When a person uses an intoxicating drug for a long period of time, the brain and the body may come to depend upon that substance. Chemical pathways are altered, and electrical activity tends to shift. In time, the body works well only when the drug is available, and when it’s gone, withdrawal can take hold. In some cases, withdrawal is only uncomfortable, but sometimes it can prove life-threatening.
A detox program is designed to help addicted people move from chronic intoxication to sobriety in a manner that’s safe, respectful and comfortable. Medications may have a role to play in that process.
Common Detox Medications
People who are addicted to alcohol are at risk of developing life-threatening seizures when they attempt sobriety. Prescription benzodiazepine medications like Valium are sometimes used during withdrawal to allow people to slowly transition to sobriety without enduring a firestorm of electrical activity that can lead to a seizure. Some programs that use benzodiazepines apply those medications on a set schedule, but according to an analysis in American Family Physician, giving medications only when symptoms are severe can lead to a shorter detox process and a smaller amount of ingested drugs.
Opiate drugs might not be associated with life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, but they can cause a number of flu-like symptoms. Clonidine is sometimes used to assist, and according to the National Library of Medicine, this drug can provide relief from a variety of withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Aching muscles
- Runny nose
Replacement medications like methadone and buprenorphine have also been used in people who are addicted to opiates, as these prescription medications mimic the action of opiates and provide the brain with the mistaken belief that it has access to the drugs it craves. These medications can allow addicted people to taper their use of drugs quite slowly until they’re taking none at all.
In addition to these choices, clinicians might also choose to provide medications for symptom relief. Those people who are using drugs as a form of self-medication for anxiety or depression might require the use of prescription drugs to amend their brain chemistry, so they’ll have a smaller incentive to use drugs. Unfortunately, these medications tend to work only when they’re in the body for long periods, so they can’t provide immediate relief from discomfort.
Understanding the Options
While medications can be vital for some people, they’re not a requirement for everyone. In fact, some people dislike the idea of using medications in order to recover from an addiction, as they worry that they’re not developing the sorts of skills that could help them to really heal when they’re just replacing one type of drug with another.
In general, it’s best to find a detox program that provides individualized support. Programs like this might provide medications for those who need them, but they may not require medications for everyone. When care is individualized like this, people have the best chance of getting the assistance they need to deal with the very real problems that are making life difficult.
If you’d like to find out more about the detox approach we offer at Black Bear Lodge, please call us. We’re happy to help.