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Even if you haven't been through it yet, you've seen it in movies. Drug withdrawal is painted by the media as a horrific and grueling process of physical illness and terrifying hallucinations. The truth is, watching a drug detox scene on a screen cannot even begin to depict how excruciating this process truly is. If you are currently contemplating what medical detox is like, be prepared for the most difficult and harrowing experience of your life. Wait; don't run away yet! We were just getting to the silver lining.
Surveys say that over 10% of adults in the United States are currently in recovery. That's more than 25 million people who have gone through drug or alcohol detox and won. 25 million people who have found a way to overcome substance use disorder and live a healthy lifestyle. No matter how hard the journey is; there is a destination in sight. Whether you're reading this article to learn about medical detox for your own addiction or someone that you know, remember that there is hope. If 25 million people have achieved freedom from addiction in this country alone, so can you.
One common impediment to people receiving help from addiction is revolving door syndrome. This is a phenomenon we see often in the addiction and rehabilitation world. Drug or alcohol addicted individuals seek help to achieve sobriety and some may even complete the program, only to relapse and return again for more help months or years later. Some addicts use this as an excuse not to use professional drug detox and rehab facilities, saying things like, "Well, my friend Ronald has been through rehab twice and he still relapsed."
The problem is the misconception that alcohol or drug rehabilitation can "fix" addiction. There is no permanent fix or cure for addiction. Substance use disorder is an internationally recognized chronic brain disease that affects over 160 million people worldwide. Like any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or cancer, relapse is always a possibility. However, it also always possible to relapse and then resume recovery. Relapse is not permanent and it is not a death sentence. It is simply a stumbling block in the lifelong road of recovery.
One way to overcome revolving door syndrome and prevent relapse is to look for drug detox treatment centers that offer comprehensive and medically advanced treatment options like dual diagnosis and medical detox.
Medical detox, also known as medically assisted treatment or medical intervention, is the practice of prescribing specialized medications to ease drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms and decrease the chances of relapse. This article will explore the reasons why medical detox is so beneficial to long-term recovery, as well as some different options for those who are interested in undergoing a medically-assisted detox program.
Alcohol and drug withdrawal are inevitable for anyone who has abused drugs or alcohol on a regular basis for any amount of time. It happens because of the effects that substance abuse has on your brain and body.
The initial euphoric feeling or "high" that you achieve from using substances occurs because drugs and alcohol trigger the release of "happy chemicals", or pleasure-causing neurotransmitters, in your brain. Your brain is predisposed to repeat behaviors that feel good - things like sex and eating good food - because in a natural environment, these types of behaviors could actually improve your survival.
In the case of substance abuse however, this is not the case. The unnatural and excessive release of pleasurable neurotransmitters creates an extreme imbalance in the brain, forcing it to shut down neural pathways in an attempt to regain equilibrium. When these pathways are shut down, less happy chemicals will be released with each dose, forcing the user to take more and more drugs or alcohol to achieve the same high as before. This is tolerance, an occurrence that only exacerbates the addiction cycle.
Now you have a brain with suppressed neurotransmitter receptors and pathways as well as a high tolerance to your substance of choice. At the same time, your brain will be releasing additional neurotransmitters to offset the effects of the happy chemicals that are buzzing around inside it. At this point, when you stop using substances, the resulting chemical imbalances will create utter chaos. All of the happy chemicals will be depleted, leaving only suppressed neural pathways and a vast overabundance of other types of neurotransmitters - the ones that cause pain, stress, anxiety, and negative emotions. Add that to the physical damage the substances have been doing to your body, and you're left with a range of unpleasant, painful, and emotionally draining symptoms; these are withdrawal symptoms.
Drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms generally last seven days, but could last much longer depending on the severity of the addiction and the substance of choice.
As you can imagine, the process described above results in an agonizing experience that is difficult to overcome. The sheer pain and discomfort of drug withdrawal is what leads to the most relapses; when one dose can make everything feel better, it is a temptation that few can resist. This is why quitting "cold turkey" is the most difficult way to go.
Some people suggest that quitting cold turkey is the only or the best way to go through detox, but it is not the only option. Through a combination of medications, counseling, and therapeutic activities, professional rehab detox centers can ease the process, reducing some of the most painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Relapse is also much less likely in a treatment program, whereas quitting cold turkey leads to more temptation, more access to illicit substances, and higher chances of relapse.
What's more, quitting without medical or professional assistance can be downright dangerous. Some symptoms of severe withdrawal are life-threatening, and relapsing during withdrawal greatly increases your chances of overdose.
Another addiction myth is the magical homemade drug detox drink, or over-the-counter detox drink from drugstores. First of all, if you're consuming a detox drink for meth in hopes that it will actually help you through the withdrawal process more quickly or easily, you're way off-base. This type of drink is not intended to help anyone actually complete drug detox; they are created for one purpose - to help people falsify drug test results.
