People who struggle with addiction are rarely sober. Even when not visibly impaired there are small amounts of intoxicating substances present in the body. Cells that are damaged due to drug use may perform in abnormal ways, setting off reactions that seem strange or unusual.
The only way true sobriety can begin is through medically-supervised detox. Detox gives the body a chance to rid itself of all the drug toxins in a safe way, creating a clear path to the first stages of recovery.
When someone struggles with alcoholism, it’s not uncommon for him to consider a “cold-turkey” approach to getting sober. This method isn’t recommended by most treatment programs because alcohol withdrawal can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- Sensitivity to light
- Extreme agitation
- Vivid nightmares
These symptoms can be so overwhelming, the person struggling might be overwhelmed by the desire to return to drinking. Those who don’t start drinking again can also face more serious problems, including seizures.1 During alcohol detox, medical personnel watch clients closely to make sure no complications develop. Symptoms that do appear are treated with medications, allowing the brain to achieve sobriety without the symptoms becoming overwhelming.
Like alcohol, other drugs of abuse can cause serious problems in those who struggle with addiction. Benzodiazepine medications like Valium may result in seizures during detox. Drugs that don’t cause life-threatening symptoms during withdrawal do result in such intense withdrawal symptoms that those who struggle can’t get through the process without feeling intense cravings for the drug.
Opiate drug withdrawals are known for their severity, producing painful flu-like symptoms that can last for days. Healthcare 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 becoming too severe.
Other drugs of abuse that cause intense cravings and discomfort during withdrawal include some of the following:
Providers might treat related withdrawal symptoms with medications that soothe high blood pressure and agitation to help reduce anxiety during the process.
Medically supervised detox programs work by surrounding the person with comfort. This makes the process as calming as possible be. For example, staff members provide nauseated clients with clear broths and soft foods, encouraging them to eat thing that will soothe the stomach. Clients struggling with insomnia might respond well to cool, dark rooms filled with soft music and a soft bed. Baths or warm soaks might help soothe muscle cramps and encourage relaxation.
Staff members are also careful to listen to their clients and provide emotional support. Detox and the days that follow can bring to light difficult memories for those who struggle with substance abuse. Some people find it hard to cope, and having someone available to listen and provide support can be invaluable.
Finding Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Detox plays a critical role in addiction recovery.2 Those who choose medically-supervised detox take an important first step on the road to life free from substance abuse. Once the process is complete, the next step is treatment. Through diagnosis of any underlying mental health issues and various psychotherapies and holistic options, the person in recovery can get answers to why the addiction developed and how to prevent relapse.
1 "What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?" WebMD, WebMD. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.
2 National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Principles of Effective Treatment." NIDA, Dec. 2012. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.