The first step toward recovery from substance use disorder is to stop using the substance. This allows the body to clear itself of toxins and the abused substance. The detoxification process varies widely from one person to the next. Some might only experience mild symptoms while others might require a medical detox. The purpose of medical detox is two-fold: ease withdrawal symptoms that come when you stop using drugs and assist the body in overcoming any physical dependencies.
Detox and Withdrawal
Levels of care that a person going through detox require ranges from Level 0.5 with no risk of withdrawal symptoms to Level 4, which requires full hospital care. In Level 4, withdrawal from a drug can pose a threat to someone’s life. A monitored detox program is often recommended for even lower-level patients. Because extended drug or alcohol abuse can damage the heart, cardiovascular system, liver, and other critical organs, the added stress of withdrawal could carry physical risks. After detox, the patient may move on to a treatment facility such as The Granite House.
Since withdrawal will be a unique experience for each individual going through it, and the length of the entire process will depend on a few key factors. These include the type of substance that was used, how long and how frequently the substance was used, and the family and personal medical histories of the person undergoing detox.
It’s significant to note that undergoing medical detox alone is not a substitute for substance use disorder treatment. A successful detox process is usually followed up immediately with an inpatient or outpatient program that may include education and therapy. The importance of long-term support services cannot be overstated.
Substance Abuse Statistics
Substance use disorder is unfortunately quite widespread. There are more people in the United States that may require medically-assisted detox than one might expect. The total cost each year for substance abuse, including alcohol, prescription opioids, and other illicit drugs, is nearly $530 billion a year. The cost is $740 billion per year if tobacco is included.
In 2017, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that almost 40% of adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had used an illicit substance in the previous year. For the same age group, 74% indicated that they had used alcohol.
It’s estimated that in 2017, alcohol use caused around 73,000 deaths from alcohol-related illness such as liver disease. A high number of traffic fatalities are also attributed to alcohol use. According to SAMHSA, in 2018 alone over 23.5 million people in the U.S.A. needed medical treatment to help detox, but only 11% received it.
When someone uses drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time, their body begins to become dependent on it. The brain adapts to the continued presence of the substance, which often compromises the brain’s ability to function normally without the substance. Additionally, as time passes, the user builds a tolerance to the drug. This culminates in the user needing to consume more and more of the substance in order to chase the same effects.
Who Would Need a Medical Detox Program?
When tolerance leads to dependence, the body requires the drug in order to function normally, which manifests in a craving for the drug. When the person doesn’t use the drug within a certain period of time, the body begins to react negatively in the form of withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal can include vomiting, headache, fever, body aches, and difficulty breathing.
When substance use has turned into substance dependence, medical detox is usually required to safely stop using. An inpatient service provides 24-hour supervision and medical support in a secure location. Medically-supervised detoxification centers have the resources required to help patients get through their withdrawal period safely. The body will eventually overcome these symptoms and the cravings will dissipate.
There are less severe scenarios where patients are able to detox at home. However, if a patient experiences intense cravings for a drug, it is improbable that at-home detoxification will be successful. You may see home detoxification kits that are marketed to those who are trying to pass drug tests for unemployment benefits, probation exams, or employment screenings. It may be tempting to use these so-called cures that you’ll find on a supplement store shelf. However, these kits will do very little in the ways of curbing cravings. These kits usually are heavy in vitamin C, lecithin, vinegar, and other herbs. However, there is no evidence that suggests that herbs alone can help the body to overcome chemical dependency. At their best, these kits might provide your body with some needed nutrition and hydration.
What Is the Process of Medical Detoxification?
Medical detox is generally three separate processes: evaluation of the patient, stabilization of their condition, and preparing them for treatment. In stand-alone detox centers, patients may sometimes be educated on the cornerstones of addiction and be introduced to support networks. Therapy might also be provided. However, it’s important to note that these are complementary treatments that are meant to run parallel with the three stages of detoxification. In most cases, a more thorough form of treatment will be required to achieve lasting freedom from alcohol or drugs.
The evaluation process usually entails one or more of the following: some form of a questionnaire, blood test, physical exam, and co-occurring mental health disorder screening. These are essential for determining a person’s mental state and allow the medical professional to develop a treatment plan.
With stabilization, the client stops drug use, and the substance leaves the system. This is the point where medications can be utilized to lessen the effects of withdrawal. The duration of withdrawal and the most intense phase of its symptoms will last between one and three weeks.
There are several medications that can be used in the stabilization process. Depending on the substance that was used, doctors in an inpatient setting might prescribe:
• Benzodiazepines: These can provide relief from the effects of alcohol withdrawal. They can also be used to ease anxiety in patients who have used hallucinogens and are experiencing hallucinations.
• Anticonvulsants: These can be helpful for patients withdrawing from alcohol or benzodiazepines.
• Antipsychotics: Medications such as Haldol can be used for alcohol withdrawal.
• Methadone: Methadone is commonly prescribed for patients who are addicted to opioids.
• Buprenorphine: This can also be used for patients withdrawing from opioids, and is generally considered safer than methadone.
Preparation is the third phase of the detox process. Clients overcome the physical side effects of withdrawal and begin to focus on the psychological challenges that living free from drugs will bring. The medical team may emphasize the significance of participating in a 12-step program. The recovery process can then continue at a treatment center like The Granite House. We incorporate the 12-step philosophy, along with other therapies, into our program to give clients long-term support.
Quitting Cold Turkey and Ultra-Rapid Detox
Quitting an addiction cold turkey is when someone attempts to give up their substance of choice all at once without a weaning period or medical intervention. It’s a common means of attempting to achieve sobriety, but it can be dangerous and is often not successful.
Ultra-rapid detox was originally pioneered in the early 1990s in an attempt to make withdrawal symptoms easier to endure. However, there have been numerous studies that illustrate that the process doesn’t make detox any easier and can even cause fatality. Patients are sedated and given a drug that speeds withdrawal with the hope that the patient will sleep through the worst of it. However, when they woke up, patients still went through the same level of withdrawal severity. Further, those with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease or HIV were at an elevated risk for complications.
What Is a Detox Center and How Can It Help?
Centers for substance detoxification are geared to escort patients through the recovery process. The best detoxification centers will have a high success rate which can be judged by federal agencies and viewed publicly. An accredited staff of medical professionals and others who are board-certified should be present on the site. Their locations matter; having a detox center far away from the temptations of nightclubs and bars reduces the chances of their influence on recovering addicts.
It’s rare that individuals who have graduated a program will be able to maintain sobriety on their own without a robust support network. Relapse rates are greatly reduced for those who have access to a clinic’s support group services and follow-up care. Being honest with family and friends about your progress and process is key. If you or a loved one suffers from substance use disorder, help is readily available to get you started toward a new life free from drugs or alcohol.