For anyone who has decided to get seek drug treatment, it can be confusing to know exactly what happens next. “Getting help” is a vague term, and most people who are starting a journey of recovery do not realize that the first step on that journey needs to be a drug detox.
1. What is drug detox?
Drug detox – short for “detoxification” – is a process whereas an addict abstains in an attempt to let the body purge itself of the drug/alcohol, while at the same time managing the symptoms of drug withdrawal.
2. So…it’s quitting drugs. Is that all that needs to happen?
Drug detox is not “quitting drugs”, and it is definitely not all that needs to happen.
Drug addiction is both physical and mental, and the two are intertwined.
In simple terms, drug detox takes care of most of the physical portion of addiction, while drug rehab takes care of most of the mental portion.
When an addiction has been active long enough, the drug changes the way a person’s brain works, specifically, those parts of the brain that process how a person experiences pleasure. This is also the portion of the brain that “rewards” a person for biologically-important activities – eating or sex, for example.
Often, expert who has been abusing drugs has, in essence, “trained” their brain to the point where they are only able to feel pleasure when they are actively using the drug. The brain now creates a compulsion that is even stronger than hunger or the sex drive.
The mental compulsion is almost impossible to dismiss as long as the physical compulsion/dependence upon the drug is still existent.
That is the purpose of drug detox. By abstaining, the addict gives the body time to overcome the physical compulsion. Once the physical compulsion has been eliminated, or at least reduced to tolerable levels, the mental portion of recovery – drug rehab – can begin.
3. How long does drug detox take?
The answer is an unequivocal “it depends”. How long a drug detox takes depends upon:
- the drug of choice – Drug detox can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The reason for the discrepancy is different substances have a different effect on the reward centers of a person’s brain.
- how long a person has been doing drugs/their tolerance – The longer a person abuses a particular drug, the more of the drug that will be needed in order to get the same effect. This increasing need is called the “tolerance”.
Most addictive substances can alter or damage a person’s brain when they are abused in sufficient quantity and/or over a long enough period of time. The more physical damage that has been done to a person’s brain, the harder it will be to correct that damage.
- the individual—Factors may include a person’s age, their general health, and their own recuperative abilities.
4. Why Can’t I Do My Own Drug Detox?
There are a couple of reasons why, in general, it is a bad idea to perform a drug detox on your own without the help of trained professionals.
First, it is much more likely that you will be unable to complete the process. Under the best of circumstances, drug detox can be a highly unpleasant experience, with withdrawal symptoms such as:
- loss of appetite
- pale/clammy skin
- profuse sweating
- rapid heartbeat
- short temper
- extreme fatigue/muscle aches
- inability to concentrate
In the face of all the symptoms, which can last for weeks, many people just give up, due to the discomfort – and these are the mild symptoms.
Second, certain classes of drugs – namely, benzodiazepines and alcohol – simply cannot be safely discontinued “cold turkey”. Abruptly stopping these kinds of drugs can, in fact, be fatal. This can be especially true if an individual has any co-occurring health problems.
In a medically-supervised drug detox facility, a patient’s withdrawal is closely monitored for (1) safety and (2) the alleviation of the worst symptoms. Typically, both of these goals are achieved by the use of specific medications manufactured to help with drug withdrawal.
5. What if I need detox but don’t have time to go away?
Inpatient, medically-supervised, medication-assisted drug detox is definitely the most effective option for the majority of people. However, some people have obligations – family’s, job, or school – that restrict their ability to go away for days or weeks at a time.
These obligations are not, in and of themselves, insurmountable obstacles. Most reputable drug detox facilities offer outpatient drug detox for individuals who need to detox within the framework of their lives.
There are certain criteria that must be met for this option to be viable:
- They must not be suffering from any severe or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. People wanting to detox from benzodiazepines, alcohol, or antidepressants would not qualify.
- They must otherwise be in good health, with no other major co-occurring physical or mental disorders.
- They have a support system/person in place that can help track their progress and keep them accountable.
- They agree to take medication to help with their withdrawal systems. This could be the duty of the support person.
- They have addressed any existing environmental/social concerns. For example, this program would not work for an addict who is still living with another addict not in recovery.
Having the courage to tackle your existing drug addiction head-on is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself, your family, and your future. The first step is always admitting that you are powerless over your drug and that you need help. The second step is getting physically clean so you can be mentally receptive.
Call (561) 328-8627 to begin your recovery journey today! Professionals are standing by.