Most of these potions are weed detox drinks intended to help people pass drug tests for marijuana. Homemade detox drinks rarely work for any purpose, while some over-the-counter varieties actually can falsify drug test results. In any of these situations, will a drug detox drink actually help you to become clean? No, if anything they will exacerbate your drug problem by allowing you to avoid the consequences of addiction. In worst case scenarios, some methods have led to self-poisoning. In short, avoid all types of drug detox drinks and focus instead on medically proven methods to get through detox and continue working on a healthy recovery.
Below, we'll discuss some of the symptoms and experiences to expect during the process.
Opioid drug withdrawal is unique in that it causes a range of flu-like physical symptoms as well as emotional side effects, making the opioid addict feel physically, debilitatingly ill throughout detox. Opioid withdrawal usually lasts for about seven days. Here are a few withdrawal symptoms to expect during opioid detox:
Besides the physical dangers of intense vomiting and diarrhea, opioid withdrawal presents a higher risk of overdose than other types of drug detox. This is because of drug tolerance.
Earlier we discussed how tolerance builds up over time, forcing the user to take bigger and bigger doses to achieve the same euphoria as before. Tolerance falls away very quickly during opioid detox, however. After only a few days of abstinence, if the addict relapses and takes the same amount they were consuming a few days before, their now-lowered tolerance can result in an instant overdose. Because of this danger, medical intervention and supervision are highly recommended during opioid withdrawal.
Considered by most to be the most difficult of all substance withdrawal experiences, alcohol withdrawal can be painful and traumatic. In general, alcohol withdrawal symptoms last seven days, but may last longer for severe alcoholics. These are some of the symptoms:
Besides these side effects, the most dangerous alcohol withdrawal condition is delirium tremens, a medical condition caused by alcohol detox that involves severe emotional, mental, and nervous system changes. Delirium tremens can be deadly and requires immediate medical attention.
There is no quick detox from meth or other stimulants. Stimulants such as cocaine, ecstasy, and meth cause some of the longest-lasting drug withdrawal processes. Because of the serious emotional effects of stimulant addiction, these types of drugs can cause depression, anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts for weeks after the initial detox phase. Some of the withdrawal symptoms you can expect during this process are:
Because of the emotional nature of stimulant drug withdrawal, the greatest risk presented by this type of detox is self-harm. Since suicidal thoughts and depression are common during stimulant withdrawal, it is recommended to undergo stimulant detox under constant supervision. Professional counseling and medical intervention with psychiatric medications can also be extremely helpful.
As mentioned previously, quitting cold turkey without professional help is both incredibly difficult and often less successful. In these situations, relapse is much more likely, along with relapse-induced overdose. It is ill-advised to go through drug detox alone when there are so many other options to make the process more bearable.
If you choose to undergo drug or alcohol withdrawal under the supervision of a local drug detox and rehab facility, you will have access to a wide range of treatments, counselors, activities, and medications to make the process more comfortable. Some of the treatments and activities offered by a professional rehab detox center are:
Professionally supervised rehab programs and detox centers offer numerous benefits to the recovering addict, not the least of which is medical detox. First, consider the numbers. Studies presented by the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and Addiction Journal agree that people who complete professional drug or alcohol treatment programs have significantly higher long-term recovery rates. These are some reasons why:
Most high-quality substance abuse treatment programs offer dual diagnosis - the diagnosis of underlying emotional and mental health conditions that contribute to addiction. This type of diagnosis requires a full biosocial and psychological evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist.
Once a dual diagnosis has been made, doctors and counselors can formulate a treatment plan that addresses both the addiction and the co-occurring mental illness. Treating both conditions at the same time has been shown to be considerably more effective than treating them separately.
Dual diagnosis is also important to medical detox programs, since psychiatric medications to treat mental conditions can be important to helping the patient cope with emotional withdrawal symptoms.
An experienced and licensed staff is one of the most important benefits of a professional drug detox and rehab center. This assortment of doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, and counselors can help you through every aspect of the detox and rehabilitation process. They can make diagnosis, prescribe medicines, recommend personalized treatments, and help you sort through all of the baggage and emotion that comes with addiction.
Professionals like these can also recognize the danger signs of severe drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms and prescribe the right treatments to reduce their associated risks. Soliciting the help of trained medical staff will make for a much safer drug or alcohol detox experience.
Drug detox is only a small part of a successful recovery journey. 15% or less of those who go through detox treatment alone attain long-term sobriety, while more than 45% of those who complete rehab continue on to a long recovery. These numbers indicate that drug detox only addresses part of the problem.
