Detox for Drugs

detox for drugs

I. Understanding Drug Detoxification

When a person suffers from addiction, persistent drug abuse, or other diseases of choice concerning the use of substances, sometimes detoxification is necessary for a number of reasons. In many cases, detox can be a critical lifesaving procedure. In others, it can be both a life-saving procedure and a critical part of the addiction recovery process.

Here, we will discuss the meaning of detoxification from drugs in terms of recovery, and as a medical procedure. We will also cover the ways a detox program can be a beneficial part of a comprehensive drug addiction recovery plan.

Defining detoxification

Drug detoxification is the process of ridding the body of a drug, toxin, or other substance. It can be done by allowing the body to do the work unaided, which is preferable when it can be done safely. But medically assisted detox is sometimes either necessary or it is a way to help the patient complete the process more quickly and easily.

Medically assisted detox can reduce the time, discomfort, and risk that are sometimes involved. It requires the direct supervision of medical professionals to administer medications that help in the detox process. It involves medical observation for progress, side effects, and other potential consequences of withdrawal. Medically assisted drug detox is a safe, effective, and well-understood way to begin the addiction recovery process for those who require it.

The importance of detox in drug addiction recovery

The medically assisted detox process is also sometimes referred to as withdrawal management. Withdrawal symptoms are almost always moderately to highly unpleasant, and sometimes they can pose a threat to the health and even the life of the patient. For these reasons, medically assisted detox may be necessary.

Common symptoms of withdrawal include, but are not limited to:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Mood swings; anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Physical pain and discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping

When the symptoms of withdrawal are intense enough to be dangerous, medically assisted detox will be strongly recommended. However, in addiction recovery, we understand that any stressor reduces the likelihood of a successful and lasting recovery, and withdrawals are certainly a stressor. It is for this reason that a medically assisted detox may be recommended even when withdrawal symptoms are not dangerous.

In this way, detox is used as a means to reduce the trauma associated with the process, which will make the recovering addiction sufferer feel more at home and accepting of the full recovery process.

Overview of the detoxification process

In most cases, the detox process is described in three stages. They are; evaluation, stabilization, and treatment.

1. Evaluation: At this stage, medical professionals will provide an assessment of the mental and physical health of the patient. They will collect information about her or his history of drug use/abuse, and develop an individualized treatment plan.

2. Stabilization: In the stabilization stage, the patient will be given treatment for any life or health-threatening conditions. Symptoms will be treated to the point where the patient is reasonably comfortable. Vital signs will be monitored and emotional support will be provided. During this stage, a treatment program will be drafted. When the patient is willing and able to participate in the design of her or his treatment, further discussions with the patient may be had.

3. Treatment: To begin the treatment stage, the patient should be considered and shown to be physically clear of the substance or substances for which the detox stage was conducted. The patient will be transitioned into a treatment program and prepared for the duration of treatment. The bulk of the treatment stage may be made up of one or more of the following:

When considered as a part of this three-part process, detoxification is an evidence-based part of a complete and comprehensive addiction treatment program.

II. Understanding Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is commonly misunderstood due to the behavioral nature of the condition. All too often, we perceive drug addiction as a moral failing or an intentional act of wrongdoing. While it is certainly true that persons suffering from addiction can and do engage in wrong behavior, being addicted to a substance is much more a disease process than it is a lack of character.

Drug addiction defined

Drug addiction is a disorder of choice where the brain and/or body have been altered so that the individual no longer has the full ability to choose to refrain from using the substance. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication.”

At the time of this writing, the five drugs most frequently involved in an addiction case are:

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates

Effects of drug addiction on physical and mental health

Addiction may be best understood as a condition where a person may want to refrain from a given activity, but the physical or emotional cravings are so strong that the individual is unable to refrain from the behavior.

People can be addicted to many things, but addictions to drugs are the most common and dangerous types of addiction. Because an addicted person lacks self-control, he or she may engage in wrong behavior to obtain their drug of choice even when they would ordinarily choose not to.

In time, the addictive substance can replace the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, or the person’s willingness to engage in otherwise healthy activities. The drug takes the place of these things, destroying careers, friendships, families, and eventually the health of the sufferer.

III. The Detoxification Process

As mentioned above, the body has natural detoxification capabilities. Whenever possible, it is better to allow the body to perform the detox process by itself, naturally. But sometimes the substance of addiction is so pernicious that medical intervention is necessary.

Medical detoxification for drug addiction

In some cases, detoxification can be aided through the use of medications and medical supervision. One well-known detoxification medication is Narcan. This drug is used especially when a patient is in the throes of an overdose. Narcan is a well-understood means of saving lives in such cases. Other, similar drugs can be used, especially in cases where the patient has become physically dependent on alcohol, heroin, or painkillers, to name a few.

