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Drug Detox

The process of safely removing toxic substances from the body is known as drug detox, and it is usually the first step in substance abuse treatment.

What Is Drug Detox?

Drug detox is the process of letting the body learn to function without a substance on which a person has grown dependent.

Being dependent on a substance means the body needs it to function normally. When use is stopped, the body produces symptoms to try and communicate to the brain that it needs that substance again. These are typically referred to as withdrawal symptoms.

Experiencing these withdrawal symptoms can trigger more usage to relieve them, which fuels the cycle of dependence and can lead to addiction.

Drug detox is usually performed in a monitored setting with medical professionals who can help treat withdrawal symptoms while preventing other more harmful effects of detox. Detox helps the person with the first step of treating an addiction, clearing their mind and body in order to focus on healing. Transitioning into a longer-term rehab program after detox is typically recommended.

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The Detox Process

The detox process involves a comfortable and supportive environment and, at times, receiving other medications to reduce physical symptoms of withdrawal.

Detox can vary depending on the drug dependence. Some drugs have a faster detox than others, while other drugs have milder symptoms than others. The detox process usually involves monitoring by nursing staff in order to treat symptoms and a regular assessment several times a day. Between these assessments, people are encouraged to rest and relax as much as possible to help their body heal.

It is not recommended for someone to detox by themselves, as confusion and serious withdrawal symptoms (some life-threatening) can occur. For someone with physical dependence on a substance, it is safest to detox in a monitored setting in a supportive environment. This is especially true when detoxing from substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.

How Long Does Detox Take?

Detox timelines are tied to withdrawal timelines. Most detox programs last for anywhere from three days to three weeks, with most physical withdrawal symptoms typically resolving during this timeframe. However, specific withdrawal symptoms may last for a few months, such as insomnia or anxiety.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Depressive moods
  • Suicidal thoughts

Individual factors impact the length of time required for detox treatment. These include:

  • The drug of dependence
  • Whether the person used multiple substances
  • The dosage and length of time of the substance use
  • A person’s age, gender, and physical health

As an example, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can peak three days after the last drink, but the length of detox treatment will depend on what medications and treatment methods are provided. Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically subside within five days, but methadone withdrawal can be felt for two to three weeks.

Can I Detox At Home?

For someone who has physical dependence, it is not recommended to detox at home. The timeline and symptoms can be unpredictable and, at times,  life-threatening. To avoid physical symptoms spiraling out of control, most people who are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol need medical supervision.

The body sends signals to reuse the drug of dependence to avoid withdrawal. Fighting these signals to reset the body most times requires assistance.

Preventative medications may be used in a monitored setting to ease the physical and mental discomfort. This can reduce the variable symptoms that may occur with the different types of drug detox. A comfortable and successful detox can ease the transition into drug addiction treatment.

Drug Detox During Pregnancy

Drug detox during pregnancy can be accomplished safely for many substances. It is very important to receive supervision and to inform all medical professionals of the pregnancy to minimize harm to the baby. The methods of detox used during pregnancy can vary depending on the substance. Detox from opioids can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women and requires medical oversight.

Detox By Drug Type

Detox symptoms, timelines, and treatment plans vary depending on the drug to which a person is dependent.

Stimulant And Amphetamine Detox 

Doctors recommend supportive treatment for people dependent on stimulant drugs, such as amphetamines.

Stimulant detox is used for those who have abused:

There are no medications explicitly developed to treat stimulant detox; however, benzodiazepines such as Diazepam may be prescribed along with vitamins B and C supplements. Drinking plenty of water, eating nourishing meals, and getting adequate sleep is also encouraged.

During stimulant detox, feelings of anger and resentment may be prevalent, as can profound feelings of dysphoria. Depressive thoughts caused by stimulant withdrawal have been tied to suicidal ideas or attempts, which necessitate medical treatment. It’s uncommon for medical complications to be present during stimulant detox. However, certain severe symptoms are possible. These include seizures, persistent headaches, and heart issues.

Hallucinogen Detox

Hallucinogen detox is for abuse of:

Hallucinogen detox is different from other drug detox, as hallucinogens do not produce strong withdrawal syndrome. However, a patient undergoing hallucinogen detox can experience a wide array of behaviors.

