Complete Guide to Detoxification

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 | By JP Emerald Coast

Addiction recovery begins by recognizing the problem and committing to a solution. Most people suffering from addiction live in denial. They use their substance of choice to hide from feelings or realities that they feel ill-equipped to deal with. Recognizing you have an addiction and really owning the problem is a big step forward.

Once you admit you are struggling with addiction, the next thing to do is get help. That is not always as easy as it sounds, however. Most people try to help themselves first and continue to keep their substance abuse secret. The self-help route doesn’t work because addiction is a serious, life-threatening problem no one overcomes by themselves.

Part of the reason most people cannot overcome addiction alone is drugs have taken over part of your brain. It is not possible to think clearly while your brain chemistry is being altered by substances. The first step is to commit to getting clean. Then your situation can be clearly assessed by a licensed professional. Addiction recovery truly begins with detox.

Overview of Drug Detox

Detoxification is a simple process in theory. It requires abstaining from addictive substances completely for a period of time to allow all of the toxins to come out of your system. You may think if you abuse alcohol, for instance, when you wake up the next morning you are already detoxed from the night before. In fact, most people who abuse substances maintain a baseline of toxicity at all times.

Detox is actually a natural process the body goes through on a regular basis to eliminate any toxins, including substances that can be abused. What complicates this process for people suffering from addiction is their strong desire to take more drugs. For detox to work, you have to stop putting more toxins into your system. For many, that simple step is a real challenge.

The power of addiction to alter behaviors is very strong, which is why you find yourself taking substances at the risk of good health or even death. The initial abstinence from substance abuse required to complete detox will be your first big challenge on the road to recovery. It is best if you have assistance at this point in the journey. It can be easy to give up and never even get to the good parts of recovery.

How Long Does Detox Take?

Like many aspects of addiction recovery, detox is personal and specific to each individual. Some of the variables include what substance or substances you are taking, how long you have been abusing substances, and how much and how frequently you dose yourself.

The length of time a substance generally remains in the system is one big indicator of the length of time your detox will take. When you stop feeling the effects of your drug of choice, that does not mean it has left your body. Drugs stick around in the body, affecting your physical health through various organs, for weeks or even months.

To demonstrate the presence of drugs in the body, certain tests can be performed. The results of these tests will not indicate how the drugs are affecting your behavior or your health. They only show whether or not the drug is still in your system.

Here’s a look at how long drugs stay in your system:

Drug Urine Hair Blood
Heroin 3-4 days up to 90 days up to 12 hours
Methamphetamine 3-6 days up to 90 days 24-72 hours
Barbiturates 2-4 days up to 90 days 1-2 days
Alcohol 3-5 days up to 90 days 10-12 hours
LSD 1-3 days up to 3 days 2-3 hours
Morphine 2-3 days up to 90 days 24-36 hours
Cannabis 7-30 days up to 90 days 2 weeks
Codeine 1 day up to 90 days 12 hours
Amphetamines 1-3 days up to 90 days 12 hours
Ecstasy 3-4 days up to 90 days 1-2 days
Cocaine 3-4 days up to 90 days 1-3 days
Methadone 3-4 days up to 90 days 24-36 hours

This chart gives a basic idea of how long it takes to detox from various substances. These are only guidelines, though, since every case is different. The only accurate answer to the question “how long does it take to detox” is it takes as long as it takes.

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal occurs sometime after you start your detox. It is a group of symptoms that occur when you stop maintaining a certain level of toxicity in your body. It is impossible to go through detox without going through withdrawal, although the symptoms and severity vary greatly from case to case. Withdrawal is one thing about detox that scares people, but once they go through it, they often say it wasn’t as bad as expected.

The symptoms you experience during withdrawal tend to be associated with the effects your substance of choice had on your system and are most severe with psychoactive drugs. If the drugs you were taking suppressed a certain function in your body, you will likely experience hyperactivity of that function in withdrawal. For example, if your drug of choice was suppressing physical pain, during withdrawal you will experience heightened pain. Or if the drugs reduced your depression, your depression will increase during withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Tremors
  • Panic attacks
  • Chills
  • Goose bumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Profuse sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yawning
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea

The Stages of Detox

Withdrawal symptoms are part of the first stage of detox. The brain is shocked by the lack of drugs, and it reacts almost randomly. Balance is a key feature of human physiology. When you start putting drugs in your system, your brain chemistry adapts to this new environment.

Certain drugs, for instance, mimic the feel-good chemicals in your brain, flooding your system with these substances at a higher rate than your brain could ever produce on its own. In an attempt to restore balance, your brain stops producing the feel-good chemicals naturally. When those drugs are suddenly gone, the brain has to transition back to producing them on its own, and this takes time.

In the second stage of detox, the symptoms intensify. This is the most difficult part of detox. Physical symptoms increase to the point of requiring medical intervention. The body is completely worn out going through all the changes necessary to survive without those drugs anymore. Hydration and nutrition are especially important at this stage to give the body the fuel it needs to keep going. It is almost like undergoing an extreme workout.

This stage of detox is where extreme cases can become fatal:

  • A small percentage attempting to detox actually die at this stage because their bodies cannot handle the transition. They develop a condition known as alcoholic delirium.
  • It is also possible to experience shock or a coma at this stage, two conditions that can be survived if attended to properly.

