Before treatment for substance use disorders or addiction can begin, detox must occur.
Detoxification—or detox—is the process of cleansing the body of toxic and addictive chemicals found in drugs and alcohol. In recovery, detox is an essential phase as it helps reduce substance use cravings as a person weans off or quits regular drug and alcohol use.
Chronic substance use and addiction cause a person to experience compulsive, uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior. If a person chooses to commit to sobriety and recovery, they must clear their body of any remnants of substances to have a fresh start as they begin treatment.
What Is Drug Withdrawal?
Quitting regular use of any drugs or alcohol can cause harmful and adverse effects, such as withdrawals. There are both physical and psychological withdrawals that are likely to occur, just as there are both physical and psychological cravings and dependence. Without proper detox, these withdrawal effects can seem impossible to overcome alone.
Symptoms of withdrawal become less intense over time as the individual continues to clear their system of toxins. However, the first few days of sobriety can be challenging for the mind and body to acclimate. Drug withdrawals range in severity, intensity, and duration depending on a number of factors, including:
- Type of substance being used
- The number of substances being used simultaneously
- Frequency of substance use
- The average dosage of substance use or tolerance
- Duration of substance use
- Route of administration for substance use (smoking, snorting, injecting, etc.)
- Co-occurring or undiagnosed mental health disorders or medical conditions
- Family history of substance use or mental illness
To effectively treat chronic substance use, many people require medically assisted detox for days or weeks until they can function normally without the distress caused by their withdrawal symptoms. Generally, this is how long it can take for the brain to restore to normal.
Why Is Detox Important?
Detox is a vital stage of recovery because it allows individuals to properly withdraw from drugs and alcohol under medical supervision.
If someone attempts to quit substance use on their own—especially after heavy or chronic substance use—they increase their risk of facing serious and life-threatening health risks. The dangers of at-home detox include:
- Relapse: Relapse, the most common threat to detox and recovery, becomes even more likely when people attempt it at home as cravings can seem impossible to resist, especially if substances are within reach in any given environment. This can become even more challenging when surrounded by triggers without the proper coping skills.
- Psychological distress: It is normal for people to experience a wide range of emotions as they quit regular substance use. They may feel a combination of exhaustion, anger, depression, and even panic if they try to detox alone. This distress can be impairing and cause further complications later on in the recovery process.
- Medical complications: After regular substance use, the brain and body become wired to function through substance use. When substance use suddenly halts, the brain and body are thrown into a state of confusion. The body panics and may respond by increasing blood pressure, perspiration, severe dehydration, and tremors.
What to Expect From Detox
The most critical thing to understand is that detox, like recovery, is not a comfortable process. Consider these uncomfortable sensations to be like growing pains. Because everyone’s recovery needs are different, their detox needs are different as well.
The first step of detox is evaluation. A medical or mental health team first screens a patient for medical and mental health records and measures the amount of drugs present in their system. A collaborative team then assesses the patient, recognizing their needs and goals for treatment, and will begin curating a long-term treatment plan for them.
The next stage, and perhaps the most critical phase, is stabilization. Medical and psychological therapy are typically offered at every detox facility. These resources help to provide comfort to the patient in physical distress while providing support through mentally challenging periods like combatting cravings. The main goal of this step is to stabilize the patient and prevent any physical or mental harm from occurring throughout detox. In many cases, medication is prescribed to patients to help reduce intense withdrawal symptoms and prevent further complications.
Understand that, although some medications can help reduce withdrawal symptoms, there are several withdrawal symptoms that are unavoidable. This is because the body is confused and disoriented after adjusting to long-term substance use. To better prepare for detox, you can expect to experience:
- Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
- Changes in appetite
- Physical discomfort
- Mood swings
- Difficulty with focus, concentration, or critical thinking
Drug detox is a critical step in effectively treating substance use and addiction. Detox allows an individual to safely withdraw from substances and repair brain function to normal. Without proper detox, withdrawal symptoms and cravings can seem unmanageable, uncomfortable, and intimidating; however, it’s an essential stage that should never be done alone without a medical professional. West Coast Recovery Centers recognizes that detox is an essential step to taking back control from addiction. We have several drug and alcohol rehab programs to help fit the individual needs of each individual that enters our facility. We believe that you hold the power to achieve and maintain lifelong recovery and are here to help you discover it. If you or a loved one struggles with substance use, the time to seek help is now. To learn more about detox, or for information about our facility, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509.