Drug detoxification (or detox) is the eradication of any alcohol or drug substances from the body. Drug detox is the first stage to substance abuse and addiction treatment. It’s crucial for an addict or alcoholic to undergo detox prior to receiving primary care at a drug rehab but detox should not be conducted alone or at home.
The detox process can involve serious withdrawals symptoms if attempted in a solitary fashion or being around people who have no medical expertise or any clue about substance addiction. At-home detox can be deadly, especially to those who have been using or drinking for a long period of time. Those attempting to withdraw from alcohol and/or benzodiazepines might experience intense symptoms, which include tremors, muscle pain, psychosis, seizures, delirium tremens (DT’s), insomnia, anxiety, hallucinations, and panic attacks.
Delirium tremens (DT’s) are the most intense symptom of alcohol withdrawal. While undergoing DT’s, the alcoholic can experience a rapid heart rate, hallucinations, heavy perspiration, agitation, anxiety, fever and high blood pressure. Some alcoholics who experience DT’s have a sensation of being extremely cold.
DT’s surface between 48 and 72 hours after the alcoholic took his or her last drink. The longer period of time that the alcoholic drank, the worse the symptoms can be.
When addicts detox from opiates, which include heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, they are also in for a dangerous physical and emotional rollercoaster ride. Opiate withdrawal can lead to intense symptoms, which include sweating, muscle aches, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting.
One of the dangers of attempting solitary drug detox is that some addicts have died from choking on their own vomit. Other complications can include lung infections and cardiac arrest.
And most addicts undergoing cold turkey detox literally want to die. Going at it alone, without proper care can be an extremely lonely, if not debilitating experience.
Withdrawing from stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines can be horrible. Besides a sense of paranoia, symptoms of stimulant drug detox include anxiety, tremors, a depressed mood, suicidal ideations, or heart problems.
And often do-it-yourself-detox can lead to relapse. After a short period of abstinence, the bodies of addicts and alcoholics lose tolerance for the previously abused chemical substance. What’s scary is that if they relapse, there is a high risk of overdose, which can lead to death.
Many drug rehabs offer drug detox. This usually takes place in a separate location from the residential treatment facility. There are different types of detox available. The social model detox is usually conducted in a highly supportive locale. Instead of providing medication, the individual receives ample counseling and therapy, as well as proper nutrition. The client is heavily monitored, around the clock. The therapy focuses on treating any potential co-occurring disorders that might be present, as well as offering education on substance abuse and addiction. Additionally, clients participate in recovery support groups, which often include 12-step meetings. During these gatherings, clients learn that they are not alone with their addiction. These meetings provide them with opportunities to develop a peer support group network, which is crucial to maintaining abstinence in recovery.
However, the social model detox program is not for everyone. Those who have a history of severe drug abuse or alcoholism should be referred to an acute detox facility as they may require medication-assisted treatment, as well as around-the-clock medical monitoring.
Medication-assisted treatment is administered on a short-term basis with complete abstinence being the goal. It’s also the first stage of treatment, prior to inpatient or outpatient care. The medications vary, depending on what drug the individual is detoxing from.
Buprenorphine is often for opiate addiction. Buprenorphine is also known as Subutex and Suboxone. On a short-term basis, buprenorphine can ease symptoms of withdrawal.
Clients detoxing from benzodiazepines (benzos) including Xanax and Valium, which have short-term effects, are often administered other benzos like Clonipin, which has longer-acting effects.
Benzodiazepines including Librium, Ativan, Serax, and Valium are prescription medications that are used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Besides experiencing DT’s, many alcoholics are terrified as they go through withdrawals. Some are at risk for seizures, and in those cases, doctors will prescribe Tegretol.
And then there is methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) for opiate addicts. Methadone maintenance treatment for opiates is not a form of drug detox. It’s basically replacing one opiate for another.
The way MMT works is that the addict will go to a methadone clinic, usually on a daily basis, to receive methadone, which is a long-acting opioid and needs to be administered once a day, as opposed to heroin that is injected several times daily. MMT only treats the dependency but does not allow the addict to detox from opiates. In certain specialized MMT programs, doctors work closely with counselors so that clients receive therapy, in addition to the medication. But addicts who were once addicted to opiates are still dependent on drugs. There are many pros and cons to MMT, but the treatment itself is probably the lesser of two evils.
But to reiterate, drug detox should NEVER be conducted at home, alone, or around people who have no medical expertise. Many suspects that an attempted cold turkey detox might have been the cause of the death of British singer Amy Winehouse in July 2011. Winehouse, who was a renowned alcoholic/addict, wrote a song called, Rehab, and sadly, the lyrics summarize Winehouse’s feelings about drug detox and inpatient care.
“They tried to make me go to rehab I said, “no, no, no”
What’s so tragic is that Winehouse was so caught up in her addiction and probably believed in the myth that she had to be an alcoholic/addict in order to be an artist. Perhaps if she had properly undergone detox at a residential treatment facility and had received proper primary care, along with behavioral therapy for her depression, she might have realized that being a creative artist did not mean that she had to be drunk or loaded. Having clarity and recovery can be an amazing experience for an artist.
If Winehouse had gone to rehab and stayed clean and sober, perhaps this talented young woman would have been a source of inspiration for other addicts and alcoholics who are often terrified to take the first step, and go to treatment and get the care that they so desperately need.