What Is Detoxification?
Detoxification, or detox, is the process of letting the body remove the drugs in it. The purpose of detox is to safely manage withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking drugs or alcohol.
Everyone has a different experience with detox. The type of drug and how long it was used affect what detox will be like.
Medications used in detox help keep former users comfortable while the drugs leave their body.
It can take days or months to get through withdrawal symptoms for most drugs. The length of withdrawal depends on a number of factors, including:
- Type of substance the user is addicted to
- Duration an addiction has lasted
- The severity of the addiction
- Method of abuse (snorting, smoking, injecting, or swallowing)
- The amount of a substance the user takes at one time
- Family history
- Genetic makeup
- Medical condition
- Underlying mental health conditions
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Can I Detox at Home?
Choosing to detox at home can be deadly. Quitting “cold turkey” or without medical supervision can lead to serious issues such as seizures and severe dehydration.
There are inpatient and outpatient detox programs that help prevent dangerous complications. People with severe addictions should seek inpatient detox because withdrawal can be fatal. Inpatient detox includes 24-hour support and monitoring.
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The Process of Detoxification
Everyone’s detox needs are different. The drug detox process helps addicted people get personalized treatment. In most cases, the process involves three steps:
The medical team screens incoming patients for physical and mental health issues. Doctors use blood tests to measure the amount of drugs in the patient’s system. This helps determine the level of medications needed.
There is also a comprehensive review of drug, medical and psychiatric histories. This information sets up the basis for the patient’s long-term treatment plan.
The next step is to stabilize the patient with medical and psychological therapy. The goal of stabilization is to prevent any form of harm to the patient. Doctors can prescribe addiction treatment medications to prevent complications and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Preparing Entry into Treatment
The final step of detox is preparation for a treatment program. Doctors familiarize their patients with the treatment process and what to expect. Inpatient rehab offers the best chances of success after detox.
Side Effects of Detox
The process of drug detox can be painful and dangerous. This is why medical detox is so important. Detox with medical supervision allows patients to detox in a safe and comfortable environment. The extent of supervision is different in inpatient and outpatient rehab.
A medically supervised detox prevents dangerous complications of drug and alcohol withdrawal.
Although medical detox limits the symptoms of withdrawal, some are unavoidable. Some of the most common side effects may include:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Body discomfort
- Mood swings
- Poor sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
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Drug Detox During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman has a strong motive to quit drugs for her baby’s sake. Drinking alcohol or using drugs while pregnant can harm not only the mother, but also the unborn child as these substances cross the placenta to the baby. Detox, especially if done cold turkey, can cause stress on the unborn child such as preterm labor or severe fetal distress.
Detox with medical supervision is an absolute must for pregnant women, as withdrawal symptoms may be especially harmful to the fetus. The goal of detox for pregnant women is to prevent relapse and manage pain.
Detox specialists can keep babies safe and healthy by treating pregnant women in detox.
Doctors often prescribe medications to stabilize pregnant women in detox. Alcohol and opiate detox usually pose the most risks to unborn children.
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Detox by Drug Type
Detox is more difficult for some people depending on the drugs they used. Depending on the drug, withdrawal symptoms may be more physical or more mental.
Cocaine withdrawal, for instance, is psychological. Detox involves managing initial cravings and anxiety. But alcohol withdrawal includes physical symptoms that can cause seizures or death in some cases.
Detox often includes medications that mimic the effects of drugs to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Medications may also target co-occurring disorders or general discomfort.
Drugs that are most dangerous to detox from, and often require medication, include alcohol and benzodiazepines. The drugs that are considered the most uncomfortable to detox from are opioids, especially heroin.
Rapid and Ultra-rapid Detox and Risks
Rapid detox is a method of removing substances from a user’s system faster than regular detox. Advocates of rapid detox say it’s a faster way to get the drugs out of the body while avoiding painful withdrawal symptoms.
Rapid detox can be dangerous as well as expensive.
In rapid detox, the addicted person is sedated with anesthesia and given medications that replace the drugs in the body. This method was originally developed for people addicted to opiate drugs like heroin and painkillers. The risks of rapid detox often outweigh the benefits.
Rapid detox can cause
- Heart attack
- High body temperature
“Ultra-rapid detox” programs can take as little as a few hours. Approximately 1 in 500 people die from ultra rapid detox, according to the Coleman Institute.
Traditional rapid detox programs take about two to three days to complete and carry less danger, but are still more expensive than a typical detox. It can cost up to $10,000 and isn’t generally covered by insurance.
Most people who complete rapid or ultra-rapid detox report continuation of withdrawal symptoms, albeit at a lower severity. Patients who choose rapid or ultra-rapid detox are much less likely to continue on in treatment, such as attending inpatient or outpatient rehab. Because of this, they are less likely to work on relapse prevention, possible co-occurring mental health conditions, and life planning and therefore more likely to experience relapse.
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Life After Detox
Detox is just the first part of addiction treatment. Detox on its own is usually insufficient for a successful recovery. Addicted people need to treat the psychological part of their addiction. They can accomplish this with counseling, support groups or an inpatient rehab program. An addiction specialist will help you transition into your new treatment plan.
Contact a treatment specialist to find a treatment center near you.
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