What is drug and alcohol detox?

Detox is an initial and important step in the rehabilitation process for most drug and alcohol addicts, but it must be followed by therapy. However, it is not the same as rehabilitation. It does not end an addiction because drug and alcohol abuse often interferes with normal functioning of the brain, causing damage to its chemical or neurotransmitters, however detox is aimed at preparing individuals for a recovery journey of rehabilitation because quitting drugs or alcohol in a sudden fashion, known as “cold turkey”, may cause a life-threatening consequences.

The main purpose of the drug detoxification process is to break physical dependency. To be fully effective and to break the behavioural and psychological aspects of a person’s addiction, patients require follow-up therapy.

Why detox?

The withdraw process can be unpredictable and intense, while the detox process may sound frightening, this medical support process is highly recommended and can help someone withstand the cravings and avoid relapse, also can lessen the serious health risks. With proper medical intervention, you will be monitored and evaluated around the clock to ensure that the withdraw process is less painful and tolerable.

When is detox necessary?

There are many situations that can make detox very important, which include :

  • a heavy dependence on drugs and/or alcohol,
  • abuse of multiple substances, or;
  • sudden cessation of drinking or taking drugs.

The moment their body starts going through the withdrawal process, or when a patient decides to go into recovery treatment, the doctor or nurse practitioner will do a complete assessment of the patient’s health to determine the best action to take.

Not everyone needs medically supervised detox, but certain addictions such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opiates may require detox as the initial step before pursuing recovery therapy via a Drug Rehab centre. Withdrawal symptoms could last for 7-10 days and may involve strong cravings for your drug-of-choice that can be difficult to control.

See below for symptoms of withdrawal in common substances:

1. Alcohol
When a seriously alcohol dependant person is trying to stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 8 hours of their last drink. Common symptoms could include nausea/vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, excessive sweating, rapid pulse, repetitive, purposeless movements, hand tremors, hallucinations or illusions, confusion, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs). These symptoms could last up to 72 hours, but in some cases can continue for several weeks.

2. Opioids (e.g., heroin, prescription painkillers)
Symptoms of withdrawal typically begin 12 hours after the last dose is taken, but the larger dose being regularly taken, the longer it will take to clear the system. The most intense symptoms will peak after 72 hours and can last up to 2 weeks. the symptoms are anxiety and agitation, muscle aches, insomnia, runny eyes and nose, excessive yawning, sweating, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, goosebumps, and dilated pupils.

3. Sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytic drugs (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Ambien)
These types of drugs usually used for treating anxiety, panic disorders, and, sometimes, insomnia and seizure disorders. They can become addictive due to their calming effects, and people begin to take a larger doses to experience euphoria. The symptoms of withdrawal from this class of drugs can include anxiety, insomnia, increased pulse rate, excess sweating, nausea/vomiting, unintentional and purposeless movements, such as pacing, illusions or hallucinations, tremors, and seizures.

4. Stimulants (e.g., cocaine, meth, Ritalin, Adderall)
Symptoms of withdrawal may include nightmares, fatigue, insomnia or hypersomnia, increased appetite, slowed movements and thought anhedonia, or an inability to feel pleasure, depression, and in the worst cases, suicidal ideation or behaviour.


What are the detox options?

The type of detox is determined based on many factors, e.g. type of addiction you have, how long you have been using, how much you are using, other addictions, current mental health or living conditions and the person’s commitment to sobriety. Followings are the types of detox approaches which are common: medical and social detox.

  1. Medical Detox
    If a person has a physical dependence on other drugs at very high doses, they can experience heart problems, seizures, and other serious conditions that can lead to long-term health consequences. Medical detox is designed to get rid of the bodily effects of stopping using the drug or drinking alcohol. the nurse practitioner or a physician can administer medication that can replace the substance while it is slowly reduced until the patient is completely free from drugs and alcohol.

    2. Social Detox
    While technically not a medical detoxification process, this is a term used to refer to therapy, behavioural counselling, and supervision provided by professionals to help the patient’s withdrawal symptoms. This method is suitable for patients who are medically stable and no harm to others or themselves from withdrawal. Social detox can be performed with a suitable outpatient recovery centre.

    In most detoxification treatment processes, medical professionals combine both detox methods to provide the best treatment outcomes.

    Where to get help to detox?

    The initial step is to talk to a mental health or medical professional for guidance. A physician can help to plan safe withdraw from the substance, and also they can prescribe small doses of appropriate medication that ease the withdrawal symptoms. While taking medication, the patients should also be undergoing therapy to address issues that led to the initial substance abuse. It is important to plan priorities when it comes to recovery treatment so that you can find the best program that suits the patient. Having a little bit of knowledge about detox could help you to ask and figure out what the patient’s needs are provide the best recovery.

    What’s next?

    Once the patient and their doctors and advisors have established the most suitable method for detoxification, the patient needs to begin the detox process. However, detox alone is often not enough and typically cannot end an addiction on its own. The patient still needs to attend a recovery program, be that an inpatient or outpatient program. The detoxification process may be held in a different facility or the recovery treatment centre may offer both detox and addiction treatment services in one location.

    Detoxification is just the first step in recovery, it needs constant follow up and a strong commitment to recovery. Otherwise, a very high risk of relapse remains.

    Do not be afraid to reach out for help when you need it!

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