What is Detox and Why is It Necessary for Recovery?

In one interview, a famous actor announced that despite a long-standing addiction, he decided one day to stop using drugs and just quit ‘on his own.’ Of course, that’s the dream for most addicts, to wake up one day and stop using: is it a reality? If statistics are an accurate guide, the answer is probably no. Each year more than 60% Process of Drug Detoxof all addicts who try to quit on their own relapse. The cycle of addiction is very difficult to interrupt and change sometimes without the necessary process of drug detox.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), addiction is a disease. Over time, a person’s ‘reward circuitry’ is changed and healthy ‘rewards’ are unable to compete with the drugs. Even loved ones are no competition for the drug. What was once a simple choice to use drugs or to drink, turns into a compulsion that simply won’t get better without intervention.

Process of Drug Detox

For an addict, the most important step in recovery is the first one: the process of drug detox. According to SAMHSA, the aim of detoxification is three-fold: 1) to remove the toxins associated with drugs and alcohol from the body; 2) identify and begin to address other psycho-social needs; and 3) help prepare the individual to enter into formal substance abuse treatment.

Detoxification Symptoms

  • Nervousness and Anxiety:  This is a psychological and physiological effect. Withdrawal is often marked by drug or alcohol craving. Not having access to the substance will cause significant anxiety and distress.
  • Hallucinations and Paranoia:   When someone sees something that isn’t real or becomes inappropriately fearful (paranoid), it is because the brain is ‘misfiring,’ creating an acute psychotic symptom.
  • Sleeplessness:   This is a very common side effect, especially if the addiction has been to opioids. During withdrawal, the addict may have difficulty sleeping and will need help from the staff to sleep through the night.
  • Loss of appetite:   Often the desire for the drug will become so preoccupying, an individual will not care about eating.
  • Depression:  Feelings of depression or sadness are very common during detox. Drugs can interfere with the body’s normal dopamine levels, which will cause these feelings. It will take the body time to reverse these effects.
  • Irritability and Mood Swings:  During detoxification, it is common for an individual to experience anger and difficult moods. This is partly physiological: the body is missing the drug that used to provide mood regulation. It is also psychological, since the drug has become a coping mechanism.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea:  These are especially common side effects with opioid addiction as the body adjusts to the withdrawal of the drug.

How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

This varies according to the drug. The acute phase can last between a few days and two weeks. If you are in an inpatient detoxification facility, professionals will be available 24 hours a day to help minimize these symptoms, so you are as comfortable as possible.

Why Choose an Inpatient Detox Program?

Therapeutic Support – Staff in a detox program are experienced professionals who understand the process of detoxification. They can answer any questions that you have and help you manage your withdrawal symptoms. Because the facility is staffed 24 hours a day, they are available to help you through each step of the detox process, whenever you need help.

Privacy – Withdrawal can make an individual feel very vulnerable. Placing yourself in an environment with people who care, understand, and respect your privacy is important for treatment.

Family – A key component of treatment is finding support. A detox program is able to work with any family or friends of your choosing, explaining the process of drug detox and providing information and guidance. For many individuals, having someone help guide their loved ones through the process is a relief.

Stigma – One of the hardest things for an addict to overcome is a sense of shame and stigma. Women, in particular, have an especially difficult time entering a program. A detox facility is caring, supportive, and respectful. It can help an individual overcome these feelings and develop a more hopeful, forward-thinking focus.

Recovery

Finally, a word of encouragement. If you or a loved one are struggling with drug addiction, there are many avenues for help. The first step is to acknowledge the problem and reach out for support. There are no easy solutions; recovery will take time and effort. But with the support of trained professionals and a commitment to change, the odds are in your favor.

Sources

  1. https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Detoxification-and-Substance-Abuse-Treatment/SMA06-4225

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