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Drug Detox Ultimate Guide: What it is and What You Should Expect

By May 15, 2018 June 15th, 2023 No Comments
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Even though millions of people worldwide struggle with addiction, research shows that very few people actually receive the treatment they need.

For most, drug detox represents the first step towards a sustained and fulfilling recovery.

Detox provides a safe and supportive monitored environment for those struggling with acute intoxication and withdrawal. It can also provide the launchpad for entering residential or outpatient treatment.

Let’s get into what you need to know about detox.

What is Drug Detox?

While detox centers may vary in their services and amenities, detox refers to a managed set of interventions that help ease withdrawal. During detox, the body clears itself of drug and alcohol-related toxins.

Detoxing cold turkey can present with numerous risks including death. If someone is withdrawing from alcohol or benzodiazepines, like Xanax or Klonopin, the medical complications associated with seizures can be fatal.

Drug detox may include medication-assisted treatment, as the detox process alone can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Specific medications will vary on the individual’s medical history and the drugs present in his or her system.

Detoxes provide 24/7 care, support, and monitoring by trained behavior technicians, nurses, therapists, and psychiatrists. You will likely have limited to no contact with the outside world during this time.

Drug detox can take place in a variety of settings including:

  • hospitals
  • physician’s offices
  • private, freestanding detox centers
  • publicly-funded detox centers

For most, detox is critical for both the physical and mental well-being. The combination of peer and professional support can help motivate and redirect individuals during this difficult time.

Who Needs Detox?

It can be hard to understand the difference between ‘problematic’ substance use and ‘severe’ addiction.

There is not a single answer to determine if you or a loved one needs detox treatment for addiction recovery. However, there are a few points you should keep in mind:

  • Are you unable to quit substance use despite wanting to do so?
  • Is your substance use interfering with work, school, or relationships?
  • Have you been able to cut back- but then quickly relapse within a few days?
  • Has your tolerance to the substance increased?
  • Are you worried about surviving withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you struggle with a mental health disorder?
  • Do you struggle with a serious medical condition?
  • Do you live in a physically or emotionally triggering home environment?

Answering yes to any of these questions may indicate that entering detox is the best decision for starting your recovery.

Addiction, after all, is a progressive disease. When left untreated, it can certainly be fatal. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and ask for help- rather than hope you can accomplish the detox on your own.

Alcohol Detox

Those struggling with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from alcohol detox to ease the withdrawal symptoms associated with initial sobriety.

Acute alcohol withdrawal (AW) refers to the assortment of symptoms one experiences when initially abstaining from alcohol. These symptoms can range from mild and tolerable to fatal, depending on risk factors such as:

  • History of seizures or delirium tremens
  • Lifetime duration of alcohol drinking
  • Prior history of detox
  • Nervous system complications
  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Enhanced liver enzymes
  • Mental health disorders
  • Medical conditions

Proper medical attention can mitigate the risks associated with severe alcohol withdrawal. That’s why detox is typically recommended for patients desiring to become sober.

Alcohol detox side effects can include:

  • Shakiness and/or tremors (known as “the shakes)
  • Vomiting and/or nausea
  • Mental health disturbances (anger, agitation, anxiety, depression0
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations

Symptoms can start as early as 8 hours after the last drink, but they peak between 1-3 days. Symptoms taper around 5-7 days.

Patients may receive detox medications, such as Ativan, Librium, or Valium to ease the physiological discomfort.

Opioid Detox

Prescription drug misuse and heroin represent leading problems in today’s society. Opioids can be powerfully addicting, and opioid addiction can quickly become devastating for sufferers and their families.

Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Feverish symptoms (a runny nose, sweating)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea and irritable bowel distress
  • Muscle aches and body soreness
  • Pupil dilation
  • High cravings
  • Severely depressed and/or anxious mood

Physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal depend on the half-life of the substance. For heroin, symptoms can start 6-24 hours after the last use. Typically, symptoms peak between 2-3 days and taper after about 1 week.

Today, many detox centers use medication to assist with these uncomfortable withdrawal side effects. Medication may include:

Furthermore, patients struggling with co-occurring issues like depression or anxiety may be prescribed psychotropic medication to manage escalated mental health symptoms.

Stimulant Detox

Stimulants refer to drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and legal amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin.

Most people use stimulants for their heightening, mood-boosting effects. With that said, it’s common for drug users to “binge” on stimulants, meaning they use a large amount over a period of time- often at the expense of eating or sleeping.

Stimulant withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Severe fatigue and oversleeping
  • Heightened appetite
  • Paranoia or delusional thinking
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or plans
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Mood changes (irritability, anxiety, disorientation)
  • Vivid, intense dreams
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in usual hobbies, friends, or routine

Symptoms typically peak within the first 1-3 days, and it is common for symptoms to persist up to about one week. Mental health disturbances can persist for several weeks after the last dose.

To date, there are not any specific medications used to treat stimulants. However, individuals may receive psychotropic medication for related mental health issues.

