The detox process involves ending a person’s physical dependence on an intoxicating substance, such as alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines, while also managing symptoms of withdrawal. This is a very important step in the overall process of rehabilitation, so both medical professionals as well as friends and family should be brought in to support the person while they end their body’s dependence on drugs.
Doctors can provide medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and develop a tapering regime to slowly ease the body off the substance without triggering withdrawal symptoms that feel overwhelming. Individuals involved in socially supporting the person going through detox should encourage the person to enter a full rehabilitation program once they have successfully detoxed.
What to Expect from Detox
Although “cold turkey” withdrawal can take up to two weeks for most addictive substances, working with a physician to taper off the substance of abuse can take a little longer, depending on the drug. This might feel frustrating initially, but some substances can produce physically dangerous side effects if the individual does not receive medical attention to withdraw safely.
When a person decides to end their addiction to a substance, detox is only the first step, and no matter what the drug of abuse is, they should find medical help to safely overcome their addiction. Here are three examples of intoxicating substances that require medical detox:
Alcohol: Withdrawing from an alcohol use disorder, especially for people who have struggled with this addiction for a long time, or consumed large amounts of alcohol regularly, requires medical supervision because of a condition called delirium tremens. This is a withdrawal syndrome that includes symptoms like seizures, paranoia, hallucinations, vomiting, and extreme anxiety, including panic attacks. In some cases, a physician may administer small doses of benzodiazepines to ease symptoms. Medical professionals will also monitor clients carefully for signs of addiction to the benzodiazepines. Delirium tremens typically begins within 12-48 hours after the last drink, and it can last around 10 days.
Opioids: Opioid addiction is an epidemic in the United States, and overcoming this condition requires medical attention. Many people who struggle with addiction to prescription painkillers may switch to heroin or a stronger, illicit narcotic because it is less expensive and easier to find. Opioid withdrawal is rarely dangerous, although for people who have struggled with taking large doses of narcotics for a long time, withdrawal symptoms may be very uncomfortable. As a result, they can lead to relapse without professional help.
A doctor can prescribe replacement medications like buprenorphine, or the more tamper-resistant Suboxone, to ease the body off physical dependence on narcotics. Without a tapered approach or the use of replacement medications, the person may experience PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. PAWS symptoms involve primarily psychological challenges, such as increased anxiety and depression, intense mood swings, and suicidal ideation. Sometimes, the person may also develop seizures and hallucinations.
Benzodiazepines: Typically, a person who struggles with benzodiazepine addiction was exposed to these psychiatric medications to ease their anxiety, insomnia, or panic attacks. Because benzodiazepines are very habit-forming, the person may have discovered that they experienced withdrawal symptoms, including rebound anxiety or insomnia, when they stopped taking the medication. This could, potentially, lead to a cycle of addiction. At higher doses, benzodiazepines create a sense of relaxed euphoria, similar to alcohol or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
If a person struggles with benzodiazepine addiction for a long period of time and at high doses, then they may experience benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome (BWS) if they attempt to end their addiction without help. This condition means that withdrawal symptoms last for longer than two weeks – typically about one month – and some symptoms, such as seizures, can be physically dangerous and even lead to death. To reduce or avoid these dangerous symptoms, many doctors work taper clients off the benzodiazepine slowly over time or replace it with a long-acting drug like diazepam (Valium) and then taper that medication.
What Is Medical Detox?
- Medical detox means that medical supervision is provided during the withdrawal process and often prescription medications are used to ease withdrawal symptoms. For many people who have struggled with addiction to an intoxicating substance for a long time, the physical symptoms of withdrawal can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, dangerous. Intense discomfort can lead to relapse, especially if the person does not have adequate social support during this time. Prescription medications, such as antidepressants or over-the-counter painkillers, can ease aches, pains, nausea, and psychological cravings. While some versions of medical detox, such as drug replacement and tapering, can extend the withdrawal period, it is generally a safer and more effective approach.
- Social support is critical during the detox process and into ongoing recovery. Ideally, family and friends will support the individual’s decision to end the addiction. They can help during detox by reminding the person that withdrawal symptoms will end and the end result is well worth the discomfort of the short-lived process.
How to Reach Out to Loved Ones for Help
Sometimes, it can be difficult to reach out for help from loved ones, particularly after a long struggle with addiction. However, it is vital to find a way to ask for help from friends and family during this time. Some people may choose to reach out through a letter or email. Here is a sample letter requesting support:
I have realized recently that I may be struggling with substance abuse. I think my ability to enjoy other activities, attend work, and focus on life has been hurt due to this condition. I am reaching out because I need your support.
Addiction is a disease of the brain, and it is a complex neurological condition. I want to overcome my addiction so I can be the best sister possible, and this work can take time. It also requires support from people who love me, like you.
I have chosen to work with a doctor to detox from the drug and then enter a rehabilitation program. During this time, please offer me as much help as you can. I will need reminders that detox does not last forever, and I may need consistent encouragement to stay away from intoxicating substances. I may need a reminder that I definitely need to enter a rehabilitation program once detox is finished. Please offer me encouragement and help when I ask for it. Check on me whenever you can, even if it is just a text or email.
Also, please be open to attending therapy sessions with me should that become part of my rehabilitation program.
Thank you for your support during this time. I know that I can get better, and your help means a great deal to me while I work on this.
Help Makes All the Difference
Asking for help is often the first step in overcoming addiction. The next step is to enter a rehabilitation program. Some rehabilitation programs offer detox services, while others require clients to detox before entering the program.
Remember that detox is not sufficient treatment on its own. It must be followed by a complete rehabilitation program to fully address all aspects of life related to the addiction issue. With comprehensive care, true recovery can be within reach.