Understanding the Detox Process

Making the decision to get help for an addiction can be a very tough one but very rewarding. Struggling with addiction and realizing help is needed is a big step. Deciding that treatment is the best option for addiction is the first step in the recovery process. Realizing there is a problem that needs help. The next step for successful recovery is detox.

What is Detox?

Detox is a process that safely gets an addict through the withdrawal stage and on the path for recovery. Detox is very important to get the substances out of the system and allow you to have a clear mind going into recovery. Detox can prevent unpleasant or fatal consequences resulting from sudden cessation of use and can aid you in becoming abstinent from drugs or alcohol. The goal of any detox program is physiological healing after long-term drug or alcohol addiction. First through stabilization, then through a period of detoxification.

First Stage of Drug Detox

The initial period of detoxification can be intense for many patients, and medical and psychiatric staff members will be on hand constantly to provide effective support. For example, within several hours after the last dose of heroin, those suffering from an addiction to the opioid will often experience some of the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Excessive yawning
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Muscle aches
  • Increasing watering of the eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Insomnia

Although these symptoms aren’t life-threatening, they can be quite uncomfortable, which is why it’s beneficial for these patients to receive psychiatric and medical care while detoxing from drugs. A number of issues can come up for patients in their first few hours of detox. The most urgent need will be addressed first, followed by the next and the next until full stabilization has been established. Some examples of possible issues include:

Violence

Some drugs can increase violent behaviors in users. For example, people who abuse synthetic cathinones, or “bath salts,” might be more at risk of hurting themselves or others. Patients who are a danger to others might require sedation or restraint to protect them and medical providers. These measures are only necessary if the patient becomes physically aggressive and attempts to harm staff members.

Symptoms of psychosis

Psychosis is a dangerous complication brought on by the effects of some drugs, such as cocaine. If someone uses excessive amounts of cocaine, they can become paranoid and even experience full-blown psychosis. Symptoms include visual and auditory hallucinations and delusional thinking. Other reasons for psychosis include the presence of a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia, or a lack of sleep due to stimulant use. Someone who is suffering from psychosis can behave erratically and become unpredictable. It’s important to address this issue and treat the patient appropriately before proceeding with further interventions.

Injury

In some cases, patients may have hurt themselves while under the influence of drugs or been physically or sexually assaulted before entering detox. For example, phencyclidine, or PCP, is a powerful dissociative drug that can cause feelings of increased strength and invulnerability. Due to this misconception, PCP users are likely to put themselves in harm’s way because they’re under the impression that they won’t get hurt. They’re also at an increased risk for suicidal behaviors, which can result in injury if suicide is not completed. Any physical injury must be treated immediately before addiction treatment is provided.

Medical illness

Many people who suffer from chronic, debilitating pain are prescribed opioid painkillers. Unfortunately, it’s possible to develop a dependence and subsequent addiction to these medications. As the patient begins to detox from the prescription opioid, their severe pain will return in addition to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to be aware of the individual’s medical history and treat the symptoms of pain appropriately before proceeding.

Threat to self

Withdrawal from opioids and other substances can be associated with severe depressive symptoms that might be connected to suicide attempts and completed suicides. Patients who exhibit suicidal behaviors or thoughts must be protected at all times. Once these acute issues have been assessed and identified during evaluation, they’ll immediately be treated until they have passed or the patient has been stabilized. At that time, attention and focus can turn to dealing with withdrawal symptoms associated with detox.

Detox Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms that are experienced during the detox can vary between multiple things depending on the user. Factors that influence individual experiences with withdrawal include:

  • The length of addiction. Daily use for an extended period of time can cause lead to high levels of tolerance and more severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • The combination of drugs abused, including alcohol. A comorbid dependence on drugs and alcohol can create a unique constellation of withdrawal symptoms, which might exacerbate one another.
  • The dose of the drug when the patient enters detox. Tolerance develops from persistent substance abuse. Thus, doses must be increased in order to feel the desired results. The higher the doses used, the more likely it is that withdrawal symptoms will be severe.
  • The existence of co-occurring physical or mental disorders. If a patient suffers from a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety or a physical condition such as chronic pain, these symptoms could be amplified due to withdrawal and cause significant distress.
  • Half-life of the drug. In general, if the drug is short-acting, withdrawal symptoms will occur more immediately after the last dose. If it’s long-acting, withdrawal syndrome may be delayed a few days.

Common withdrawal symptoms that develop in association with a number of drug types include:

  • Mood disturbances. This can mean mood swings, irritability, and/or agitation.
  • Sleep disturbances. Insomnia despite intense fatigue is common.
  • Physical issues. These may include chills, sweating, tremors or shaking, as well as flu-like symptoms, including runny nose and headache, nausea, and vomiting.
  • The desire to use the drug of choice in order to stop the withdrawal symptoms is strong.

Types of Drug Detox

There are different types of detox. The specific types of substances having been abused as well as the spectrum of withdrawal symptoms experienced by the patient will influence which type of detox is appropriate. Some choices include:

  • Outpatient detox. It’s rare that this is recommended, but an outpatient program might be a good choice in relatively less severe cases of addiction, where regular check-ins with the treatment team and medication available by prescription or a methadone clinic can provide acceptable detox care. In instances where money is an issue or the patient must stay engaged at work or home, coming into an outpatient detox program regularly could provide adequate treatment.
  • Inpatient detox. In most cases, inpatient or residential detox is recommended in order to help patients avoid relapse and make sure that they have medical care in the event of an emergency. Most detox options are inpatient. Some are stand-alone programs will arrange for a seamless transfer to ongoing substance abuse treatment at detox completion, while others will be packaged with an inpatient addiction treatment program that addresses the psychological issues related to addiction as well.

If you or a loved one are unsure of the type of detox that is best, do not hesitate to call for help today. Detox from home can become very uncomfortable and dangerous and it is important to go about detox the right way to get a healthy start on the path of recovery.