People who have addictions are rarely sober. Even when they don’t feel impaired and even when they don’t seem intoxicated to the people around them, they still have little particles of intoxicating substances floating about in their bodies. They may also have cells that are remarkably damaged due to drug use, firing in abnormal ways and setting off reactions that seem strange or unusual. In order for people like this to really get sober, they need to stop using and stick to that decision for several days. During this time, all of the remaining particles of intoxicating substances work their way out of the body, and the damaged cells learn how to function without the little kick that drugs and alcohol can bring.
This time period is commonly known as detox, and while it is a process that some people are tempted to go through at home, it’s not the sort of step someone can take without the help of a medical professional. Sometimes, that cell damage can lead to horrible reactions during detox, so it’s best for an expert to get involved in the work.
A sip of alcohol can seem transitory, hitting one moment and leaving in the next. It’s not uncommon, as a result, for alcoholics to consider a cold-turkey approach to healing in which they stop drinking and wait for their bodies to adjust. This isn’t the sort of method that’s used in most detox programs, however, as alcohol withdrawal can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- Sensitivity to light
- Extreme agitation
- Vivid nightmares
These feelings can be so overwhelming, and people can feel so very altered and out of control, that they might simply return to drinking. Those who don’t start drinking again can face even more serious problems, including seizures. The risk of these life-threatening problems is relatively low, as a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that about one percent of people who go through detox have seizures. But since the risk is present, it’s not something medical practitioners choose to ignore.
In an alcohol detox program, providers watch their clients closely, checking in periodically to make sure no problems are taking place. Symptoms that do appear are treated with medications, allowing the brain to achieve sobriety without erupting into terrible symptoms.
Some drugs of abuse are similar to alcohol, and they can cause terrible problems in people who take them on an addictive basis. Those who abuse benzodiazepine medications like Valium, for example, may also have sedated brain cells that can display seizures during detox. Medications can also play a vital role here, as they can allow people to avoid these very serious problems. Sometimes, medical professionals use different types of benzodiazepines in order to deal with an addiction like this, but other medications could also help. Topiramate, an anticonvulsant drug, can sometimes be helpful, according to a study in Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, and other medications that sedate have also been found helpful in people who are attempting to recover from a benzodiazepine addiction issue.
Some drugs don’t cause symptoms that could lead to loss of life in most people who are addicted, but these drugs can cause such intense withdrawal symptoms and deep cravings that people just can’t seem to get through the process without feeling the need to lapse right back into drugs. Opiate drugs like heroin and Vicodin are particularly troublesome for people who are addicted, as these drugs can produce symptoms akin to a terrible case of the flu, all while providing intense cravings, and this problem can last for days.
Since opiate withdrawal is very difficult, providers have developed specific drugs that attach to the same receptors used by opiates. These replacement medications don’t cause the euphoric high that an opiate can bring, but they can keep side effects from taking hold. In a study of these medications, in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, researchers found that people who got medications felt a little sleepy, but they were able to get through the process without reverting to drugs.
Other drugs of abuse don’t have their own medication replacements, but they can still cause cravings and discomfort during withdrawal. These drugs include:
Providers might treat symptoms with medications, soothing high blood pressure and agitation with pills, for example, but some people respond well to the other parts of a detox program that have nothing to do with medications.
Detox programs don’t just ply people with medications and leave them alone. Instead, they attempt to surround the person with comfort, in the hopes that the process will be as calming and as helpful as it can possibly be. Staff might provide nauseated clients with clear broths and soft foods, for example, encouraging them to eat something that might soothe the stomach. Insomniac clients might like cool and dark rooms filled with soft music and soft beds, as they might find it easier to sleep in these environments. Those with muscle cramps might like baths or warm soaks.
Staff members are also careful to listen to their clients and provide a level of emotional support. Getting sober can bring up all sorts of terrible memories for people, and they may struggle with concerns they’ve been ignoring for years. Some people find it hard to cope, and having someone available to listen and provide support can be invaluable.
While getting care in a formal facility can be helpful for some people, as they’ll have access to around-the-clock help, there are others who go pale at the thought of leaving home. They may find it easier to think about getting sober when they have access to their own bed and their smiling family members, and they might resist the idea of entering an institution.
If people like this have willing helpers who are able to provide constant supervision, staying home might be a workable solution. The family can sit with the person to talk, listen and provide comfort as the process moves forward. If things go wrong, the family can even call an ambulance and make sure the person gets to the hospital in time. But a doctor should still be involved in this type of home drug and alcohol detox. Medications might still play a role in healing, and those are the treatments a doctor must supervise. A medical professional might require multiple visits as the process moves forward, just to make sure all is well, and the professional might also ask the family to call in with progress updates.
While detox is an important part of the healing process, it’s not considered a formal treatment for addiction. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse makes clear, an addiction must be treated with psychological counseling and social support. Real recovery tends to take a long time to achieve, and the process just can’t be completed with a few days spent in detox. Once that process is complete, people need to enroll in counseling programs and really begin to take their addictions apart at the roots, examining how the issue developed and what might be done to keep it from cropping up in the future. Detox can’t possibly provide these benefits, so follow-up care is vital. Check out the types of treatment options available after detox.
Enrolling in a drug and alcohol treatment program might be the best thing you’ve ever done, and we’d like to help make it happen. Please call our admissions coordinators at Black Bear Lodge to find out more about how these programs work, and how long they might take. We provide sub-acute drug and alcohol detox services, and we can schedule an intake appointment for you. Just call to find out more about how to start the healing process.