatment process must be tailored to your specific needs. During an assessment, a team of health care professionals will evaluate your options and recommend a placement for you based on your current situation.
You may wonder if inpatient or outpatient would be the most suitable option for you. A significant factor that dictates the direction you head toward will be the severity of your addiction. If you have been using for an extended period with dangerously high amounts, then inpatient treatment is likely the best option for your safety. If the dependency is less severe, you have the opportunity to choose an outpatient treatment process that is less intensive but serves the same purpose.
Inpatient treatment is sometimes available in hospitals as well as residential rehab facilities and specialized detox centers. Some things to keep in mind when deciding whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is the right choice for you are:
Something else to consider:
Outpatient treatment is another option to consider if the staff deems you a lower risk. You will go to an outpatient detox clinic daily to retrieve your medication. It is recommended that you enroll in an outpatient addiction treatment program during your detox to receive additional support. The medicine may treat the physical side of detox but having extra moral support can be the difference between following through or having a relapse. Some factors to take into consideration when looking into outpatient treatment include:
The downside to consider:
No matter the route you choose, detoxing under the guidance of professionals ensures that you have medical specialists with the proper equipment to treat you. It also ensures that methods that have been proven to put you onto the right path to recovery will be used.
There are three specific phases when it comes to detox. They are evaluation, stabilization, and preparation for transition into treatment.
The evaluation includes testing for the presence of substances of abuse in the bloodstream, measuring their concentration, and screening for co-occurring mental and physical conditions. During this process, you will also go through a comprehensive assessment of your medical and psychological conditions and social situation to determine the appropriate level of treatment following detox. The evaluation will serve as the basis for the initial substance abuse treatment plan once you have been withdrawn successfully.
Stabilization is the most extended and in-depth portion of detoxification, encompassing the early stages of substances leaving your body as well as the preceding days of withdrawal symptoms. It includes the medical and psychosocial processes of assisting you through acute intoxication and withdrawal with the goal of reaching a medically stable, fully supported, substance-free state. This process is done commonly with the use of medications, but in some cases, no medication is required to aid the process.
The stabilization process is designed to familiarize you with what to expect in treatment and what your role will be in the treatment and recovery process. The medical team will also seek to educate and include your family, employers, and other significant people in your life when appropriate.
The length of time spent in the stabilization phase will vary based on these factors:
The period lasts on average between three to seven days, but it can be as long as 10 days or more. There are specific withdrawal symptoms such as depression and anxiety that will continue months after this period ends. These factors can complicate the process for individuals who have mental health disorders, which applies to a majority of those seeking addiction treatment. Thirty-seven percent of people who are dependent on alcohol and 53 percent of people addicted to drugs have coexisting mental health conditions.
The final of the three phases is to foster the client’s entry into treatment. The process of this transition is to stress the importance of following through with the complete substance abuse treatment continuum of care. For clients who have demonstrated a pattern of completing detox to only fail in engaging substance abuse treatment, a written treatment contract can encourage entrance into a continuum of substance abuse treatment and self-care.
The contract, while not legally binding, is voluntarily signed by clients when they are deemed stable at the beginning of treatment. The client agrees to participate in all levels of care with details and contracts established before the completion of detox.
Each stage involves treating the client with the compassion and understanding they deserve. Acknowledging there is a problem and entering into treatment is a complicated process, and the client’s frame of mind is fragile. The client entering needs to understand that someone cares and respects them as an individual and shares hope in their future. During their time in detox, it will display to the client that addiction care specialists can be trusted at each level of care.
During the stabilization phase, you could potentially experience intense withdrawal symptoms as your body tries to adjust to the lack of drugs in its system. The length of withdrawal could vary depending on the type of drugs that were used, how they were administered, and how long you have been using. For some drugs, like heroin, the physical withdrawal symptoms will subside much quicker than some of the mental symptoms. This is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and can last for up to a year after cessation of heroin or other opioid drugs.