Other drugs may be used to ease the pain of severe withdrawals. During this time, the patient will be closely monitored. Vital signs will be measured and watched closely. The patient may also be given chemical assistance and emotional support for the duration of the detox process.

Factors that affect the detox process

Just as every case of addiction is different, so will one case requiring a detox program have a unique character compared to others. Factors that determine the nature of a given detox case can be affected by the following factors.

1. Type of drug

Alcohol addiction, for example, can range in severity from an emotional/behavioral addiction to its most severe form, known as alcohol dependence. When Alcoholism reaches the point of physical dependency, the addicted person metabolically requires alcohol to sustain life. When this is the case, the detox process must be done in an especially slow and meticulous way. The addicted person must be gradually weaned off alcohol until their system can absorb true nutrients. Certain other drugs can create similar dependencies, but alcohol is usually the worst.

2. Duration of addiction

The longer a person has been addicted, the greater the chance that metabolic dependency has set in. With any drug, the longer the duration of the addiction, the more delicate and involved the detox process will tend to be.

3. Individual health factors

Patients with severe metabolic disorders, a heart condition, or other conditions negatively affecting their health often require an especially careful, slow, and closely supervised detox process.

4. Co-occurring mental health disorders

Because addiction is largely a mental condition, it is not uncommon for other mental health problems to exist in the patient at the same time. Mental disorders can make addictive behavior more difficult to overcome. The patient may be unable to choose to seek help. He or she may hold beliefs or phobias that make treatment more challenging than it might otherwise be.

Often, the addiction sufferer will need mental health treatment, emotional support, and sometimes therapy using psychoactive prescription medication.

IV. Methods of Detoxification

The two primary means of detoxification are natural and medically assisted detox.

Medications used in detox

In addition to the use of Narcan to help an overdosing patient, the following medications are often used for the duration of a complete detox program:

Acamprosate: used to aid in alcohol abstinence
Anticonvulsants: used to treat/prevent seizures
Benzodiazepines: used to manage anxiety
Methadone: a replacement drug for persons with opioid or heroin addiction
Suboxone: used to treat opioid addiction
Subutex: reduces the symptoms of opioid withdraw

Monitoring and support during medically-assisted detox

Some level of medical assistance is almost always recommended during any detox program. Three comprehensive detox methodologies can be used in a range of cases. They are:

Rapid detoxification

Usually closely supervised and short in duration, a rapid detox program may be used after an evaluation determines that such an approach can be safe and effective. Perhaps the best types of cases for rapid detoxification involve heroin or opioids.

Holistic approaches to detox

This type of detox approach relies on the patient’s natural ability to heal. It may also involve the use of herbs, nutrition, water flushing, and other natural means of clearing substances from the body.

Home detox plans

If a patient’s addiction/dependency is sufficiently mild, and the individual’s mental and physical health is determined to be such that a self-directed home detox program can be safe and effective, then it becomes a viable option.

V. Post-Detox: The Importance of Continued Treatment

After detox is complete and successful, recovering addiction sufferers may take any or all of the continued treatment options listed below.

  1. Inpatient rehab: addiction treatment in a facility
  2. Outpatient rehab: supported recovery outside of a facility
  3. Counseling and therapy: inpatient or outpatient counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy
  4. Support groups: sharing experiences with and support from a group of addiction sufferers
  5. Long-term recovery: a lasting plan to avoid relapse-triggering stimuli and the establishment of healthy replacement behaviors

VI. Components of a Long-term Addiction Recovery Plan

Ongoing commitment to recovery

Unless the addiction sufferer wants to get better, no intervention will be enough. You may avail yourself of the best, proven methods of addiction treatment. But without the internal conviction that you want and deserve a better life, recovery cannot succeed.

Family and social support in the detox process

Family, friends, and loved ones have a critical supporting role to play in addiction recovery. Their support can and often does make a critical difference in the addiction-recovery process.

Legal and financial considerations

Patients in detox and addiction recovery often have options and legal rights in determining how, when, and where recovery interventions are to take place. Patients also have the right to have a say in the cost of the services they use. In court-appointed cases, these legal options may be limited. These issues are for the addiction sufferer and qualified professionals to discuss.

VII. Take the First Step Toward a Happier, Healthier Life

In many cases, detoxification is a necessary first step to a complete, successful, and lasting recovery from addiction. Detox is a life-saving intervention in many cases. But it is also a well-known, proven, and evidence-supported way to begin addiction treatment.

If you are suffering from substance abuse or addiction, seeking help is a critical first step on the road to health and wellness. Those requiring detoxification must complete this step for their safety. When detoxification is needed, no recovery program will be effective until detox is complete and successful.

The addiction-treatment experts at Allure Detox specialize in helping patients get through the detox process fully and successfully. After that, the way will be clear to begin your journey to better health and a better life. For more information on addiction and detoxification, see the links in the reference section, and contact the caring detoxification professionals at Allure Detox.


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