When individuals make the decision to pursue treatment for drug or alcohol dependence, they have likely made plans to attend a treatment facility, at least for the first step – medical detox. However, some people may not realize that it is essential to perform this step under medical supervision and may attempt to detox at home. For their own health and safety, this is not recommended.
Medical detox should be undertaken in an appropriate facility where clients can be monitored around the clock by trained medical professionals. Certain withdrawal symptoms, particularly those that occur during withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines, can be dangerous and even life-threatening. With medical detox, professionals monitor clients 24 hours a day to ensure safety throughout the process.
If individuals attempt to detox at home, they will not have the benefit of this medical supervision. In a professional facility, medications may be prescribed to help ease withdrawal symptoms. If individuals try to complete the detox process at home, the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms may prompt them to begin using again.
Alcohol withdrawal is among the most dangerous of any withdrawal process. In fact, 3-5 percent of people who attempt to withdraw from alcohol will experience severe side effects, such as seizures. Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can lead to death in some cases. As a result, it’s imperative that those seeking to detox from alcohol only do so under direct medical supervision, as the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends.
Certain factors can complicate alcohol detox. These factors include a history of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, diagnosis of mental illness, pregnancy, and lack of a strong support system. As with detox from all substances of abuse, alcohol detox should be followed by comprehensive care, including therapy.
The first of two stages of detox begins as early as six hours after the person’s last drink. The symptoms generally peak at five days, and it is during this time that symptoms that can cause the most damage occur. They include:
- Delirium tremens
- Heart palpitations
The second stage of alcohol withdrawal may last for several months. During this period, the brain must resume normal function, but there may still be symptoms that are not life-threatening. The symptoms may be diminished by medications for anxiety; however, the use of any medication is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The severity of symptoms that occur during the withdrawal process depend on the person’s specific dependence and physical condition. If there are any physical or mental illnesses, the withdrawal period may be more severe and last longer.
If a person wishes to detox from alcohol, it should not be attempted alone, regardless of the severity of the dependence issue. If the medical detox process is completed in a treatment facility, medical staff will be able to give the client medication to help with any symptoms that develop. This may include medications to treat depression, anxiety, nausea, body aches, and insomnia. In addition, mental health professionals are on hand to talk the person through any difficult feelings that arise and offer support during times of discomfort.
The medical detox process is the first step in the treatment process, after which clients will begin other treatments, such as behavioral therapy. While clients are in an inpatient setting, they may attend both one-on-one and group therapy sessions. With all therapies, clients will learn coping skills that are needed in recovery.
When withdrawing from meth, individuals face not only physical withdrawal symptoms, but also strong psychological withdrawal symptoms. Although the physical symptoms are not life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable and difficult to process.
Meth withdrawal can cause severe depression, and this can be an easy trigger for relapse. Since individuals feel uncomfortable physical effects from the withdrawal process, depression can serve as the tipping point that catapults them back into meth use.
Some of the other withdrawal symptoms from crystal meth include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Increased cravings
- Increased appetite
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration
Abusing meth can change certain structures and processes in the brain – essentially brain damage. Such damage can take a long time to heal, and it is often the reason that some withdrawal symptoms linger long after the detox process. Continued treatment can help with these symptoms.
As with alcohol, the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms depends on each person’s dependence level, physical makeup, and background in addiction and recovery. The way individuals used the drug as well as their physical health can also affect the withdrawal process.
Meth detox can be an uncomfortable process, which is the reason why individuals are advised not to attempt it at home. Entering a treatment center can assure that individuals are safe and comfortable during the detox process. This option also helps people by distancing them from any drugs or alcohol that may cause them to relapse easily.
Heroin is both dangerous and addictive, so it’s no surprise that it requires medical detox. Some may be surprised to learn that prescription painkillers, like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Lortab, are just as dangerous, and just as addictive, as heroin. As a result, medical detox is required for withdrawal from all these opiates.
Since heroin and prescription painkillers act on the body’s nervous system, if individuals discontinue these drugs abruptly, they will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms
- Abdominal pain
The symptoms of opiate withdrawal can begin as little as 12 hours after the last dose and reach their maximum intensity after 5-7 days. The most intense portion of withdrawal may last up to 10 days. In this time, it is important that clients be monitored around the clock by medical staff so they can remain safe and comfortable.
Opiate addiction sometimes requires the use of medications like buprenorphine or methadone in the detox process. These medications are used on an as-needed basis, only when appropriate for the individual’s particular circumstances. The medications may reduce the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms and prevent individuals from experiencing a high if they use an illegal drug while on the replacement medication.
Therapy is an important part of recovering from opiate dependence. In therapy, clients learn coping skills that will help them to abstain from heroin or prescription painkiller use. A good support system is also crucial, and it may be found in a 12-Step group, such as Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, or Pills Anonymous.
Benzodiazepines can also produce a very dangerous withdrawal syndrome in those who have been using or abusing the drugs. In fact, many users of benzodiazepines, like Xanax, don’t even realize they are addicted to the drugs. Some users may simply begin upping their dosages or taking it outside of the parameters of their prescriptions in order to experience more of pleasant, relaxing effects of the drugs.
No one should attempt to detox from benzodiazepines alone at home. Due to the severe withdrawal syndrome that can occur with benzo withdrawal, medical detox is required. Generally, medical professionals will slowly taper users off benzodiazepines in a slow manner, gradually reducing the dosage over time in a structured manner. Quitting benzos cold turkey, in an abrupt manner, can send users into serious withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms could be potentially life-threatening and include seizures and psychosis.
Benzodiazepines are often abused with other substances as well, complicating the effects of withdrawal. In a professional setting, clients can be safely detoxed from all substances of abuse, ensuring comfort and safety throughout the process.
Withdrawal from certain substances, like marijuana and cocaine, does not tend to produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, those wishing to withdraw from substances like this can do so on an outpatient basis; however, it depends on the individual’s personal circumstances and home environment. If a person has any co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, or an unsafe home environment, where the potential to relapse is high, then inpatient detox is recommended.
While not life-threatening, withdrawal from cocaine and marijuana can produce uncomfortable symptoms, such as insomnia, fatigue, nausea, and cravings for the drug. In a professional medical setting, these symptoms can be managed, and clients can be made more comfortable throughout the detox process. In addition, the likelihood of relapse is reduced greatly in an inpatient setting. While it may be possible to detox at home from marijuana or cocaine, better results can be expected in a professional detox environment.