Depending on the substance in your system and how long you’ve been dependent on it, withdrawal symptoms may set in within hours or days and can last several days to a week. Drugs that may require a medical detox program to start the recovery process include opioids (Vicodin, codeine, Oxycontin and similar other drugs), heroin, alcohol and benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium. Withdrawal symptoms are often compared to the flu, with headaches, chills, nausea and vomiting being among the top effects people experience during this period. Other symptoms of withdrawal may include:
- Extreme cravings
- Cold sweats
- Muscle aches
The harsh reality is that drug detox can be physically difficult and painful, but the good news is that symptoms typically begin to improve after 3-4 days with medical intervention. Symptoms will differ depending on the drug you’re detoxing and how long it’s been in your system. Essentially, drug detox is a medically supervised withdrawal. Though it may be unpleasant, it’s the first step to a brighter future.
Detox During Pregnancy
Drug detox may be more challenging during pregnancy. Drugs and alcohol go through the placenta and reach the fetus, so seeking drug detox and treatment as early in the pregnancy as possible is vital. Because drugs enter a fetus’s system, additional detox may be necessary when the baby is born. However, withdrawal symptoms can also be harmful to a fetus, so it’s especially important to attend a medically assisted detox program. A professional treatment provider can work with you to create a treatment program that’s best for you and your baby.
Going Cold Turkey
The idea of going to detox and treatment can be intimidating at first, so you might consider trying to stop using drugs and going through detox on your own at home. However, discontinuing use on your own is risky and can lead to relapse. Stopping drugs at once is called going “cold turkey,” which tends to be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. You’ll still go through withdrawal, which may be so painful that you turn back to the drug you’re trying to detox.
Going through withdrawal outside of a medical detox setting may also carry the risk of death from choking on vomit or having a severe seizure. In addition to the difficulty of dealing with physical withdrawal symptoms, it can be hard to heal if you’re triggered by your environment. For example, if someone isn’t treated well at home and turns to substance abuse to cope with the pain they’re feeling, it would likely be difficult to detox and stay clean in that same home. Support and safety are vital through the detox and recovery process.
What Is Rapid or Ultra-Rapid Detox for Drug Abuse?
Some medical detox centers advertise a rapid or ultra-rapid drug detox program for opioid addiction, a faster way to get through the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal and start long-term recovery. This might sound appealing at first. However, rapid detox can be very dangerous.
In a rapid detox, a person is put under anesthesia and given medication to clear the opioids from the body. The drugs in your system are essentially replaced, usually with a medication called naloxone. While it’s touted as a “quick fix” that shortens detox time, a 2013 study of 75 patients undergoing rapid detox revealed several adverse events and two deaths. Risks of rapid detox include choking or aspirating on vomit, heart attacks and severe mental health issues.
Though a traditional detox program takes slightly longer and is an uncomfortable process, it has a much higher rate of sustained recovery. Long-term recovery requires a lot of time, energy, and mental fortitude from an individual. If the detox process leads to a traumatic medical event like cardiac arrest, the person may be even more inclined to relapse afterward.
Rapid or ultra-rapid drug detox is also typically far more expensive than traditional detox services, as it likely will not be covered by your insurance provider. Unfortunately, when it comes to seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, it will be a process. There’s no quick fix, but treatment is worth it!
The Drug Detoxification Process
Step One: Intake
When you arrive at a drug detox center, the first step in the drug detox process is to go through an evaluation with intake staff. You are protected under HIPAA laws at a treatment center, so anything you tell staff regarding your substance abuse history is confidential. Detox intake usually includes a medical exam, a complete physical and psychological history to form a treatment plan. A search of your belongings also takes place to ensure no weapons or drugs are entering the facility.
Step Two: Stabilization
Once your intake evaluation is complete, you’ll enter the stabilization phase of treatment. This is when you’ll experience withdrawal. Depending on your treatment plan, staff may administer detox medications to ease your body through the uncomfortable transition. Mental health services are usually also provided during this time to address the mental strain drug withdrawal symptoms can take on an individual.
Step Three: Long-Term Treatment
Though drug detox is an important first step in recovering from addiction, detox alone is rarely enough to prevent drug relapse, so the next step in your recovery will likely be a long-term drug treatment program. Detox takes care of your body, but longer-term addiction recovery programs teach you to care of your mind and help you address the social and psychological issues behind your addiction. In order to recover from something, you need to understand it.
After completing detox, you’ll have a few treatment options. If you’re not being committed involuntarily, you can go home and work on your recovery without professional help. This is generally not recommended, however, as going back to a potentially triggering environment without proper addiction treatment after going through the experience of withdrawal and detox may lead to a relapse.
The second option is attending intensive outpatient treatment services. With this method of treatment, you go home after detox and attend programs, classes and/or therapy to address the root of the addiction. Outpatient programs may work best for people who have a safe and non-triggering place to return to, as well as people who have strong motivation to recover.
The third option is an inpatient treatment program. Inpatient treatment involves staying at a residential treatment center for a period of time, which may range from a week to several months. Treatment centers offer emotional and psychological support, including family therapy, to address the effects of drug abuse on family members and relationships. Participation in 12-step or similar drug addiction programs is also often part of the process. These programs have professionals trained in addiction medicine who understand the effects of mental disorders on severe addictions.