Self-Detox From Drugs and Alcohol May Lead to Death

Friday, August 5, 2016 | By JP Emerald Coast

Advertising messages and public service announcements have been very good at getting the word out that using drugs is not a good choice and that, if you’re already using them, you should stop.

Unfortunately, the messages have not been as clear about the best way to stop using them and the dangers of detoxing at home. Getting off drugs may be uncomfortable for some, with common withdrawal symptoms including seizures, delusions, insomnia, vomiting, diarrhea and appetite changes. In some instances, kicking the habit actually has the potential to be fatal if not performed properly under medical supervision. Detox and withdrawal should never be attempted in the absence of trained medical professionals. At JourneyPure Emerald Coast, we have a 24/7 medical team made up of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals to help reduce withdrawal symptoms to help you start your recovery.

Why Someone May Try Detoxing on Their Own

There could be a number of reasons why someone with a substance abuse issue may decide to try detoxing on their own rather than seeking professional help. Here are a few of them:

They may believe they can overcome their addiction through willpower alone.

If the person has had one or more family members or friends tell them that overcoming addiction is simply a matter of being strong enough to stop using through the power of sheer willpower, they may decide that they are going to put on a show of strength and “will themselves better.”

Unfortunately, this approach works about as well as “willing” oneself to recover from diabetes, cancer, heart disease or any other serious, long-term illness. Addiction detox requires professional treatment, and trying to detox at home is neither safe nor recommended. Even people who manage to get clean on their own need the addiction treatment that immediately follows professional detoxification, since freeing the body from chemicals is only the first step in getting well.

They may want to keep their addiction a secret.

There could be a few reasons why a person may not want anyone to know about their issue with addiction. They may be concerned that, if they tell their doctor they have become addicted to illicit drugs, the doctor will have to report them to the police instead of recommending a treatment facility.

While the thought of going through detox alone is not pleasant, the idea of having a criminal record for possession is even worse. Given the choice, a number of people would choose not to even bring up the subject to a doctor and try to deal with the drug issue on their own.

Some people would prefer to try to go through detox independently because they don’t want their employer to find out they have a drug issue. They try to detox alone and hope to deal with it independently so that their boss or their company never finds out that chemicals were a problem for them.

They may have tried a detox and treatment program previously and relapsed.

For some people, the idea that they have “been there, done that” takes over when they think about going for treatment. If they have already tried going to detox and treatment and relapsed, they may conclude that this type of program won’t work for them.

Experiencing relapse in the past does not mean going to detox and treatment cannot be successful for an addict in the future. For some people, it takes more than one attempt to achieve long-term sobriety.

They may have concerns about the cost of going to detox.

One reservation that addicts may have about going to rehab concerns the cost of getting help. The good news is, reputable treatment programs accept health insurance policies from clients who want to change their lives in a positive way. Financial assistance may be available to those who qualify. A lack of funds does not necessarily need to be a barrier to those who are seeking help.

A sense of shame about the addiction may keep some people from seeking help.

The addiction may be wrapped up in a sense of low self-worth for the person, and shame about the behaviors involved in supporting a drug habit, such as stealing and finding it difficult to stay employed. The person who chooses to attempt self-detox may conclude that they’re not worth the attention of trained professionals. Some families may prefer that detoxing take place at home so that the matter is dealt with privately, and that no one outside the family finds out that their loved one is an addict.

While all of these thoughts may be understandable, they don’t take into account the risks involved when going through detox without proper supervision.

Withdrawal From Drugs

When someone decides to stop using drugs (including alcohol), they may think that getting off them is a relatively simple matter of “just quitting.” It’s not that simple, unfortunately. Within a few hours of the last time they took a drink or had their last dose of their drug of choice, they will start to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Both the brain and the body’s hormones are affected by substance abuse, and when the “expected” dose of the drug is not forthcoming, it throws the body into a state of confusion. As a result, the body responds by doing things like increasing blood pressure or causing it to become unstable. It may also cause sweating or tremors. The person going through withdrawal may also report feeling nauseous or feeling physical aches and pains during this process.

In some instances, detox leads to more serious symptoms. There is no way to predict who will experience problems detoxing from substance abuse, but there is one drug that is known to be deadly for those who are looking to break free from its grasp.

