Detoxification 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 have come to rely in an addictive sense, such as alcohol, opioids/opiates, amphetamines, and the tranquilizers called benzodiazepines, as well as cannabis.  Through repetitive use, these chemicals come to supplant some of the functions of the brain’s natural chemistry.

What Happens During Drug Detoxification?

During detox, a patient’s individual goals and treatments can vary in a number of ways. In professional centers, the use of medications is possible to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms in a controlled manner, and in addition, it is possible to use medications.

A holistic approach that considers mind, body, and spirit can be helpful. Abstinence-based methods are often recommended.

Risks to be Safely Managed

As there are risks that accompany the consumption of addictive substances, so it is also with the weaning of 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 detox and 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 a 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 detox, but recovery from every addiction involves a form of withdrawal.  In fact, symptoms are a defining characteristic of addiction. The body and mind react to being without the substance or behaviours, such as problem gambling, pornography consumption or excessive exercise, etc., on which it has become dependent.  

Types of Withdrawal

There are three types of withdrawal syndrome – physical, psychological, and social. Each has its own unique set of symptoms which can vary in intensity and duration. However, all share certain commonalities such as anxiety, irritability, cravings, and depression.

Physical withdrawal symptoms result from the body’s reaction to the absence of a substance to which it has become accustomed. These can include headaches, nausea, sweats, shakes, and even seizures.

Psychological symptoms are the result of the mind’s reaction to no longer having the substance or behaviour on which it has become dependent. These can include anxiety, depression, irritability, and insomnia.

Social symptoms occur when an individual is no longer able to participate in the activities and relationships that revolved around their addiction. These can include isolation, financial difficulties, and relationship problems.

Severity of Addiction Symptoms

Symptoms vary in severity and duration depending on a number of factors such as the type of addiction, the length of time the individual has been addicted, the frequency and amount of use, and any underlying physical or mental health conditions. However, with the right support, drug detox, and treatment, it is possible to safely overcome danger and go on to live a life free from addiction.

Substance Abuse and the Drug Detox Process

There are different types of detox services to address the specific needs of individuals with substance abuse disorders. The most common type of detox is medical detoxification, which employs a team of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to help people through the plan of detoxification.

This type of care is often provided in an inpatient setting, where people are able to receive around-the-clock care and support.

Are There Different Types of Detox?

There are various forms of detoxification services that meet specific clinical requirements. Many detoxification programs employ a medical model which means medical personnel using medically-prepared medications can help detoxify patients.

Detoxification is possible in many situations, and in a varied intensity to the mind and body. There are five levels of care for people with substance abuse to consider, including the following:

  1. Inpatient detoxification program: This is the most intense form of detox, as patients are monitored 24/7 by medical staff and given medications to manage the symptoms.
  2. Residential detox: This form of detox is similar to inpatient care, but patients are not always monitored by medical staff and may not be given medications to help with symptoms.
  3. Partial hospitalization: In this type of detox, patients live at home but come to a facility for several hours each day to receive treatment.
  4. Intensive outpatient detox: This form of detox is less intense than partial hospitalization, as patients typically only come to a facility for a few hours each week.
  5. Outpatient detox: This is the least intense form of detox, as patients typically only come to a facility for a few hours each week and may not receive any medication to help.

The Body Gets Better Faster than the Mind

For whatever reason people decide to undergo detox at a treatment center, it is an opportunity for change. It is, however, important to remember that detoxification is a necessary but insufficient step to achieve recovery from drug abuse.

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, heroin, 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 step to manage and close support is generally required.

Quitting Cold Turkey

Quitting a particular drug can cause serious health problems. Using substances abruptly can lead to seizures, delirium, diarrhea, or even death. Taking opiates abruptly can cause severe pain and irritability and cause diarrhea and other problems.

During withdrawal from opioid drugs, there is often a drug craving. Experiencing these suddenly can sometimes trigger someone to return to opioid use. It may also be helpful to talk to your doctor about quitting cold turkey and seek out mental health services as needed.

 What Happens After Detox?

Rapid detox and eliminating toxins are not enough to achieve long-term recovery from a substance use disorder as this is only one step in an addiction treatment plan.

Effective treatment must address drug addiction and any associated mental, physical, vocational, and legal issues.

Treatment has numerous health benefits, but those with high blood pressure, heart disease, or who take medication or other drugs should consult a doctor with medical expertise before starting treatment. Medication can also be used, but behavioral recovery therapy is also commonly used in treating addictions.

Get in touch with our private luxury rehab centre in Montreux, Switzerland.

Clinically Reviewed By

Dr. Victor Leroy

Dr. Victor Leroy, a psychiatrist with specialised training in addiction psychiatry from Lausanne University Hospital, combines medical expertise with a passion for systemic psychotherapy. He has worked at length in both the public and private sector, utilising a combination of patient-centered approaches to support them and their loved ones in recovery. A member of AVMCA and COROMA, he consults in French, English, German, and Italian, focusing on integrated care for addiction medicine.

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