The Guide to Drug and Alcohol Detox

Drug and Alcohol Detox

Drug and Alcohol Detox

Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction often begins with medical detoxification (detox). Many detox facilities state on their websites that detox is a process in which all harmful toxins (drugs, alcohol, and poisonous substances) are eliminated from the body. This is not entirely true.

The Myth of Detox

Once it was believed that opiates stimulated the production of toxins in the body. It was these troublesome toxins that were responsible for the withdrawal symptoms you felt when you stopped using the drug. We now know that this isn’t the case. Myths about detoxing include releasing toxins from your body through sweating (sweat is 99% water combined with a small amount of salt, proteins, carbohydrates, and urea.) or cleansing your system with certain foods. Alcohol and most drugs are eliminated by your liver, intestines, or kidneys as a natural process and not through the use of or abstention from certain substances.

The Detox Process

The detoxing or withdrawing process usually takes from 3 to 14 days depending on the person, the substances used, how long the substance was taken and at what dosage, and if there are other addictions involved. The withdrawal can begin within hours on having last taken the substance. In the case with a drug like heroin, for more extreme addictions it may take weeks or even months for the withdrawal symptoms to fully subside. This condition is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

Without the benefit of treatment, withdrawing from drugs and alcohol can be an intensely unpleasant experience. However unpleasant, no drug withdrawal – not even heroin – is as dangerous as withdrawing from alcohol. The consequences can be deadly. Anyone with a serious alcohol dependency should never consider going “cold turkey,” especially at home. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as two hours after the last drink and can persist for up to two weeks.

Detoxing from Alcohol

Alcohol detox symptoms may include the following: insomnia, anxiety, nausea, shakiness, hallucinations, convulsions, delirium tremens, heart failure, and seizures. The occurrence and severity of the symptoms will vary depending on the individual’s history of abuse and individual physical condition. As alcohol withdrawal symptoms can rapidly worsen, it is therefore important to seek medical attention even if the symptoms appear to be mild. It’s important that an individual go through the process in a medically-supported detox facility. Appropriate alcohol withdrawal treatments can reduce the risk of developing withdrawal seizures or delirium tremens (DTs).

Detoxing from Heroin

Chronic users who have developed a tolerance for heroin will experience withdrawal when they stop using the drug. This is caused by a change in the user’s brain chemistry – cells in the brain make subtle adjustments to keep you alive and conscious while you use the drug. As it took time to cause these adjustments with abuse, it will take time for the brain to undo these adjustments when the using has stopped. During this transitional period the cells in the brain might not function as they should. Effects can include cognitive difficulty, anxiety, severe insomnia, increased sensitivity to stress, social difficulty, and trouble handling emotions.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are rarely fatal. They can peak in severity within 48 to 72 hours after the last dose. For many who go through heroin withdrawal the physical symptoms can feel much like a very bad case of the flu. Aside from physical symptoms can be a persistent and deep craving to use heroin again. According to many who’ve been through the experience, these cravings are the hardest part of heroin withdrawal.

The First Step of a Longer Journey

A drug and alcohol detox is, of course, only the first step in a long process of overcoming alcohol or drug dependence. After a professionally-monitored detox, the individual will be ready to embark on a commitment to the long-term path of recovery. From here begins clinical treatment in a residential or Intensive Outpatient (IOP) program in alcohol rehab that will include one-on-one counseling, group therapy, educational lectures, and other treatment specifically tailored to the needs of the individual.

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