Some symptoms are specific to each substance, and there are some that nearly everyone in detox will experience. These include:
In a majority of these cases, however, medications will be used to alleviate the most severe symptoms. In scenarios that involve benzodiazepines and opioids, the medical staff will slowly taper off drug usage with milder substitutes. For heroin, they may use drugs like buprenorphine, Suboxone, or methadone, and with benzos, doctors will use lower doses of the medication or antidepressants. Antidepressants will have a secondary purpose that can help treat co-occurring disorders.
There also are alternative methods that detox programs can incorporate into their curricula to enhance medical treatment and addiction recovery. The purpose of these alternative options is to lessen the effects and keep your mind off of the withdrawal process. Some of these include:
Meditation is a powerful tool during detox. Some say it can detox your mind of bad energy and toxins while your body is ridding itself of the toxins from addictive substances. Meditation has been shown to ease depression, improve mental functioning, reduce stress, and anxiety. It helps quiet the mind of negative feelings, which often are experienced during this fragile state.
This treatment is excellent for providers to establish trust without having to do much talking. It is designed to bring a person’s body and mind into balance and achieve homeostasis. Five needles are placed just under the skin at specific points in both ears and left in place for between 30-45 minutes while you relax. Each of the five points in the ear has a particular function, and this creates an analgesic effect on the entire body, in turn, creating a calming effect on the nervous system as a whole.
During this time, you may not feel like doing much, but doctors and addiction specialists alike recommend that gentle exercise occurs to increase natural endorphins. The natural endorphins will increase feelings of happiness and combat some of the depression that can be felt during the withdrawal process. Mild exercise can also improve circulation, aid in restful sleep, increase your energy, maintain weight, decrease stress, and give you a better outlook on life.
Art therapy has been said to be extremely therapeutic with the ability to transport us back to our childhood days. Art therapy also helps change our mood and assist in dealing with trauma or difficult periods in life. This kind of therapy also exchanges verbal communication with nonverbal acts. Clients can use their hands to create art projects to express their feelings without speaking a single word.
As mentioned previously, withdrawal timelines and the length of time these symptoms will last depends on various factors. There is a general detox timeline for each substance, but it is largely influenced by factors that are unique to each individual.
Heroin withdrawals can occur as quickly as 12 hours after the last dose, and reach its peak anywhere from between 24 to 48 hours. The withdrawals can last from a week to several months and will be determined by the length of use and how the drug was used.
Someone who uses drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and morphine can expect withdrawal symptoms to occur within eight to 12 hours of their last dose. The symptoms will begin to peak between 12 and 48 hours, and generally last five to 10 days. Methadone, however, can last more than two weeks.
Cocaine and methamphetamine withdrawals can vary depending on the length of use and dosage. The withdrawals can begin only a couple of hours after the last dose, and peak between 48 to 72 hours. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from one to 10 weeks.
Alcohol withdrawal can begin in as little as eight hours of the last drink, or as late as several days after drinking. The peak of alcohol withdrawal will occur around 24 to 72 hours and last a minimum of a few weeks.
Prescription drugs such as Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are particularly dangerous during withdrawal. The symptoms can begin between one and four days, and peak in roughly two weeks. In the rare event of protracted withdrawal, the symptoms can last several months.
Medical detoxification is just the beginning of your journey to recovery. Although it can feel like a giant leap to make, it is vital to enter the safe and supportive environment that a medical detox center can offer. The idea of a safe transition into sobriety only supports getting help in the right way. Someone who is ready to get sober must take all the proper steps if they’re serious about their sobriety. A medically supervised detox program provides a secure system of support, administer the right medications to curb withdrawal symptoms, and offers nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.
As mentioned earlier, you must continue the process of treatment and complete the full continuum of care. During the detox phase, addiction specialists will decide the best steps for you to take after the detox period ends. This could mean residential treatment or treatment at an outpatient facility. Once you complete these steps, your treatment center might offer an alumni program that can give you continued support on your journey to recovery.
Remember, addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that likely will be a part of your life forever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a fulfilling life outside of active addiction. If you are ready to get help, today is the best day of your life to do so. If you wait a day longer, it could result in a loss of life, so get help today.
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