Detox, or detoxification from substances, is a medical treatment to stabilize a person from the physical effects of the substance they are using. If a person is using substances (drugs/alcohol) daily, then they can become physically dependent upon the substance. Attempting detox without medical supervision can be uncomfortable, dangerous, or even fatal due to complications of withdrawal symptoms. Using any substance can cause physical dependence. Even everyday substances, like nicotine or caffeine, can have withdrawal symptoms that can make someone trying to quit uncomfortable.
An individual can detox from alcohol and drugs in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Although both settings for detox are available, it is important to understand the risks and factors to consider before making your choice.
The physiological changes that can happen due to consistent substance use affect various systems in a person’s body. Once impacting these systems, stopping will initiate the process of withdrawal and cause the person to be extremely uncomfortable. This is often a primary reason for relapse for people who try to stop using by themselves.
Detox treatment consists of a medically monitored process, stabilizing a person through the acute (immediate) effects of substance withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the substance used, and can include:
Healthcare professionals in a detox setting will use medications to stabilize and minimize the discomfort associated with withdrawal. Despite what some places may advertise, there is no such thing as a “pain-free detox”. During the detoxification process, your body is trying to rid itself of harmful toxins and re-establish a sense of balance. Although this is healthy and necessary, it can be uncomfortable, but a medically monitored detox procedure will help to make the process as comfortable as possible.
If you have tried to stop on your own without success or if you have tried to stop but felt uncomfortable, it is necessary to detox from alcohol or drugs. Although, medications prescribed in detox can help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms they do not remove them completely.
Certain substances require a medically supervised inpatient detox. Alcohol and benzodiazipines are arguably the most dangerous substances to detox from as there is a high possibility of seizure during the detoxification process. Alcohol and benzodiazipines are powerful central nervous system depressants. When taken daily, the body counteracts these effects with its own natural stimulants in the brain called excitatory neurotransmitters. When a person stops using alcohol or benzodiazipines the brain does not immediately regulate its naturally adjusted stimulants, excitatory neurotransmitters, which can create the potential for seizures that can be deadly or fatal.
Opioids also typically require a medically supervised inpatient detox. Like alcohol and benzodiazipines, opioids are a potent central nervous system depressant, which causes the body to adapt and increase its natural stimulants excitatory neurotransmitter. Unlike alcohol or benzodiazipines, opioid detoxification does not typically result in seizures, but the physical effects can be debilitating.
These symptoms can last for several days but typically peak 72 hours after the person’s last use. Depending on the opioid of choice and an individuals metabolism, time will vary. Since these symptoms are so severe many people relapse to opioids if they try to detox at home. This becomes an increasingly dangerous time to relapse as during any period of abstinence a person’s tolerance for the substance changes. As their tolerance changes, they become increasingly more vulnerable to overdose on opioids which could potentially be fatal. Because of these factors, it comes highly recommended that a person seek professional medical inpatient detoxification from opioids.
Based on medical necessity, the length of stay for Detox varies. A typical stay in detox can last from 3 to 14 days. On average most people will stay around seven days. Remember, detox is only physical stabilization from the effects of substance withdrawal. Once a person is no longer at severe risk for withdrawal symptoms and their vital signs are with safe limits, they typically are discharged to a lower less intense level of care.
At the end of the detox protocol, most people are still not feeling 100%. They are typically still experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, although these symptoms are less intense. Despite the decrease in the intensity of these symptoms, they are much more persistent and can last for months after the initial detox. These symptoms are referred to as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome and can last up to 2 years after a person stops using substances.
Detox is only the beginning of the continuum of care for addiction treatment. It is the first stop on your recovery journey. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defined addiction as a biological, psychological, social, and spiritual chronic disease of the brain. Detox primarily addresses the biological symptoms of addiction. It is extremely important that a person continue their path of recovery into a long-term continuum of treatment. This can be done through residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient levels of care. They can also seek additional resources like self-help or sober living resources as part of their comprehensive recovery plan. It is in this recovery plan where a person receives the tools and support to live a life of recovery.
Additional References: asam.org
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