Drug and Alcohol Detoxification

Detoxification is the initial step in a journey of comprehensive recovery and rehabilitation from the effects of substance abuse. It is a systemic process that offers all the tools required for recovery including mitigating, managing and eliminating the side effects resulting from the withdrawal from the use of the substance.

Most detox programs for long-term drug abuse aim at physiological healing – which involves the combination of stabilization as the initial step, then detoxification to eliminate the drug from the body.

This is in compliance with the National Institute on Drug Abuse guidance which stipulates that after stabilization the focus of detox programs shifts to support and monitoring of bodily processes as the body gets itself rid of the abused substance, and to managing of side-effects of the withdrawal.

Guide to the Detoxification Process

Due to the psychological burden of drug withdrawal and the severity of its symptoms, detoxification is considered and recommended as the first step in the recovery process. It is effective for managing and alleviating most of the symptoms such as the fear of loss of the drug, emotional, physical and mental effects.

These withdrawal symptoms are a result of the body’s reaction to the sudden stop or reduced dosage of the drug.

It is recommended that before undergoing a detox program the advice of a qualified medical professional should be sought. Also enlisting the services of psychiatric staff members should also be done to provide ongoing and effective support. Take for instance in the case of heroin withdrawal, some of the symptoms the patient may face include:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose
  • Restlessness
  • Watery Eyes
  • Insomnia

Though these symptoms may not be life-threatening, they are quite uncomfortable and could lead to moire serious complications. Hence with psychiatric and medical personnel on hand, these effects can be monitored and contained. There is also the potential for complications to arise during the first few hours of starting a detox that may require urgent medical attention.

Medically Managed Detox

Professionally trained medical staff who specialize in the treatment of drug withdrawal symptoms should be on hand for the treatment of these effects.

Through their expertise and experience they will prescribe medications to manage the unpleasant symptoms and make withdrawal more comfortable.

Detox medication for withdrawal
Some illicit drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol will require a medicated detox

This makes the process more tolerable and safer for the patient. It should be noted that medications are customized to the particular substance of abuse and the extent of misuse.


Risks of Abrupt Quitting

There are several risks inherent to withdrawing from substance abuse without the assistance of certified medical personnel. Some can be so severe that it could lead to death of the patient. For example a long-time alcoholic, benzodiazepine user, and methadone abuser are potentially at risk of death from quitting cold turkey or from self detoxing.

Though drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine do not present severe physical symptoms during the detoxification process, they can still manifest intense psychological withdrawal symptoms for the patient, hence it is advisable to seek medical help before detoxing.

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Drug abuse relapse is a serious complication faced by patients who decide to go it alone, and it has serious implications. After ceasing to use a substance, the body might have lost its previous tolerance level for the drug, which without the patient knowing could lead to overdose and possible death or more severe side effects.

Detox Does Not Solve Whole Puzzle in the Jigsaw of Recovery

Recovery from drug addiction is often described as a journey on a long road – this is true and could sometimes last as long as a lifetime. Detoxification though critical in the recovery process is a huge step for most to take. This can be attributed to how long it takes the brain to adjust to normal functioning and successfully manage cravings.

There is unanimous agreement between addiction specialists that the detoxification process should be carried out in detox facilities. This is due to the apparent benefits, such as:


  • Under the supervision of medical professionals, cravings are easily identified and handled.
  • Quick administration of medications can alleviate severe side effects.
  • Treatment should encourage healthy living which goes a long way in the recovery process.
  • The friendly, professional environment of the facility could act as a mental remedy for the emotional and psychological challenges of detoxification.

How Long Should a Drug Detox Program Last?

A detox program according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) should continue as long as the withdrawal symptoms persist and as long as it takes for the patient to stabilize physically and mentally – this means, the length of a detox program is dependent on how fast or slow a patient recovers from unpleasant side effects.

A detox program should help break the addiction habit and provide support and care throughout the process. It also aims to prepare the patient physically and mentally to be ready for therapies and counseling during rehabilitation.

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Tackling depression which is a withdrawal symptom noticed in patients who abuse drugs like cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin through administering antidepressants or anti-psychotic drugs is another aspect of the recovery process. This is necessary for the patient before they can begin the process of working through the issues that contribute to their addictive behaviors.

However, it should be noted that not all patients are able to complete their detoxification process the first time. In fact, it is common to see several attempts before a patient becomes sober. Hence, hope should never be lost even when a relapse occurs. Keep trying until the desired end is achieved.