Detox is a scary prospect for many struggling with drug addiction.
They might believe that entering a hospital setting or a treatment facility means giving up control, and that going through the process alone will be safer and easier to handle. Unfortunately, this white-knuckle, cold-turkey approach is rarely effective. People who go through detoxification may endure physical pain as well as life-threatening side effects, and they may also have serious cravings for drugs. All of these factors put together could make the detoxification process less than successful. In fact, people who go through detox alone might have major complications to endure, and those complications might pop them right back into a drug-using habit.
Here, they’ll get the help they’ll need to ensure that the process moves forward and results in sobriety instead of relapse. This article will outline how the process works, and perhaps it might motivate addicted people to obtain the care they need.
Medical Detox Facts
Detoxification is considered the first step on the road to recovery from an addiction. Each year, many people make the courageous choice to fight back against the problems that they face, and they start their journey in these detox programs. In 2001, about 436,000 people entered detoxification programs for addiction, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Of those admissions, the substance of abuse was:
- Alcohol: 50 percent
- Opiates: 33 percent
- Cocaine: 10 percent
- Marijuana: 2 percent
- Stimulants: 2 percent
- Other drugs: 3 percent
As these numbers make clear, thousands of people enter these programs for lifesaving help, so people who fear that they’ll be alone or ostracized for their decision to get help might be wise to think again. In fact, they may very well know of someone else who has been through the process. In addition, these numbers indicate that detox can be a good choice for people who are addicted to a wide variety of substances. Help is available for anyone who needs it.
The goal of a medical detoxification is twofold. First, treatment providers attempt to provide therapies that could prevent major medical catastrophes from occurring during the detoxification process. While it’s true that detox is an essentially natural process by which the body removes toxins from the bloodstream and learns to function normally once more, some drugs cause so much damage to the body’s processes that this transition can be dangerous. For example, people who attempt to stop drinking alcohol can develop seizures. In a study of the phenomenon published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine researchers found that 24 percent developed these symptoms during their alcohol detox. It’s clear that this is common, and it can be deadly. In a supervised detox program, people have access to immediate help that could stop these consequences form taking place.
The second goal of a detox program involves completion. The process can be painful, and the cravings for drugs can be incredibly strong and hard to ignore. People who attempt to stop abusing drugs might go right back to using drugs when they’re facing symptoms like this. Some programs use medications to ease symptoms, while others provide supportive care and counseling to encourage the person to stay on the right path. Either method could make a relapse less likely. If the person feels comfortable, the urge to relapse to make the symptoms stop might grow smaller and smaller.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to sobriety. A growing trend in recovery would have you believe differently. A relatively new service called rapid opiate detoxification (also called ROD or “rapid detox“) certainly sounds appealing, as providers promise that the process will be complete in a matter of hours, and the patient will feel no symptoms at all as the process moves forward. In just a weekend, these providers say, the addiction could be banished for good. The methods providers use to complete this rapid detox, however, might not be safe for all people to consider, and the results might be less than ideal.
Instead of allowing the body to slowly use up the drugs it has access to, and then taper down to sobriety, the person is vaulted into immediate withdrawal. Anesthesia can make the process painless, but the body’s functions are still intact, meaning that the person might still develop nausea or vomiting. If the person vomits while under anesthesia, and that vomit heads into the lungs, death can occur. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, several deaths have been attributed to the treatment, and as a result, it’s not considered safe.
In addition, detoxification is a mental process in which the person might be exposed to thoughts, feelings and memories he/she has forgotten about for decades. This work continues in rehab programs, but it begins in detox. During rapid detox, by contrast, the person is often sent right home as soon as the process is complete, with no additional help provided. Dealing with these emotions, feelings and pain could lead the person right back to drug use, almost immediately.
By promising a quick fix instead of the truly hard work that overcoming an addiction takes, rapid detox can set up the patient for disappointment and eventually failure or relapse. Medically managed detox, on the other hand, is time-tested and has proven results. The process might take a bit longer to complete, but the results may very well be worth the added effort involved.
At the beginning of a formal detoxification program, counselors ask a series of questions regarding drug history, such as:
- What drugs do you take?
- How often do you take them?
- How much is considered a dose, for you?
- When did you last take drugs?
Counselors might follow up these questions with a urine test, just to ensure that staff understands the chemicals that might be coursing through the person’s body. Counselors might also ask about the person’s previous history with detox. People who have been through detox multiple times are at a greater risk for complications, so staff will want to ensure that people who have been through the process before get the extra help and attention they might need in order to go through the process safely.
People who are addicted to opiates such as prescription painkillers or heroin might need medication management, and that help might begin the very first day. Medications such as methadone or buprenorphine can help to ease the physical discomfort associated with withdrawal, and they might also help to reduce the cravings for drugs. Not all people need these drugs, but according to an article in the journal Addiction, physicians can use an opiate withdrawal scale to measure symptoms and determine who needs medication management. According to the article, the scale clearly shows who is in an active stage of withdrawal, which allows addiction physicians to make good decisions regarding whom to treat. People who enter treatment programs for opiate addiction, and who produce high scores on this scale, might start treatment with medication right away.
According to studies quoted by SAMHSA, the average length of stay in a detoxification program in 1997 was 7.7 days. Some people may need to stay enrolled in their programs for longer periods of time, however, as they may present for help with very high levels of drugs in their bodies, and they therefore need longer periods of time in order to process all of those drugs and obtain sobriety.
During the detoxification process, medical staff monitors the addicts on a regular basis, and provides assistance as needed. aPeople who are nauseated, for example, might be provided with absorbent foods as well as over-the-counter medications. Those who have chills or hot sweats might be provided with blankets or ice chips. And those who are in recovery from opiates might be asked questions for the withdrawal scale mentioned above, just to make sure that they’re handling the process and don’t need additional medications in order to move forward.
While the detoxification is mainly focused on the physical health of the addict, many programs begin providing their patients with information about the nature of the addiction and the need for follow-up care while they’re in detox.
When detoxification is over, the person will have no active drugs in his/her body, but the habits that supported that drug addiction will still be there. The friends the person did drugs with might still call. The memories the person drowned out with substance abuse may be willing and able to rise to the surface. These are the sorts of issues that are handled, head on, in a rehab program, and that work begins as soon as detox is over. By stressing the importance of these lessons now, at the beginning of detox, staff might be able to encourage addicts to enter rehab as soon as detox is over.
Many programs usher people right from detox to rehab, building upon momentum and ensuring that the person doesn’t have the opportunity to return home and slip up before rehab begins. Some programs even provide detox and rehab services in the same facility, providing an ideal continuity of care process.
Help for Addiction
Detox is serious business and something we take very seriously at The Oaks at La Paloma. We offer a medical detox that allows those with an addiction to safely, carefully get the substances out of their system with the least amount of discomfort and risk. Detox usually takes place in a separate wing, and our medical staff monitors progress every step along the way, making adjustments and dealing with issues as they arise. We are happy to talk through the process with you in detail, if you have questions or concerns about how your therapy will progress. Just call to speak with one of our knowledgeable operators.
If you think you or someone you know is in need of detox or drug treatment for an addiction, contact us to schedule an intake appointment.
Someone is here to take your call 24 hours a day. You don’t have to go through detox alone. We can make the process move smoothly for you. Please call for more information.