Every recovery from addiction will at some point involve the process of withdrawal. In many cases, this will be limited to an uncomfortable psychological and social adjustment to being without (i.e., abstaining from) the addictive drug or behaviour. Whether a person will experience symptoms of physical withdrawal associated with dependence and possibly require medically assisted detox, will be determined by the types, frequency of use, quantities and inherent risks, of the substances on which they have become dependent.
Detoxification is the precise opposite of intoxication. It is the managed process of removing addictive toxins (otherwise known as poisons) from the system and helping the person’s biochemistry to adjust to their absence. The withdrawal syndrome is the body’s and particularly the brain’s way of protesting at the removal of the chemicals it has reorganised itself to expect and rely on. The symptoms will be particularly severe if the level of tolerance that has been reached just prior to starting withdrawal, is high. An increase in tolerance means that more of the substance is now needed to obtain the same effect that a lower dosage once had. Detox can improve your recovery from addiction, as it helps restore your body to its natural state.
The drugs of physical (and psychological) dependence are mainly alcohol, benzodiazepines and opioids. The latter two categories may include prescription drugs, legally or illegally obtained. Medical management of physical withdrawal will generally be required. Withdrawal from cocaine and other stimulants such as amphetamines may also require medical assistance. Although in this case, it is more to help a person cope with the volatile states of mind and mood that come with abstinence, including those linked to craving and sleep disturbance, rather than to reduce or eliminate severe physical symptoms. Such help may also be advised to manage withdrawal from habitual ketamine, cannabis, or synthetic cannabinoid use.
Before a patient arrives at the door of a top private addiction treatment centre like Clinic Les Alpes, it will be clear from the information previously provided in the referral whether they are going to require a medically assisted detox. As the priority of the Clinic is to ensure patient safety, the need for a detox will be reassessed on admission by the expert medical team of doctors and nurses. They will take into account every aspect of the person’s current state of mental and physical health, including the current use of prescribed medications. They also recognise that deciding to undergo detoxification is a big step and they know that many patients are highly fearful of withdrawal and detoxification; either based on previous experience or hearsay. To help ease anxieties, the reason behind each medical decision is carefully explained in discussion with the patient.
Perhaps as a reflection of societal denial of alcohol’s inherent dangers, many people mistakenly imagine that detoxification from opioids such as heroin, codeine or fentanyl must be riskier than withdrawing from alcohol or benzodiazepines. While withdrawing from opioids can be distinctly unpleasant and, without medical assistance, can cause the individual to suffer an array of physical symptoms (nausea, diarrhoea, shaking and cramps) and psychological symptoms (anxiety, depression, confusion, craving) that may prove hard to endure, stopping heavy alcohol or benzodiazepine consumption — especially suddenly — can prove fatal. That is why a luxury rehab like Clinic Les Alpes provides the best possible, comprehensive medical care to ensure safety while easing progress through withdrawal. Poorly managed detoxification increases the risk of early relapse.
Medications are prescribed only as necessary to help ensure the experience of withdrawal is as safe and as comfortably negotiated as possible but medications cannot achieve this alone. The advantage of undergoing detox in a high-end, private addiction treatment centre like Clinic Les Alpes is the round-the-clock availability of expert, warmly responsive care in the most comfortable of environments. The detox suites are discreetly located next to the nurses’ station and have been designed to combine, comfort, safety and swift access to expert clinical care. The medical and nursing team is able to provide reassurance that in most cases detoxification is relatively quick and easy to achieve over a few days. Withdrawal from some substances like benzodiazepines takes longer. In rare cases, it may be necessary temporarily to transfer a patient to a local hospital with which a trusted partnership has developed.
Detoxification is commonly managed in one place and recovery-focused rehab in another. However, there is a distinct benefit to integrating the two. The wider role of the Clinic in fostering a culture and community of recovery will help ease the typical preoccupation with withdrawal, turning attention to something much more positive and rewarding. Although it will ultimately be a medical decision based on safety, engaging as soon as possible in recovery-focused therapies and associating with others with the same recovery goals doesn’t have to wait until the completion of detox. Doing so may in fact help accelerate the process of withdrawal. The psychotherapeutic team, in collaboration with their colleagues providing physical therapies, are on hand to support the person through the generally short-lived challenges and discomforts of both physical and psychological withdrawal. Improved nutrition will also have a part to play in detoxification and restoring health.
Some people hope that undergoing detoxification will in itself bring their addiction to an end. That is unlikely. The problem is that the body tends to get better more quickly than the mind. When a person feels and looks better physically they can convince or delude themselves that there is no more to be done. What they overlook is the powerful attachment to a substance or behaviour operating on many levels that have taken over their life. They are likely also to be unaware that the brain takes quite some time to reset to its pre-addiction functioning, making them extremely vulnerable to relapse, especially under stress. So detoxification is a necessary but insufficient process in the overall work needed to secure recovery.