The detox process is crucial in early recovery. In addition to allowing the addict to stop using or drinking safely, it also sets an important precedent for later behavior. Detox formally separates the drinker or drug user from their substance and allows them to start life fresh. Those who undergo detox are significantly more likely to stay clean and sober in the future. Detox not only saves lives, it gives an addict a head start on the path to a clean, sober and healthy life.
The symptoms of withdrawal can be so painful and frightening that many who try quitting “cold turkey” actually give up on detoxing completely. Entering a detox facility for medically supervised detox is the safest and smartest decision you can make. It also offers the best chance for long-term cleanliness and sobriety.
Alcoholism and drug addiction cause damage to the heart and other organs. In detox, a doctor assesses your health and takes proper precautions to protect you during the detoxification process. If dangerous withdrawal symptoms such as seizures occur, the quick intervention of on-site medical staff will save your life.
Detox facilities offer a variety of different treatment to ease the discomfort of withdrawal and help you get through it as quickly as possible. Medications manage withdrawal symptoms and are combined with eating healthy foods and emotional support.
A person who consumes alcohol daily cannot suddenly stops drinking. If they do, they will experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Alcohol withdrawal is much more than just a period of discomfort that an alcoholic should “tough it out” to get sober. It’s a serious medical condition with potentially fatal complications.
Long-term alcohol suppresses GABA activity—the neurotransmitters in our brain responsible for producing calm and relaxing feelings. When a heavy drinker tries to detox on their own and significantly reduces or stops their consumption of alcohol, those neurotransmitters respond in what is known as brain hyper excitability.
There are many reasons why an alcoholic might decide to quit drinking “cold turkey” and face withdrawal alone. Sometimes the shame of being addicted causes people to hide their problems or think they “deserve” whatever discomforts are associated with withdrawal.
Many people simply don’t realize how dangerous detoxing from alcohol can be. According to WebMD, up to 5% of people going through withdrawal actually die.
There are two phases to detoxification – The first phase may last several days, depending on the level and length of alcohol or drug use. This phase is when the majority of symptoms and greatest health risks are experienced.
While the brain and body are adjusting to sudden alcohol and/or drug cessation, a person may become seriously ill, suffer seizures, heart attack, hallucinations or delusions. Because the mind and body are both vulnerable during detox, detox can be extremely dangerous without proper medical supervision.
The second phase of detoxification lasts for several months. Brain neurotransmitters slowly return to their normal function.
Medical detox is a safe process that occurs in a hospital-like setting. The length of stay is usually anywhere from five to ten days, depending on the patient’s needs. There is always an attending physician on staff with specialized training in addiction medicine and the detoxification process. The addict or alcoholic is treated as a patient and provided with the proper care and compassion they deserve during this difficult time. Patients will be constantly monitored to ensure maximum comfort and safety.
The exact methods for detox vary, but generally patients receive prescription drugs that alleviate withdrawal symptoms safely. They are also checked and treated for any accompanying conditions. The detox drugs are administered by tapering – beginning with a larger amount and gradually decreasing to smaller and smaller amounts, until the patient is safely free of drugs and alcohol completely. Once the patient is free of withdrawal symptoms and medically stabilized, they are then able to be released to the next phase of treatment.
At one time or another, almost every addict or alcoholic tries to stop using on their own. Tired of the pain and consequences of constant use, they gradually reduce the amount they consume in an attempt to stop completely. Unfortunately, these efforts usually end poorly and within only a day or two. Withdrawal symptoms are too difficult to endure without proper medical help and an addict quickly resumes their prior destructive patterns. This process is often repeated again and again, usually with the same negative outcome. It is next to impossible for an addict to stop using on their own.
Detox not only provides comfort and safety, but successful medical detox allows an addict to cross a meaningful threshold, one with great practical and symbolic value. Patients emerge from detox stable and confident, with a fresh new beginning that an addict really needs to achieve successful recovery. Detox is the first and most powerful act of surrender an addict will make.