Achieving long-term sobriety usually begins with a medical detox program. A detox helps those who have stopped using drugs and alcohol cope with withdrawal symptoms. Detox programs are supervised by medical and mental health professionals who work hard to ensure the highest possible level of comfort during the detox process. Oftentimes this involves administering medications to alleviate the most intense symptoms of withdrawal. In addition to receiving medication, clients will be encouraged to engage in activities focused on relaxation to reduce stress and promote an overall sense of well-being.
Detox is an essential first step toward long-term recovery, but it doesn’t work on its own. While detoxification accomplishes the goal of breaking the physical dependency on a substance, it doesn’t address the complex psychological components of addiction. Once a patient successfully completes their detox, they’ll explore any underlying emotional issues that may have contributed to their addictive behavior and develop essential coping skills that will help them avoid a relapse in the future.
Detox is one of the most important levels of care. It’s a catalyst for recovery and the precursor to treatment. At Destination Hope, we do not provide detox services, but we do assist our clients with finding appropriate treatment at a suitable facility. Once free of drugs and alcohol clients can enter our behavioral health recovery program.
If you are dependent on alcohol, withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, tremors, feelings of anxiety or depression, hallucinations and the possibility of heart attack or stroke. During medically supervised detox, the client will be assessed and possibly treated medicinally with drugs like Valium or Ativan to relieve symptoms of withdrawal.
- Stage 1 occurs in the first 24 hours and it can include tremors, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, heavy sweating, insomnia, and anxiety.
- Stage 2 includes hallucinations and sets in after approximately 12 hours. It can run concurrently with the end of Stage 1.
- Stage 3 consists of seizures, which affect around 10% of clients in alcohol withdrawal.
- Stage 4 is called ‘delirium tremens’ and includes tremors, inattention, confusion, hallucination, fever, rapid heartbeat, sweating and pupil dilation. It sets in after a few days and affects around 30% of alcohol withdrawal clients. It can be deadly if not managed carefully. 15% of people who do not get medical care at this stage die, mostly from respiratory or cardiovascular collapse.
When people see opiate withdrawal portrayed in the media, it’s usually the physical side that is emphasized. In some extreme cases, viewers are led to believe that individuals in opiate withdrawal are risking death by detoxing. This is not the case. With careful professional assistance, the physical withdrawal is more like a prolonged case of the flu: Clients are often very uncomfortable, with nausea, vomiting and/or constipation symptoms. Opiate withdrawal and detox can cause:
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Muscle aches
- Excess sleepiness or insomnia
- Runny nose
- Shallow breathing
- Feelings of dizziness and weakness
- Confused thinking
- Clammy skin, sweating
- Excessive yawning
- Vision problems
Depending on the substance they had abused, the symptoms usually last around 72 hours but can continue for weeks or longer. As with any illness, recovery time varies from person to person.
Symptoms associated with detox from benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax may include sweating, shaking, anxiety, nausea, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and an elevation in body temperature.
Symptoms associated with detox from cocaine, meth, and prescription drugs like Adderall may include depression and anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
When Will Withdrawal Symptoms Begin to Affect You?
When you are dependent on a substance and subsequently stop taking it, symptoms of withdrawal can begin quickly, depending upon the drug and how long it remains active in your body.
Signs of withdrawal can start almost immediately if you’ve been abusing substances for a long period of time. The timing of symptoms can also fluctuate due to which substance was being abused, how it was being taken into your body, how much was being used, and your own genetic, medical, and mental health history.
If you are addicted to heroin, for example, detox symptoms can begin within 12 hours of your last dose. Opioid dependence withdrawal signs can appear within 8-12 hours. Benzodiazepine withdrawal effects can show up 1-4 days after your last ingestion. Withdrawal from a drug like cocaine can affect you within just a few hours.
Treatment for Most Withdrawal Symptoms
It can be difficult and dangerous to go through withdrawal on your own. Treatment in a medically supervised detoxification program will assist you through the process and lessen the discomfort with the help of medications:
- Methadone is often advocated to help with heroin and other opioid detoxes by reducing the pain and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. However, methadone is an addictive substance itself – replacing one addiction for another.
- Buprenorphine, also known by its trade name Suboxone, is also helpful when treating opioid withdrawal and can decrease the length of time it takes to go through detox.
- Clonidine reduces feelings of anxiety, nervousness, aches, and clamminess.
- If you are going through alcohol detox, there are three FDA-approved medications to help manage symptoms related to cravings for alcohol. These include disulfiram, naltrexone, and topiramate. Naltrexone works to reduce cravings by blocking opioid receptors, preventing the pleasurable effects of opioid or alcohol use. Disulfiram makes drinking much less desirable, as the medicine makes you feel ill when you take in alcohol. Topiramate may help by interfering with the high drinkers feel while imbibing alcohol.
In addition to medication, it is recommended that you develop the following habits to help with the process of withdrawal:
- Proper nutrition
- Adequate hydration
- Develop an emotional support system
- Begin exercising
- Improve sleeping habits