It is commendable when someone decides to address their substance use disorder and take the necessary steps to free themselves from the debilitating effects of the disease. The first unavoidable step in the recovery process involves completing detox and withdrawal. As much as detox is dreaded, it is a necessary prerequisite to the beginning of the rehabilitation process.
What is Detox?
When embarking on the recovery journey, the first order of business is to expel the substance’s residual toxins from the body through the detox process. Once the individual abstains from the substance they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within a period of hours. The withdrawal symptoms are a direct reflection of the central nervous system and brain attempting to adjust to the absence of the substance, which can be quite unpleasant.
Understanding how addiction or dependency develops can help explain why someone attempting to quit the substance experiences withdrawal symptoms. When a substance is introduced, the brain acknowledges pleasure, such as the euphoria and deep relaxation effects provided by the psychoactive substance. The brain records this in its reward system as something positive to want to repeat. As tolerance builds and consumption increases, the brain begins to make alterations in its neural pathways and dopamine production. Over time, the brain becomes dependent on the daily presence of the substance. This is why, when the substance is abruptly withheld, a cascade of uncomfortable and even painful symptoms affects the individual.
The detox process passes through three distinct stages: emerging symptoms, peak symptoms, and subsiding symptoms. Generally, detox lasts from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the duration of the substance use disorder and the amount of daily consumption.
What to Expect in Alcohol or Drug Detox
As tempting as it might be to attempt to complete detox at home without supervision, this is never recommended. Alcohol or drug detox can be highly unpredictable, with the possibility of dangerous withdrawal symptoms suddenly emerging. This is particularly true during alcohol or benzodiazepine detox. The best way to ensure a safe and successful detox is to undergo the process in a medically monitored setting.
During the detox process, trained detox professionals are tasked with closely monitoring the individual’s vital signs and withdrawal symptoms. This allows the detox team to provide timely medical interventions to dramatically reduce the discomfort of the withdrawal symptoms, while remaining on the lookout for any signs of dangerous symptoms.
In addition to the medications provided, the detox professionals also offer emotional support during the detox process. Many alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms are psychological, such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, or paranoia, which only add to the difficulty of detox. The psychological support will help the individual cope with the process and not give up. Without this emotional support, many would succumb to the symptoms and return to substance use, never making it into treatment at all.
When someone with an entrenched substance use disorder desires to stop benzodiazepines, prescription stimulants, or opioids, it is imperative that they do so under a doctor’s supervision. A tapering schedule will be designed to incrementally reduce the dosage of these substances, allowing the body to gradually acclimate to the new lower dose. This helps prevent severe withdrawals that could result in a health emergency.
Once the withdrawal symptoms have subsided and the individual is stable, he or she will be ready to transition to the active treatment phase of recovery. Rehabilitation is a necessary recovery step that helps individuals overcome the dysfunctional behavior patterns that have become a habit, replacing them with healthy actions that support sobriety.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.