Feelings of anxiety and panic attacks may be present, along with residual psychotic symptoms. Typically, benzodiazepines are prescribed for this type of detox to produce a calming effect for those experiencing these symptoms.

Inhalant Detox

Inhalants are often less likely to cause dependence and, consequently, withdrawal.

However, there are cases where individuals have experienced symptoms such as irritability, tremors, or even seizures in response to stopping the use of inhalants. With this in mind, a safe, open, and calm environment can soothe the user’s mind and body when they initially quit using inhalants.

Because of potential side effects such as hallucinations, patients are observed very closely to ease any discomfort they may have. Detox for inhalant use can cause headaches and nausea, as well as trouble focusing on tasks later on. Medication can be prescribed to reverse these effects.

Regular inhalant use can cause physical harm which should be examined during detox treatment. While not tied directly to withdrawal symptoms in many cases, these impacts can be serious and require medical attention.

Marijuana Detox

For people who use marijuana regularly, it is possible to develop dependence and experience withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped. Symptoms are typically mild but can be uncomfortable and make it challenging to stop using marijuana.

These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Lack of appetite

Medication is not required for marijuana detox; however, it may be prescribed to ease these symptoms. Psychiatric therapy is also issued as a part of follow-up care to ensure the mind and body are free of marijuana cravings.

Antidepressant Detox

Antidepressants are considered less addictive, but they can still lead to physiological dependence, which can feel like withdrawal when use is stopped abruptly. You can feel physically sick, have negative thoughts, and have a relapse into depression as a result of discontinuation.

Some antidepressants that can be very hard to stop include:

  • Celexa (Citalopram)
  • Lexapro (Escitalopram)
  • Paxil (Paroxetine)
  • Zoloft (Sertraline)

As part of detox for antidepressants, physicians taper down doses over several weeks to lessen the shock of the body once the person decides to stop taking the medication. Medicine can be used to help alleviate symptoms such as insomnia, nausea, sweating, or psychological symptoms. If the doctor finds it is a strong dependence, they might switch the patient from a short-acting to a long-acting antidepressant in an attempt to help the body ease back into normal functioning without the use of the drug.

Sleeping Pill Detox

The detox process is relatively quick for those abusing sleeping pills compared to other hard drugs, and symptoms of withdrawal can fade within one month under the supervision of treatment professionals.

Tapering, or gradually reducing the sleeping pill dosage over time, may be recommended to avoid the intense symptoms tied to quitting cold turkey. Physicians can also prescribe other medications to treat withdrawal symptoms or support sleep quality on an as-needed basis for those under observation during sleeping pill detox.

Other Types Of Detox

While the detox process should not be rushed, accelerated methods do exist. These rapid detox options often have higher risks and less evidence to support their methods.

Rapid Detox

The rapid detox method is for those who have extreme dependency and need life-changing help quickly. Medication is prescribed for this type of detox because of the fast pace, resulting in withdrawal symptoms developing sporadically. Many facilities do not offer rapid detox because it can be very dangerous, is often less effective, and should only be performed by experienced physicians.

Ultra-Rapid Detox

Ultra-rapid detox is marketed as a way to speed up the detox process to appear more appealing to those wanting to start addiction treatment. This involves higher-risk procedures, such as sedation, for long periods while being given medications to try and push the offending substance out of the body faster. Ultra-rapid detox has not been proven effective and can trigger some worsening of symptoms and other medical conditions.

Rapid and Ultra-Rapid Detox Risks

Rapid detox and ultra-rapid detox are usually very expensive and can be risky with certain medical conditions. The use of anesthesia introduces significant physical risk that is not otherwise present with traditional detox. Currently, there is no known long-term benefit of rapid and ultra-rapid detox. This equates to more risks without long-term benefits and at a substantial cost. Research has shown a very high relapse rate with ultra-rapid detox, with some insurance companies considering it experimental at best.

Life After Detox

After detox, the physical withdrawal in the short-term has resolved, allowing for a new start in breaking psychological dependence. It is very important to receive appropriate support, treatment, and therapy to overcome addiction during this time.

If you are ready to take the first step toward recovery and start a detox program, contact a treatment provider today to explore your treatment options.

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