• Alcohol & Drug Detox

Alcohol & Drug Detox

Table of Contents

Addiction and substance use disorder doesn’t just wreak havoc on the mental and emotional aspect, it can also take an incredible toll on a person’s body. When someone develops a physical dependency to a substance, medically supervised detox can become necessary. People go through detox at the onset of stopping substance use, and it is often followed by ongoing treatment to address the more complex aspects of addiction beyond dependency. Detox programs can serve as a stand-alone facility or be a part of a larger addiction treatment program.

What is Detoxification?

Detoxification or detox, is the process of ridding the body of drugs and alcohol. Abruptly quitting drugs or alcohol (sometimes referred to as “quitting cold turkey”) can be incredibly difficult. Depending on the substance and level of physical dependency, detox can be dangerous if not supervised by a medical professional. Withdrawal symptoms that can accompany the abrupt cessation of substances can include anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and tremors depending on the substance and level of use. In more severe cases, other symptoms can include seizures and hallucinations.

When detoxing from substances, it is recommended that individuals work with a medical professional to ensure safety. Inpatient detox facilities are one way to do this.

The Alcohol and Drug Detox Process

Alcohol and drug detox is different for each person. Medically supervised detoxification helps to minimize the negative withdrawal symptoms and ensure safety. Completely ridding the body of drugs and alcohol can take days, weeks or longer depending on a number of factors that can include:

  • Type of substance
  • Duration of use
  • Frequency of use
  • Level of physical dependence
  • Method of use
  • Underlying mental and physical health disorders
  • Family history

Evaluation & Treatment Planning

During the medical detoxification process, medical specialists and detox professionals will evaluate and assess the individual’s current use and biological, psychological, and social history. During this time, a team will put together a treatment and detox plan to determine the safest way to get off of the substance. Detox treatment will utilize medical monitoring, medications, and proper diet to help the body restore depleted nutrition levels. Many inpatient detox facilities will incorporate therapy or groups work to offer emotional and psychological support. 

Withdrawal & Stabilization

Upon beginning the detox process, individuals are typically monitored round-the-clock and may be given medication to help alleviate any uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be physical as well as psychological and can vary from person to person. Some physical symptoms may include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea 
  • Restless legs
  • Shivers
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Heightened blood pressure

Psychological symptoms can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Drug and alcohol cravings

More dangerous and intense withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Seizures
  • Delirium Tremens

Continued Treatment Planning

While detox is the beginning of recovery, it doesn’t mean that treatment is over. Usually, detox is the first step to prepare individuals for continued treatment where they will meet with individual or group therapists, learn new coping skills, and learn to live without relying on substance use.

How Long Does Drug and Alcohol Detox Last?

Typically, an inpatient drug and alcohol detox lasts between seven and 10 days, however, different substances stay in the body for different periods of time and no two detoxes are exactly alike. Withdrawal from opiates can be extremely uncomfortable but non-fatal, whereas alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal can be extremely dangerous, potentially fatal, and may require more time. The time of detox also depends on amount, duration and frequency of use,  family history, and mental and physical status of the individual. Detox is the first phase of addiction recovery and should not be used as a substitute for ongoing treatment.

Can I Detox At Home?

Choosing to detox at home or “quitting cold turkey,” can be extremely. In some cases, like with alcohol or benzo dependency, it is not recommended to detox at home, as it can lead to seizures and potentially be fatal. While there may be articles and stories that circulate online about those who have “quit cold turkey,” it is best to consult with a professional who has expertise in addiction ( like a psychiatrist, therapist, primary care provider) to get a recommendation about what level of detox is appropriate.

Rapid Detox & Ultra-Rapid Alcohol and Drug Detox

Rapid detox involves the process of removing substances from the body at a faster rate than a regular medical detox. During a rapid detox, individuals are sedated and given medications to replace the drugs within the body. Originally developed for those addicted to opiates such as heroin, rapid detox can be costly and comes with an incredible amount of high risks including electrolyte imbalances and cardiac arrest.

Ultra-rapid detox takes place in a number of hours and involves an individual being put under general anesthesia while undergoing acute withdrawal. Approximately one out of every 500 people die after undergoing this procedure. 

Drug Withdrawal Timelines

Becoming physically and psychologically addicted to any substance can cause withdrawal when the substance is no longer taken. The duration of withdrawal is typically based on the amount and frequency a substance is used, as well as how long the substance has been used. Post acute withdrawals (PAWS) are withdrawal symptoms that persist after physical dependency has been broken, and include symptoms like anxiety, depression or difficulty regulating mood. It may take days, weeks, or months, for all withdrawal symptoms to fully subside depending on the person and the substance.

Alcohol: Alcohol withdrawal may start hours after the last drink and peak around 24 to 48 hours after. Between three days and a week it’s possible to experience delirium tremens or DTs, which can cause dehydration, high blood pressure, and reduced blood flow in the brain. The risk of seizures and DT’s is higher when there is a more severe physical dependence, caused by drinking large amounts over longer periods of time. Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can improve after five-ten days, however there are some for whom withdrawals can last longer.

Opiates: Six to 24 hours after the last dose, individuals can start to experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms typically look like flu-like symptoms and can include runny nose, high blood pressure, hot and cold sweats, insomnia, and agitation, among others. Between day two and four are when withdrawal symptoms are most intense. After one week, symptoms typically subside, although psychological symptoms such as cravings, depression, anxiety, and insomnia can last longer. 

Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can typically start within 24 hours after an individual has taken their last dose. Depending on the severity of the substance use disorder, benzodiazepine withdrawal can last up to a few days or a few months. During the first week, individuals could experience rapid heartbeat, sweating, and nausea. Those who used the drug for symptoms of anxiety or insomnia may experience rebound effects, meaning these symptoms return or become worse. 

In addition, benzodiazepine can create medical and psychological risks. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause seizures, paranoia, and delirium. In severe cases, benzodiazepine withdrawal seizures can become fatal.

Cocaine: Cocaine withdrawal can begin just ninety minutes after the last dose of the drug has been taken. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms can last up to a week. Typically, 24 hours after the last dose, “the crash,” sets in, meaning a user will experience extreme fatigue and an increased appetite. These can last anywhere from three days to two weeks. Those who use via smoking or injection may experience heightened symptoms depending on the amount and duration of use.

Methamphetamines: Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms can begin the first 24 hours after the last dose was taken and can reach its height between seven to 10 days. Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms last an average of 14 to 20 days. Typically, feelings of fatigue, sleepiness, and increased appetite occur. 

Finding The Best Alcohol and Drug Detox

If you or a loved one are suffering from a substance use disorder with physical dependence, medical detoxification can be a step to a life-long path of recovery. Fortunately, there are many options for a medical detox in the United States. Whether you are looking for a medical detox, an inpatient drug rehab or alcohol rehab, you don’t have to go through it alone. Sober Nation has a list of all the best drug and alcohol detox centers in the country. Start your path of recovery today.

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