What Happens During Detox?
Detoxification – commonly referred to as ‘detox’ – is the first step in addiction treatment for drugs and/or alcohol.
It describes the initial phase of allowing the body to purge all traces of drugs and/or alcohol; a brief but intense period of chemical restructure and recovery that can cause a variety of unpleasant side effects known as ‘withdrawal symptoms’.
Why is Detox necessary?
Detox is an essential part of addiction treatment for two main reasons. Firstly – and somewhat obviously – it removes all traces of drugs and/or alcohol from the user’s system, allowing the body to start the process of physical recovery. Secondly, it is vital in getting the individual ready to begin the psychological recovery process with a clear head. Long-term addiction recovery is as much a psychological process as it is a physical, and detox is the best way to get an individual stabilised mentally before the therapy process begins.
What happens during Detox?
After a sustained period of alcohol and/or drug use, the body and brain become accustomed to a certain level of harmful chemicals, overproduced happy chemicals or an overload of neurotoxins; during detox, these substances gradually leave the system.
Depending on the level of use, this process can take between 7 and 10 days, although it can take longer in extreme cases of poly-drug abuse.
As the body can go into shock during ‘cold turkey’ withdrawal – meaning simply stopping substance use without any assisting medications – detoxing on your own and without professional help can be counterproductive and, in the worst-case scenario, life-threatening.
What is Medical Detox?
When a person checks into a treatment centre, they will begin their recovery by going through a supervised, medically assisted detox.
First, they will undergo a thorough medical assessment, to ensure their treatment plan is perfectly tailored to their individual needs.
Second, they will begin the detox process. This usually takes place in a specialist ward or facility, where patients are monitored around the clock and medical professionals are on standby to deal with any adverse symptoms or medical emergencies they might experience as part of withdrawal.
What are Withdrawal Symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s response to being deprived of the dosage of drugs and/or alcohol it has become used to. There are physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, which may vary in intensity depending on the preceding levels of substance use and the patient’s natural body chemistry and mental state.
Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shakes and shivers
- Muscle and bone aches
- Stomach cramps
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Runny nose
- Chills and/or hot flushes
Psychological Symptoms of Withdrawal may include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Irritability and anger
- Extreme cravings for drugs and/or alcohol
In particularly severe cases, patients may experience seizures, hallucinations, and states of delirium during their detox process.
Because withdrawal symptoms are unpredictable and can be severe, medical detox includes a variety of medications that will ease the symptoms and help the patient through the rough parts of the process. The appropriate medication and dosage vary dramatically with every case, which is another good reason to get professional help when going through detox.
Read more about Drug and Alcohol Detox here.
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