The word detox can mean a lot of different things. You may have heard it in the context of a juice cleanse or some sort of fad diet. However, in addiction treatment, it refers to a process that can help you achieve sobriety as safely and comfortably as possible. It’s often assumed that detox has to do with clearing a drug from your system. However, medical detox is about more than removing chemicals from your body. Most drugs are processed and eliminated from your body within a few hours to a few days, but medical detox can take between a week and 10 days.
Detox is not a matter of lingering chemicals in your system, but the lasting effects that chemical dependency has on your nervous system. When you use certain psychoactive drugs for a long enough time, you can start to develop a chemical dependence on that substance. Your brain is very adaptable, and it can change its own chemistry to make room for a foreign chemical that is constantly introduced into your nervous system. To do this, your brain may stop producing some of its own chemicals or even produce more chemicals to counteract the foreign drug.
If you stop using the drug after becoming chemically dependent, your brain will suddenly become imbalanced, leading to withdrawal symptoms. The type of withdrawal symptoms you experience will depend on the type of drug you were dependent on. Each of the most common types of drugs that require addiction treatment—stimulants, depressants, and opioids—have a unique set of withdrawal symptoms. Here’s a brief explanation of the most common symptoms for each of the three common addictive drug types:
Medically managed detox refers to the highest level of care in addiction treatment. Medical management means that you will have 24 hours of treatment directly from medical professionals. It also means they can make diagnoses and prescribe medication as you need it. In some cases, it becomes necessary to prescribe medication the help wean you off a drug or treat other medical complications.
Medical management is a more intensive level of care above medical monitoring or clinically managed services. Medical monitoring involves 24 hours of care that consists mainly of supervising your condition and intervening in to address or avoid medical complications. Clinical management has to do with the treatment of a psychological or emotional nature.
It can be intimidating to take the first step to seek out addiction treatment and detox. For some, the social stigma that comes with asking for help with an addiction is a barrier to treatment. Many people attempt to go through withdrawal symptoms at home, either alone or with a friend by their side. However, there is some considerable risk to going through withdrawal alone, and in some cases, it can even be deadly.
The withdrawal symptoms you feel, and their severity can vary widely depending on several factors, including:
Generally, the longer you’ve been dependent and the larger the dose you’re used to, the more severe your withdrawal symptoms will be. It will also be worse if you quit cold turkey rather than weaning off the drug gradually. Again, central nervous system depressants are generally the most dangerous drugs to withdraw from based on the three most common addictive drug classes. If you’ve been using a barbiturate, benzodiazepine, or alcohol and you start to feel withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to seek medical help immediately. It may be necessary to go through a weaning period in medical detox to avoid dangerous symptoms like delirium tremens.
However, opioids like heroin and even stimulants present their own risks. Opioids can cause dangerous dehydration and stimulants can cause serious depression and suicidal thoughts. If highly intensive medical detox isn’t necessary, a lower intensity inpatient program may still be the safest option.
If you do decide to go through withdrawal at home, even before you experience medical complications, your likelihood of relapsing is high. The combination of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and powerful drug cravings will create a nearly irresistible urge to use again. On top of that, opioid cravings are notoriously difficult to resist. Addiction is defined by compulsive use of a drug, even despite the serious consequences. On your own, the compulsion to use may overwhelm your will to make it through to sobriety.
Addiction treatment practitioners determine the need for medical detox using ASAM criteria, a set of six factors that help addiction treatment professionals find the right level of care for a person seeking treatment, put out by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The first two of the six criteria concern pressing medical concerns.
The first dimension explores a person’s acute intoxication or withdrawal potential. If you enter treatment under the influence of drugs or if you’ve just recently quit, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms soon. During the initial intake and assessment process, addiction professionals will determine the likely severity of those withdrawal symptoms and recommend the safest possible treatment level.
The second dimension is biomedical conditions and complications. If you have medical issues that need immediate care, you can be treated in medically managed detox. Withdrawal symptoms can also exasperate certain medical conditions, which may mean you’ll need medical treatment and supervision.
If you’ve become dependent on a drug or if you think you may be struggling with a substance use disorder, speak to an addiction treatment specialist at Ocean Breeze Recovery to learn more about addiction treatment. Call 855-960-5341 to learn more about your medical detox and addiction treatment options. Withdrawal can be difficult to overcome, but you don’t have to go through it on your own.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/there-difference-between-physical-dependence
NIDA. (2018, January 17). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Heroin: What Is It? Retrieved from https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/heroin.html
Psychology Today. (n.d.). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/addiction
ASAM. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about