Detox happens as your body sheds its physical dependency to illicit substances, while drug rehabilitation treats the deeper psychological side of addiction. Addiction is both physical and psychological in nature. One one side, your brain and body become dependent on substances after long-term abuse. Other factors, such as social anxiety or stress contribute to psychological addictions. It is imperative to go through comprehensive drug or alcohol rehab treatment to explore these psychological components and identify the triggers that go with them.
Under the supervision of a professional substance abuse treatment program, the transition into rehab can begin during the detox process, so that as drug withdrawal symptoms ebb, rehab treatment can be integrated into your daily activities. The faster you can transition into a rehabilitation schedule, the faster you can begin to understand the psychological factors that underlie your physical addiction.
By now, you understand that drug or alcohol withdrawal is hard, likely the hardest thing you will ever do. There is a powerful method to alleviate and facilitate the process, however. Medical detox can soothe the severity of symptoms, reduce cravings, and minimize the possibility of relapse. Medical intervention can also make drug or alcohol detox safer for your health, since it can prevent conditions like delirium tremens.
Medical detox relies on medications, which can affect each person differently. Side effects and drug interactions with specific medications and dosages will vary greatly from one person to another, so any medically assisted drug treatment plan must be carefully supervised by medical professionals for your health and safety.
Medical detox from opiates is one of the most popular medication protocols to treat drug withdrawal; it's called Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT). ORT usually involves the prescription of synthetic opioids that trick the brain into thinking it is still receiving opioid drugs, calming withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Since risk of relapse and overdose is so high during opioid withdrawal, it is especially important to reduce the symptoms and prevent relapse. Below we've listed the most common medications prescribed for opioid medical detox.
Buprenorphine is a mild synthetic opioid that binds to opioid receptors in the brain, tricking the brain into thinking that it is receiving the drug without actually causing sensations of euphoria. Since the brain and body think that they are still receiving opioids, the symptoms of drug withdrawal are much less pronounced as the medication is tapered off.
Although less addictive than other synthetic opioids, buprenorphine presents some risk of addiction over time. For this reason its prescription and dosage must be carefully monitored and adjusted by a licensed physician. The medication is offered in several different forms:
The most well-known ORT medication is methadone, a stronger synthetic opioid that also binds to opioid receptors while blocking the pleasurable "high" sensation. Methadone is an effective way to calm withdrawal symptoms and cravings, but it is also habit-forming. Methadone should only be taken under strict supervision since it presents a higher risk of addiction than other types of ORT. There are two brands that manufacture methadone:
Unlike methadone and buprenorphine, naltrexone is not a synthetic opioid. This is another class of medication and is also used to treat alcohol addictions. Naltrexone works by completely blocking the release of happy chemicals in the brain in response to consuming opioids. A user who is taking naltrexone will no longer get high, which will cause the brain to stop associating opioids with pleasure. Over time, the medication will reduce cravings and addictive behaviors. It is also a good way to reduce the chances of relapse. The two existing brands of naltrexone are:
Since alcohol withdrawal is one of the most severe and dangerous types of withdrawal, medical detox can be especially beneficial for anyone going through it. As with other types of medical detox, the medications that help with alcohol withdrawal can reduce symptoms, cravings, and the chances of relapse. With alcohol detox, however, medical detox has one more important function - to prevent or treat delirium tremens. Certain medications significantly reduce the possibility of developing delirium tremens and treat the symptoms if it does occur. For this reason, medical detox for alcohol withdrawal can mean the difference between life and death. Here are a few of the prescriptions used during the alcohol detox process:
Naltrexone for alcohol addiction works the same way as it does for opioid addiction. This medication blocks the pleasurable sensations associated with drinking, consequently convincing the brain that alcohol is no longer needed for the release of happy chemicals. After a short time, naltrexone will greatly reduce cravings and addictive habits. If taken correctly, it can also prevent relapse.
Like naltrexone, disulfiram is designed to minimize cravings and prevent relapse, although its effects are more intense. Disulfiram will cause the drinker to become immediately and severely ill if they drink alcohol while taking the medication. This serves to persuade the brain that alcohol is not pleasurable; that it is, in fact, a poison. The reaction creates negative connotations in relation to alcohol and can put an end to addictive behaviors over time. Antabuse is currently the primary brand name of disulfiram.
Although it is not widely understood how acamprosate works, the medication has been shown to exhibit a calming, stabilizing effect on the alcohol-ravaged brain, helping it to regain some of the healthy balance that was lost during alcohol abuse. Those who take acamprosate experience less cravings and are able to function better when sober. The manufacturer of acamprosate is Campral.
Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications that are ideal for treating long-term or severe alcohol addictions. Benzos are instrumental in treating the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as seizures or delirium tremens. If taken early on during the onset of delirium tremens, these medications can actually prevent it from taking hold at all. Since benzos can be habit-forming, they should only be taken under strict medical observation and tapered off quickly as alcohol withdrawal symptoms abate. The most common forms of benzodiazepine medications are:
Unfortunately, there are no specialized medications that have been specifically designed to help with stimulant withdrawal. That's not to say that medical detox for meth and other stimulants does not exist. Doctors have formulated safe combinations of medications to treat specific symptoms of stimulant withdrawal in order to make the process smoother and more tolerable. These are some of the medications that can be used during stimulant or meth detox:
Within the addiction treatment community, there is some controversy surrounding medical detox practices. Opponents claim that the process serves to replace one addiction with another. This idea stems from the fact that some medications used in medically assisted treatment - such as methadone and benzos - can be addictive in and of themselves.
The danger is real. It is true that some medications can be habit-forming if abused. This is why it is imperative that any medication prescribed to treat addiction or withdrawal be carefully supervised by a licensed physician. Doses and side effects must be carefully monitored to prevent addiction or harmful drug interactions.
On the other side, proponents for medical intervention also make some convincing arguments. For example, a systematic review by the Cochrane Library shows that patients who undergo ORT treatment during drug detox are 66% more likely to stay sober than those who complete non-medicated programs. That's an impressive number. For those who approve of medical detox, the benefits of long-term recovery far outweigh the risks.
Another factor in support of medical detox is the increase of medical advancements that reduce the chances of patients forming addictions to their withdrawal medications. Suboxone is one such advancement; the combination of buprenorphine and naltrexone effectively reduces opioid dependence but, in general, does not create dependency. Meanwhile, until more solutions like Subuxone exist, doctors must prescribe habit-forming medications carefully, working to taper off dosages and wean patients off of detox medications as soon as possible during the recovery process.
Many patients like the idea of an outpatient drug or alcohol detox center because they can continue living and sleeping at home during treatment. This type of program can also be more cost-effective than inpatient drug treatment facilities.
If you're considering medical detox for alcohol or drug abuse at home, you must also be aware of the risks. Even with the supervision of doctors and counselors, going through drug withdrawal at home can be more difficult, since you have more temptation and access to the substances you crave. There is also a higher chance of relapse and overdose in a home environment, so you must make certain preparations to ensure a safe and successful outpatient detox experience. First, find an outpatient drug detox treatment center that is convenient to your location. Be sure to ask about the best medical detox options for going through withdrawal at home, such as monthly injections as opposed to medications in pill form.
Some other ways to improve the home drug or alcohol detox experience are:
We've heard it asked, "Which is better, medical detox or drug rehab?" The reality is, this is not an ‘either, or' scenario. Neither medical detox nor rehabilitation works well on its own. Drug or alcohol rehab will not be successful without first detoxing your body of substance-related toxins and going through the withdrawal process. Medical detox is considered the most effective way to help your body shed its physical addiction, but it is not a long-term solution.
Once the symptoms of drug withdrawal begin to subside, it is recommended to immediately begin rehabilitation treatments. Besides providing the necessary counseling and psychological soul-searching, drug rehab greatly reduces the chances of relapse because its treatments help you to identify your own personal triggers and learn how to cope with cravings. When you understand the causes and triggers of your addiction, you will be much better prepared for the challenges of a sober lifestyle. Here are some rehabilitation treatments that can help you find your way to lifelong recovery:
In some cases, ORT or some other forms of medically assisted treatment may also need to be continued throughout rehab. For this reason, it is ideal to continue drug or alcohol rehab therapy with the same facility that helped you through medical detox. Long-term sobriety is much more attainable with a team of professionals and the right set of tools.
If you've read this far, it is likely that you are asking yourself, "What are the best rehab detox centers near me?" First, consider which kind of substance abuse treatment is best for you. There are several types of programs, and each person has different needs. Here are some of the most common options:
Perhaps you have tried some traditional detox or rehab programs but were unable to complete them successfully, or maybe you're hoping to do it right the first time. Whatever your situation, you must keep in mind that no drug or alcohol treatment program is a quick fix.
Recovery is a lifelong journey that you will have to struggle with and overcome every single day. It won't be easy, and it won't be quick, but it can be successful. Tens of millions of people around the world are in recovery right now. You can be one of them.
If other methods haven't worked for you, medical detox and medically assisted rehab may be the answer that will finally kickoff your recovery journey. A good medical detox center and drug rehab program will provide you with the right tools and mindset to free you from addiction and help you achieve sobriety for the long-term. And it doesn't have to end there.
Once you have successfully completed medically assisted drug or alcohol treatment, there are a wide range of resources in every state to assist recovering addicts in their day-to-day journeys. Your local drug or alcohol rehab center can provide you with a list of support groups and local counseling services so that you have the right resources to continue with your lifelong recovery journey. It may take a lifetime, but a lifetime is worth the effort.
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