In the final stage of detox, you become stable again. Your brain has made the major adjustments it needed to maintain your natural equilibrium, and a baseline of health is restored. This does not mean you are healthy. It simply means your brain has taken over careful control of your vital functions and your physical symptoms have subsided.

Detox should never be attempted without medical supervision. There is no way of predicting exactly how your body will react during the detox process. Addictions cannot be graded on a scale to indicate which ones are more likely to experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Each addiction is unique and should be treated with care and medical guidance.

Detox is also just the first step along a long road to recovery. It needs to be followed up with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. Without behavioral therapy and additional treatment, detox will only last a short time. The cravings to use drugs are not just physical, so withstanding the physical symptoms of detox does not mean you have overcome addiction. At this point, there is a lot more work to do.

Different Types of Detox

If you or a loved one is looking for a good addiction recovery program, you can start with detox. There are several different approaches to detox, and every facility promotes its method as the best. In reality, the best detox treatment for you or a loved one is the program that works best for you.

Addiction recovery, including detox, is very personal. The program you use has to be the right one to meet your individual needs. Feeling a connection with the staff and trusting that you are getting the best treatment possible is important as well. The two basic approaches to detox are natural and medicated.

Natural Detox

If you detox the natural way, your body’s natural ability to rid itself of the toxins is the primary focus. The drugs are allowed to take their course as they exit your system, and the effects they have on you will be felt.

Natural detox can include medical intervention. The medical intervention used in this method is simply to be sure your vital functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure, remain within survivable ranges. If your blood pressure dropped dangerously low, for example, medicine would be used to regulate it so you could remain conscious.

Even if you choose a natural detox method, detoxing alone or without medical supervision is never recommended. One of the advantages to the natural method is you are not introducing any more chemicals into your system. Some people also claim the pain of withdrawal serves as a deterrent from relapse. Knowing you survived withdrawal, you may be less likely to use again since it would force you to go through detox and withdrawal all over.

Medical Detox

Certain addictions are too dangerous to withdraw from naturally. A medicated detoxification program uses drugs to ease some of the pain of withdrawal. With certain drugs, especially opiates, the physiological symptoms of withdrawal could be life-threatening and are better avoided. Medical detox uses drugs to replace the ones you have been abusing and then the dose is tapered off slowly.

One of the advantages to medical detox is it can be undertaken in an outpatient setting while you continue to live at home and work. For some people, that regular routine is necessary. One of the disadvantages to medical detox, though, is it takes much longer. The longer you spend detoxing, the more opportunities you might have to give up on recovery and go back to substance abuse.

When you have made the decision to end your substance abuse and work toward overcoming your addiction, the method of detox is probably best left up to the professionals. You will need medical supervision to go through detox, and medical professionals are in a better position to assess what type of detox will work best for you.

Choosing a detox program is the beginning of a long journey of developing trust and working with addiction recovery experts to assist in your own healing. That requires honesty, something that can be a challenge for someone suffering from addiction. It is extremely important to be honest with the professionals you work within your recovery because in many ways your life depends on it.

What to Look for When Choosing a Detox Center

A certain amount of personal preference will come into play when choosing a detox center. There are some key characteristics to look for, however, if you want the best outcome.

From Detox to Rehabilitation

A detox program is no good all by itself. Once the drugs are out of your system, you will need specialized therapy to keep you from going back to them. The first several days after detox can be the hardest, when you may need the most support. A good detox center will transition you directly into a rehabilitation program. They may even start therapy while you are finishing up your detox.

Multiple Substances

It is not unusual to be addicted to more than one substance at a time. Alcohol and marijuana are the two drugs most commonly combined with other recreational drugs. Detoxing becomes a bit more complicated when multiple substances are involved and far less predictable. If you are taking more than one substance, you’ll want to make sure the detox center you use has experience dealing with multiple substances.

Medical Intervention

Whether you go through medical detox or take a more natural approach, there is always a possibility your physical health could be in jeopardy during the process. For this reason, you want to be sure medical supervision is available to you throughout the detox program.

The best way to ensure such support is to find a detox center with a doctor on staff. There are various types of medical professionals who can administer medication and monitor vital signs. But if there is an emergency, only a doctor can quickly assess the situation and order lifesaving interventions. You want to know the doctor will be close by if you need them.

Nutritional Support

Nutrition is vital to people suffering from addiction, especially during the detox period. Drugs and alcohol deplete your body of the necessary nutrients to thrive. While you are abusing substances, your body is living off of its reserves, and you don’t even realize it.

Most people actively abusing drugs do not maintain a healthy diet. Going through detox will make you feel like you are running a marathon every day. You want to be sure your detox program includes a nutritional component. Healthy foods can help alleviate some of your withdrawal symptoms and give your body the basics it needs to begin its healing.

Dual Diagnosis

Some people who are suffering from addiction discover after their detox that they are also suffering from another mental illness at the same time. Overcoming two mental illnesses at once can present a challenge, but it is possible. To give yourself every advantage, you’ll want a rehabilitation facility that is experienced in handling dual diagnosis.

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

Detox doesn’t have to be scary. With the right support at the right facility, you can get through detox and start moving on to recovery. Contact us today to set up an appointment or visit our facility.

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