Addiction Detox: Nothing to Fear

person filling out intake forms

When you realize it’s time to get treatment for a drug or alcohol problem, there are many unknowns. One common fear people have is what happens during detoxification.

There’s no question that substance abuse changes not only brain chemistry, but also a person’s physiology. Stopping suddenly or without proper supervision are probably the worst actions someone can take when they’re ready to be healthy. The mind and body are too reliant on the artificial effects produced by the substances.

Think of how a car reacts when brakes are applied with a quick and forceful motion. Sure, it may slow down or even stop, but not without severe jolting and systems locking up. Your biological system needs a gradual, controlled release from toxicity in order to recover. It may take only a few hours after not using drugs or alcohol for someone to experience severe or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. There’s no reason to suffer through this.

Because addiction is a brain disease and affects each individual in different ways, not everyone requires the same type of detoxification. A medically-managed detox administered by credentialed addiction specialists makes the process safe, comfortable, and effective.

So, there’s nothing to fear: detox may just be the first step in your eventual healing.

Understand What’s Happened to You

Medical experts agree that once people require alcohol or drugs to function day-to-day, they have physical and mental dependencies. This means you currently may suffer or eventually will have complications with the following:

  • Imbalances in or damage to the autonomic nervous system, which regulates numerous processes in the body, including breathing and heart rate; control over digestion, waste elimination, circulation, and pain response; and production of important fluids
  • Compromises to brain chemical and neurotransmitter function, which in turn prohibits proper cognitive ability and behavioral responses; and feeds the compulsion to use illicit substances
  • An increased risk of pancreatitis, liver failure, respiratory arrest, stroke, or heart attack
  • A greater chance of organ damage, hemorrhagic stroke, coronary heart disease, obesity, and cancer, especially for women

If medical professionals at your treatment facility determine substance use has caused you mental or physiological impairment, the first step of wellness is to evaluate the need for detox and if so, to what degree. Physical stabilization helps prepare the body and mind for gradual, effective recovery.

When Detox Is Necessary

A team of experts examines each person for certain characteristics that determine if medically-supervised detoxification is necessary. While it may not be, you’ll probably need it if there’s evidence of:

  • Abuse of multiple substances, such as opioids and alcohol
  • Co-occurring conditions, such as binge eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or PTSD
  • Chronic or acute health conditions that either aren’t managed well or may be life-threatening
  • Extensive or long-term substance abuse
  • Relapse from previous rehabilitation

What to Expect During Detox

Understandably, the difficulties of physical withdrawal are top-of-mind with many people considering treatment. Pop culture is riddled with terrifying stories about what a person may go through purging chemicals from his or her system. But what happens during a medically-guided detox, while initially uncomfortable, doesn’t have to be frightening when you know what to expect.

The discomfort you may feel while going through physical detoxification depends on three factors:

You may or may not experience the following during detox:

  • Body aches, headaches, and fever
  • Wakefulness and/or fatigue
  • Persistent nausea and vomiting
  • Welts, acne, or rashes
  • Muscle spasms or shakiness
  • Increased appetite
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Delirium tremens, often referred to as DTs, that make someone experience misinterpretation and confusion
  • Hallucinations or paranoia

The timeframe for detoxification varies by individual. Some people discover they feel better after two or three days. Other people may need up to three weeks for their bodies to eliminate toxins and return to a general state of ease.

A medically-managed detoxification process means you’ll have doctors and nurses supervising your experience, and perhaps advising a medication protocol to help alleviate symptoms. These professionals may also help with other health complications. Proper nutrition and hydration are critical components to the process as well.

Once your body feels better, and you’re not experiencing intense cravings, you’ll begin the next phase of healing: emotional and mental stabilization. For true recovery, it’s critical to determine the root causes contributing to addiction and find healthy ways to maintain your sobriety.

Your treatment should also include what’s known as a continuum of care plan. This is the recommended course of action for emotional and psychological rehabilitation after toxins are removed from your body. Your care plan may include group and individual therapy, EMDR, 12-Step meetings, and other applications that support your sobriety.

Excessive Use Requires More Recovery Time

Here’s a vital fact to understand: the greater the intensity of substance abuse, the longer it takes to detoxify. Initial inpatient treatment may effectively start the process. But if your substance abuse included extreme alcoholism or the use of narcotics, it could take up to two years before you stop experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

This is nothing to be ashamed of—you simply have to prepare for a different health journey, and continue to uncover new layers of resiliency. Use the tools of your care plan, along with exercise, a clean diet, and a strong support system, to help your progress. Remember: this is your plan for life. Each step forward you take matters.

Cottonwood’s Health Services

No one should ever attempt to detoxify from mood-altering substances without the assistance of qualified professionals. At Cottonwood Tucson, we have an expert staff to help you stay comfortable and understand what’s happening at every point in the process. Our compassionate care approach supports you and your journey to wellness.

Learn more about how we can help you begin a satisfying life of sobriety.

By Tracey L. Kelley

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