Dangers of Detox

Each year, close to 16 million Americans go to detox to try to get clean and sober. Nearly 5 percent of people going through acute alcohol withdrawal experience seizures. This withdrawal symptom is more likely to occur in people who have been heavy and/or long-term users of alcohol.

Between seven and 25 percent of people die from complications due to alcohol withdrawal. These complications can include seizures, fever and irregular heartbeat.

It’s important that anyone who wants to break free from a dependence on a chemical substance gets professional help. They need to go to a licensed facility where they can be monitored on a 24/7 basis by medical staff who can track their condition and ensure that they are both safe and comfortable.

Dangers of Cold Turkey Detox From Alcohol

When someone who has become used to drinking heavily for a long time (which could be as long as several years of consuming large amounts of alcohol daily) either significantly reduces their consumption or stops drinking altogether (going “cold turkey”), they will definitely experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can start within a couple of hours after the last drink was consumed, and some people may experience them for weeks before they subside.

The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person, and is not necessarily related to the amount of alcohol that was consumed or the length of time the person was drinking. Other factors, such as weight, gender and body chemistry come into play as well, which means it’s not possible to predict in advance who will experience the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Someone whose symptoms appear to be relatively mild can progress into medical distress quite quickly, and for this reason, alcohol withdrawal should be treated at a detox center.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Pre-existing Conditions

Someone who wants to go through alcohol detox, but is living with a health condition like heart or lung disease, may be at increased risk of having complications during this process. Trying to go through detox alone is not recommended. A person with a seizure disorder, or who has been feeling ill, should also consult a physician before undergoing detox and seek professional help during the procedure.

Since some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal mimic the flu, it can be very difficult to tell whether they’re attributable to the process itself or to an underlying condition that needs to be treated separately. This is another reason why professional treatment at a detox center is the best, and safest, approach.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

These minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms will usually appear within six to 12 hours after someone stops drinking:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Mild anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting

Some people going through alcoholism withdrawal will experience hallucinations at the 12 to 24-hour mark after their last drink. These hallucinations may be auditory, visual or tactile. In other words, they may hear, see or feel something that is not based in reality, and most people who experience them understand this.

Seizures associated with alcohol withdrawal can start as early as two hours after the last drink, or within 24 to 72 hours after the last alcoholic drink was consumed. The risk of experiencing seizures is higher for people who have undergone more than one detoxification for alcohol abuse.

DTs and Alcohol Withdrawal

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include the DTs (delirium tremens). This condition, which may start within 24 to 72 hours after the last drink has been consumed, can be extremely dangerous. Risk factors include those who are living with an acute medical condition, older people and those who have an abnormal liver function. Symptoms include:

  • Anxiety (severe)
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations that cannot be distinguished from reality
  • High blood pressure
  • Low-grade fever
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Severe tremors

This type of complication requires immediate medical attention and is one more reason why self-detox from alcohol should not be attempted. It is simply too dangerous for the person with a substance abuse issue. A detox facility staffed by medical personnel will know how to treat clients going through all stages of alcohol withdrawal and can offer support and comfort measures during this process.

Dangers of Detoxing Alone From Heroin

Heroin is one of the one of the most addictive drugs in the world, and the fact that it is relatively cheap and easy to procure means there is no shortage of people who become addicted to it. This drug is an opiate, which puts it in the same class as morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone.

OxyContin is the long-lasting form of oxycodone. Developed to be taken by people with chronic pain or cancer, it can be abused. If it is crushed, bitten, snorted or injected, it does not enter the bloodstream over a period of several hours. Instead, the person ingesting it gets a large dose right away and runs the risk of overdosing on the drug.

During their drug-using days, they may have become used to a pattern where they felt the initial high and then became sleepy. When they were feeling very relaxed and calm during the latter part of the experience with the drug, a user may not have minded whether they were on their own or not. Heroin users who want to detox alone will end up going through a very miserable experience.

Once this drug leaves a user’s system, the person feels as though they have a horrible case of the flu. Withdrawal symptoms will usually start within about 12 hours of the last dose, and can include any or all of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

The symptoms peak two to four days after the last time the person used heroin. The body aches are said to be some of the worst symptoms of detoxing from heroin. Going through this process alone means there is no one available to offer support or encouragement to the addict who is trying to get off drugs.

