The first step in recovering from a substance use disorder is the detoxification process. Detox is the process of removing traces of drugs or alcohol from the body. This process often comes with mental and physical challenges and, in some cases, can be complicated and dangerous if not done under the care of addiction specialists.
At Quit Alcohol, we offer information about addiction and help to access drug and alcohol detox services. Our rehab advisors prioritize helping individuals find professional care to safely undergo detox.
What Is Drug Detox?
Drug detox is the process through which someone with a substance use disorder removes drugs from their body. The detox process is an intense but necessary first step for those seeking to recover from substance abuse.
Using drugs alters your brain’s chemistry. It can affect your ability to resist the urge to use the substance. These changes can persist, making relapsing a possibility even after years of sobriety.
Drug addiction affects your brain’s reward system. It floods it with dopamine, which causes euphoria. These powerful dopamine surges encourage the reward system to crave the drug, leading to addiction.
The more you use the drug, however, the more your brain adapts to its effects, requiring more and more of it to attain the same results. This is drug tolerance. Not only does it mean you will need more of the drug to achieve the high you want, but it also means that your brain will not be able to derive pleasure from other things you enjoyed, like food and social activities.
When you stop using the drug cold turkey, your body doesn’t know how to function without it. This leads to withdrawal symptoms.
Stages of Drug Withdrawal
The process of withdrawal begins when you stop using the drug. Depending on the substance, the first withdrawal symptoms may begin a few hours after the last dose, or they can take as long as a day to develop. You may already be familiar with some of these initial symptoms because they occur if you miss or delay a dose.
The next step is the intensification of the withdrawal symptoms. Usually, this stage begins 24 hours after you stop using the drug. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, some of these withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Muscle aches
- Temperature changes
- Blood pressure increase
- Dilated pupils
- Appetite changes
Experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms makes a relapse more likely. This is the stage where medically assisted detox can offer the most assistance because it helps reduce discomfort.
Severe withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, so turning to experts for help and for medications that can reduce these symptoms is crucial.
What Is Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox or detoxification is a medical process where an alcoholic weans off the potentially dangerous side effects of sudden alcohol cessation with medication and a long-term treatment plan to ensure continuing recovery of the mind and body.
Putting down the last drink can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms for an alcoholic. According to Harvard Medical School studies, between 5-25% of people who go through serious alcohol withdrawal die from the ordeal. It is crucial not to attempt alcohol detox on your own. Seek professional help when detoxing.
Sudden alcohol cessation causes dangerous withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens. In inpatient detox, medical professionals often substitute drugs like benzodiazepines that have similar effects to that of alcohol to prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Following detox, a facility will often have other forms of treatment and therapy to guide the recovering alcoholic to maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal is not limited to the first few hours after putting down the last drink. Complications can stretch days to weeks after you stop drinking alcohol.
In the initial days or weeks, an alcoholic might suffer from acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome with side effects such as:
- Delirium Tremens or “DTs”
- Loss of consciousness
- Visual & auditory hallucinations
The second stage is longer, lasting weeks to as much as a year. A chronic alcoholic can experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS, marked by symptoms such as:
- Emotional outbursts
- Low energy
- Intense cravings
- Chronic nausea
The severity of the withdrawal symptoms may depend on how long you have been abusing alcohol and how much you drink, as well as your physical health.
Science & The Meds
Alcohol mimics neurotransmitters in the brain like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), slowing down neural processing that leads to relaxation, sociability, and sleepiness. With a chronic drinker, the brain does not produce enough GABA, and neurons misfire, causing withdrawal symptoms like shaking and a rapid heartbeat.
In detox, medical professionals administer medications that activate GABA receptors and regulate the firing of neurons in the brain. This lessens dangerous withdrawal symptoms. These medications may include benzodiazepines such as Librium, Valium and Ativan. Antiepileptic and sedative-hypnotic sleep aids are other medications that professional detox facilities may use.
At Quit Alcohol, we recommend medically supervised detox to ensure you do not have to suffer through the more severe withdrawal symptoms. This process involves medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, and addiction specialists who monitor you 24/7 to ensure you are safe and comfortable while your body rids itself of the toxins caused by substance use.
Medical detox often incorporates medication-assisted treatment, which is the use of FDA-approved addiction medicine to help ease discomfort caused by withdrawal symptoms. Addiction medicine often provides the stabilization you need to focus on the recovery process.
There are some ways to tell if you will require medically assisted detox. Turn to a treatment center that offers medical detox if you:
- Use the drug you are addicted to in large amounts and have done so for a substantial amount of time
- Require larger amounts of the drug to get the same high
- Crave the substance if you do not have it
- Unsuccessfully tried to quit using the drug
The following substances have such severe withdrawal symptoms that you should not attempt to detox from them on your own.
The effects of opioids mimic those of endorphins, your body’s natural opioids. Using these drugs shuts down your body’s production of endorphins. The withdrawal symptoms can feel like a severe flu. Medical assistance can help you remain safe while detoxing from opioids.
Benzodiazepines have similar effects on the body as alcohol, so medical detox is needed to ensure your safety and help you avoid the risk of a relapse.
Stimulants and synthetic drugs can also cause severe physical symptoms during the detoxing process that medical detox can address.
How the Process Works
At the treatment center you choose, they will perform an evaluation before the detox process can begin. Medical professionals will evaluate your mental and physical health and get a full medical history.
Not only will this allow your treatment team to plan the right medications, but it will also assist them in choosing the best therapies for you. This is crucial if you have a dual diagnosis and need mental health treatment along with addiction treatment.
There are a variety of medications your team can choose from to help you detox, depending on the type of substance abuse and its severity.
Once you complete the detox process, your treatment team can begin planning the addiction treatment you need to find lasting recovery from drugs or alcohol. Inpatient treatment can be a good next step because it offers a high level of structure and support. It is a valuable option for people who have a high risk of relapsing.
Outpatient care such as artial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment can be other options. If you have responsibilities you cannot take a break from to attend residential treatment, outpatient care will allow you to return home each night but still offers hours of treatment each day. Both types of treatment, inpatient and outpatient, almost always offer support groups, individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and other treatment modalities.
Many treatment centers offer medication-assisted treatment during rehab, allowing you to focus on recovery without worrying about cravings. Not having the stress of these cravings can help prevent relapses.
Get Top Addiction Treatments
Studies show that alcoholism and drug abuse rewire the brain, making it more difficult for people with substance use disorders to be able to stop using on their own. If you feel you show some of the red flags of developing a substance use disorder, seek professional help and treatment. If you would like to be the hero of your own story and need help finding a treatment facility, the best first step you can take is to reach out to us at Quit Alcohol. Contact us today to learn more about your treatment options.