Withdrawing from drugs or alcohol can be extremely uncomfortable and even life-threatening, but a holistic, medical approach to detox makes it possible for those experiencing addiction to recover in relative comfort and with minimized risks to their health. Here’s how medically supported detox works and why it’s important.
What is Withdrawal?
With continual use of a substance, the brain and body become dependent upon its presence, while their tolerance to the substance increases. Eventually, so much of the substance is required for the same effect that the body cannot function normally without it. When someone ceases using the substance, the body is shocked by its absence. Symptoms of withdrawal can include headache, fever, nausea, convulsions, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and unbearable cravings. In cases where the person has been using alcohol or benzodiazepine, quitting “cold turkey” can cause seizures, arrhythmia, and extreme fever.
Withdrawal produces so much stress on the mind and body that patients are at high risk of relapse. Regardless of whether pharmaceutical treatment is used in the detox process, patients should be monitored closely and administered medical care by health professionals. In addition, other supportive structures, such as support groups, should be in place to encourage patients to stick it out.
The Use of Medication in Medical Detox
Medically supported detox typically includes medications meant to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal or mitigate the health effects of ceasing the use of drugs or alcohol. However, the use of pharmaceutical aids in medically supported detox is not required for all rehabilitation and recovery procedures. Many people experiencing issues with substance abuse can detox naturally without danger to their health — although it will be uncomfortable. However, medically supported detox can help aid the process of un-learning one’s dependency on a substance, as well as provide comfort or support other medical treatments.
Different Detox for Different Drugs
For alcohol or benzodiazepine dependency, abruptly stopping use can be life-threatening. A medical detox centers facility includes medical staff who can help treat patients. Drugs such as naltrexone or acamprosate and reduce cravings while detoxing from alcohol, while benzodiazepines and beta blockers alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal. For those dependent upon benzodiazepines, a less addictive drug in that family, such as diazepam, is introduced, then tapered off.
Stopping opiate use isn’t a direct threat to one’s health, but usually results in persistent pain that can make detox extremely uncomfortable and make relapse more likely. Drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine can manage the pain without becoming addictive, while clonidine can help prevent other withdrawal symptoms.
Those who regularly use cocaine or methamphetamine typically exhibit extreme mood imbalance during withdrawal and might become a danger to themselves or others. Drugs such as propranolol can help regulate patients’ moods and decrease suicide risk.
A Treatment Plan for Everyone
If you suffer from both substance abuse and mental health issues (and especially if you’re on medication for those), detox can be challenging. You will likely need medically supported detox, including supportive pharmaceuticals, to help manage your withdrawal symptoms while still treating your condition. The risk of suicide increases when you cease the use of substances while experiencing depression, so the medical detox team will need to observe you closely. Inpatient care is recommended.
If you’re experienced a polydrug addiction, you’ll be experiencing withdrawal symptoms that may exacerbate each other, and the medical team will need to take special care of you. In addition, some pharmaceuticals that may treat one condition, e.g. benzodiazepines, can’t be used if you’re experiencing other conditions as well. Medical detox programs will carefully balance the treatment of withdrawal while minimizing cravings and supporting your overall health.
Myths about Detox
Myth: Sleeping through the detox can help the process.
Fact: In the 1990s, “ultra-rapid” detox techniques were developed, using a combination of sedatives or anesthesia and an opiate antagonist to accelerate withdrawal. The idea was that the patient would get out all their symptoms out of the way. However, not only was the procedure risky, but studies showed that most patients still experienced withdrawal symptoms after coming out of sedation. However, the technique is still used in rare circumstances.
Myth: Medically supported detox will eliminate the discomfort of withdrawal.
Fact: Sadly, no treatment plan is powerful enough to absolutely prevent all symptoms of withdrawal. However, medical detox facilities feature health professionals who can provide multifaceted support for detox and subsequent rehabilitation.
Myth: Cleansing your system with vitamins and herbs is a healthier alternative.
Fact: There is no evidence that chugging vinegar, consuming high amounts of vitamin C, or other “natural” methods of detox work at all, let alone if you’re experiencing addiction to a substance. While healthy eating and lots of water do support overall health, they won’t rid your body of toxins, let alone rewire your body to no longer be dependent upon a substance.
Myth: Detox will cure you of addiction.
Fact: While it may seem like the above treatments will rid you of the substance and your cravings for it, they won’t tackle the underlying causes of addiction. They are merely the first step toward long-term recovery.
Inpatient or Outpatient?
Whether you will require an inpatient or outpatient program depends upon your specific needs and the level of risk to your health once you cease use of the substance. In addition, if there is a high risk of relapse or suicide, an inpatient facility that provides round-the-clock medical supervision is ideal. Either way, it’s crucial to maintain or cultivate a support system, such as peer groups and counseling relationships, to help prevent relapse during and after detox.
Needing Medically Supported Detox
Medically supported detox is the recommended model for safe detoxification and the beginning of your recovery journey. It typically uses pharmaceuticals to target the symptoms of withdrawal, minimize cravings that could lead to relapse, and taper off substances that would be dangerous to quit cold turkey. As well, medical detoxification takes a whole-person model that approaches addiction as a medical problem with medical solutions. It empowers those experiencing addiction to safely cease use while setting themselves up for long-term recovery and abstinence.
If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.