Benzodiazepine Detox

Benzodiazepines include drugs like Xanax and Klonopin and Ativan. Even if these are medically-prescribed, they can become habit-forming and easily abused by those who take them.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal side effects can include:

  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia, hypersomnia)
  • Enhanced mental health issues (panic attacks, anxiety, tension, irritability)
  • Deficits in focus and concentration
  • Headaches
  • Muscular pain and feelings of weakness

The symptoms typically peak within 1-4 days after the last dose, depending on the half-life of the drug. However, lingering symptoms can last anywhere between 1-2 weeks.

Hallucinogen Detox

Hallucinogens can include PCP, LSD, ecstasy/MDMA, and DMT. Hallucinogens impact the way you perceive reality, and the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Changes in breathing and blood pressure
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Intense sweating
  • Feelings of numbness
  • Flashbacks
  • Severe mental health symptoms (depression, anxiety)

Detox symptoms can peak between 1-3 days, lasting up to about a week. Currently, there are no specified medications for hallucinogen withdrawal.

Polysubstance Detox

Many individuals struggling with addiction do not just use one substance. It is common for people to use a variety of drugs to enhance different effects.

With that in mind, detox timelines and severity will vary depending on the substances in the bloodstream. It is essentially impossible for people to know what detox will feel like ahead of time.

One’s detox experience will be influenced by several factors, including:

  • The severity of substance use
  • Types of substances used
  • Co-morbid medical conditions (diabetes, chronic pain, etc.)
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions (depression, anxiety)

Your treatment team will establish an appropriate detox schedule for you that takes into consideration all of these factors.

How to Find the Right Detox

There are many detox options and treatment providers available to you throughout the country. It can be challenging to comb through all the options to find the best center.

Outpatient Detox

Known as the least restrictive level of care, this kind of detox may take place in day hospital programs or physician offices. It typically lasts less than a week and is usually recommended only for those with mild or moderate substance use disorders.

People who receive outpatient detox typically commute to the center from home, which means they can continue with school and work as needed.

Medical Inpatient Detox

This is a 24-hour level of care that provides supervision and monitoring. It is the most intensive level of care. Medical refers to the option for medication-assisted treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Non-Medical/Social Residential Detox

This is similar to medical inpatient detox in that it provides structure and support. However, these detoxes do not utilize prescribed medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. They may rely on more natural or holistic measures to aid with withdrawal symptoms.

Executive and Luxury Detox

Typically geared towards celebrities or executives, these detox centers may offer unique amenities and ideal environments that resemble upscale resorts.

You may have special access to private chefs, exercise equipment, and technology. You may also receive unique services like yoga, acupuncture, and equine therapy. These detox centers are typically the most expensive options and are geared towards wealthier populations.

Other Notes

Before selecting a detox, it’s a good idea to speak with the facility’s admission team and understand the requirements and expectations.

You should feel encouraged to ask as many questions as you want, and you should feel safe to express your fears and concerns.

Finally, it’s important to ask about the facility’s credentials and accreditations. You definitely want a facility that maintains a professional standard of expertise.

Detox Success Rates

You likely know that recovery from addiction is a complex and challenging process. Relapse rates tend to be high.

With that said, detox can provide a lasting chance for individuals who cannot stop using substances on their own. As cravings tend to be especially high in the initial stages, detox can provide a barrier to withstand this discomfort.

It should be noted that detox alone is not considered sufficient treatment. Detox provides the initial evaluation and stabilization. However, it does not prepare the individual with adequate coping skills to manage sobriety.

For these reasons, most people benefit from extended treatment after completing their detox. In treatment, you will learn about distress tolerance and relapse prevention. You will learn how to manage difficult cravings and reach out for help when needed.

Be wary of any treatment center that promises sobriety or touts exceedingly high success rates. These statistics may be exaggerated or even fabricated.

Nobody can guarantee recovery. It is important for you and your loved ones to have realistic expectations.

Detox Rules & Expectations

Each detox center has its own set of policies and procedures patients must abide by while in the facility.

During your intake process, you will likely hear all about these rules and need to sign paperwork stating your agreement.

Typically, patients must actively participate in group and individual sessions and participate in other extracurricular activities.

It is expected for people to treat each other with respect and practice confidentiality when talking about sensitive issues. You will be expected to be cordial and cooperative with both the staff and other patients.

With all that in mind, know that it’s okay to have a hard time or to struggle. Even with the best possible mindset, this process will not be easy.

Treatment professionals anticipate that you may have a rocky journey. They would rather you be honest about your struggles or fears than lie about them. The professionals are there to help you- take advantage of their expertise and support.

Final Thoughts on Detox

Preparing for drug detox can undoubtedly be frightening. You may be worried about what to expect- and you may be scared about considering a life without drug use.

Know that many people before you have experienced this same fear and ambivalence. Recovery from your addiction is possible, and help is available to you, but detox is only the first step towards recovery from addiction. Medical detox will remove substance from ones’ body but will not stop symptoms of addiction, if you are looking for effective ways to stop addiction once and for all you should consider drug rehabilitation centre that has an accredited and personalized treatment programs for recovery from substance abuse.

Contact our admissions team today for more information.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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