From a medical point of view, excessive vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration if fluids cannot be replaced. Someone who is in the middle of this process is not likely to be able to think about whether they are getting enough fluids, or if they should consider going to the emergency room to be assessed.

In short, going through heroin detox alone should not be attempted. It is much safer to go to a detox facility that can monitor the client’s condition on a continuous basis throughout his or her detox and offer medications to alleviate the most severe physical symptoms, as necessary.

Dangers of Detoxing Alone From Prescription Pain Medications

An addiction to prescription drugs is in the same realm as an addiction to illicit drugs. One “type” of addiction is not better than another or easier to deal with. Some people think that, because they may have become addicted to a substance that was prescribed for them and that they bought from a pharmacy instead of an individual, they have a “cleaner” addiction. This is simply not the case. All types of addiction are equally serious.

If someone has been taking prescription medications at a relatively high dose for some time, simply stopping is not a safe way to get off the drugs. Ideally, a patient who wants to stop taking an addictive prescription drug will discuss the situation with their doctor and work out a plan to slowly wean off the medication. (Even people who do not become addicted to these types of drugs and take them as prescribed may develop a physical dependency and experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using the medication.)

Someone who is addicted to narcotics like Vicodin, OxyContin or Percocet, and who is getting their pills illicitly, is not likely to go to a doctor for medical advice about how to get off the drugs. Trying to detox cold turkey alone can lead to dehydration or severe vomiting. Some people have even died from choking on their own vomit.

The greatest danger to someone who tries to detox from prescription drugs alone is the possibility of an overdose. If they are able to stop using for several days, their body’s tolerance for the drug changes. The addict doesn’t realize this if he or she decides they have had enough of sobriety and want to use again. The dose they could have handled with no problem in the recent past (before their self-imposed detox) could very well be too much for them to handle, and may ultimately trigger an overdose. If no one is available to call for help, the person runs the risk of dying.

Dangers of Self-Detox From Amphetamines

Amphetamines are stimulants, and they include street drugs like methamphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy). When ingested, they suppress feelings of fatigue and give the user the feeling that they can do anything. These effects last for a number of hours.

Someone who stops using amphetamines and attempts to self-detox from amphetamines may experience the following withdrawal symptoms starting as early as a few hours after the last time they used the drug, or as late as a few days after the last time they got high on amphetamines:

  • Agitation
  • Body aches
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Insomnia or wanting to sleep all the time
  • Nightmares
  • Pacing
  • Slowing down of speech and activity

It’s not uncommon for people with an addiction to amphetamines to attempt to self-detox at least once. Body aches and depression are the most common withdrawal symptoms reported by those who attempt to detox on their own. The withdrawal symptoms from this class of drugs can present for several days all the up to three weeks in some instances.

People who are feeling depressed, who can’t sleep and who feel physically unwell may be at a higher risk for making poor choices in their depression, such as attempting suicide. Getting treatment at a medically supervised detox center can help them feel more physically comfortable and ensure that their psychological state is being monitored as well.

Dangers of Detoxing at Home From Cocaine

Cocaine produces a sense of joy in the body by causing the brain to release higher amounts of certain chemicals than it normally would. These chemicals are released as soon as the cocaine hits the bloodstream, making it a very quick high. When someone stops using cocaine, or their binge on the drug stops, they come down hard.

During their crash, they generally experience cravings for more cocaine, a distinct lack of pleasure (almost like the brain’s ability to generate it has run dry), irritability, anxiety and sleepiness. Some people feel very paranoid during this time. Cocaine withdrawal doesn’t produce any physical symptoms. However, it does create the following:

  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Nightmares
  • Slowing of activity

The craving for more cocaine can last for months for someone who has become used to using cocaine over a long time and/or in large amounts. Some people experience depression symptoms that become so severe they become suicidal.

The longer the cravings go on and the more intense they are, the more likely someone detoxing at home from cocaine will be to experience a relapse. The risk of suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously, and detoxing from cocaine is too dangerous to attempt without professional help. It needs to be performed under the guidance of a medical team who can screen a client for suicidal thoughts and offer appropriate support, as necessary.

Learn More

Do you know someone who is struggling with addiction and needs detox and drug or alcohol treatment? JourneyPure Emerald Coast offers medically assisted detox services at our state-of-the-art facility. Contact us today to learn about our collaborative approach to helping clients.

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