Detoxification (Detox) and Withdrawal

Detoxification is the process of ridding the body of toxins, otherwise known as poisons and is thus the exact opposite of intoxication. These toxins include drugs of dependence on which the body and the brain’s neurochemistry has come to rely in an addictive sense, such as alcohol, opioids/opiates, amphetamines and the tranquillisers called benzodiazepines, as well as cannabis.  Through repetitive use these chemicals come to supplant some of the functions of the brain’s natural chemistry. 

Risks to be safely managed

As risks accompany the consumption of addictive substances, so does the process of weaning the person off dependence upon them. These risks vary according to the nature of the drug, its strength, the quantities and frequency of its use, other substances being simultaneously consumed, the length of time of the addictive use and aspects of the person’s physical and mental condition.

The risks associated with alcohol detoxification and from benzodiazepines include potential fatality. With other addictive substances, the difficulties generally come in the form of significant physical and psychological discomfort.  While these are not immediately life-threatening they may, perhaps through craving, lead to rapid resumption of use, which in the case of heroin or other opioids could possibly result in overdose.  To be as safe as possible, alcohol, benzodiazepine and heroin detoxification should be managed under medical supervision and monitoring.  It is also wise to manage withdrawal from cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis under similar circumstances.

Withdrawal syndrome – the system protests

Not every addiction treatment requires detoxification but recovery from every addiction involves a form of withdrawal.  In fact a withdrawal syndrome is a defining characteristic of addiction. The body and mind reacts to being without the substance or behaviours, such as problem gambling, pornography consumption or excessive exercise, etc., on which it has become dependent.  It is the psychological and physiological protest of a system deprived of what now sustains it. The unpleasant symptoms associated with withdrawal are what people contemplating recovery instinctively, if not knowingly, fear.  It is why provision has to be made to assist in the transition from an all-consuming relationship with substance or behaviour to a life without.

The body gets better more quickly than the mind

For whatever reason people decide to undergo detoxification, it is an opportunity for change. It is, however, important to remember that detoxification is a necessary but insufficient process to achieve recovery. It is, with the possible exception of benzodiazepines (and assuming there are few complications), relatively easy and quick to achieve. However, the body gets better more quickly than the mind which can result in self-delusion about the rate of progress overall.  It is essential that, as soon as possible, whether undergoing alcohol detoxification, heroin detoxification or detoxification from some other substance, the person focuses on releasing the psycho-social attachment to their drug or behaviour and begins creating an entirely new approach to life. This is not an easy process to manage and close support is generally required.

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