As someone who has a substance addiction, you must undergo a detoxification (“detox”) before you can start a treatment plan. Detox is the process of getting the alcohol and/or other drugs out of your system and getting you to become physically stable.

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Detox should be conducted under the careful supervision of a healthcare provider (medical detox), because it can be painful and dangerous, and that is why First Step®’s medical director, clinical director, therapists, nurses and behavioral techs are all involved in the process. Medical detox safely manages the acute physical withdrawal symptoms. For example, a small subset of people who withdraw from alcohol dependence may experience delirium (the DTs); seizures, nausea, rapid heart rate, tremors and other symptoms.

Our doctor may prescribe medicines to make your detoxification process safer and easier. He may gradually reduce the amount of the addictive substance until you have completely withdrawn. Or he may have you take a medical substitute for the addictive substance (such as methadone or suboxone for people addicted to heroin). At the same time, the doctor can make overall assessments that will be useful as a treatment plan is established and started right after the medical detox.

Years ago, people equated detox with rehab; and some mistakenly maintain this belief today. But detoxification does not have any impact on the fundamental psychological, emotional, social and physical aspects of addiction. According to Dr. Nora Volkow of National Institute on Drug Abuse, “detoxification is the initial stage that allows a person to stay clean. But that’s just the beginning of the road. And then the rest is what we’re going to call treatment and recovery – that process by which the person who has been addicted is reintegrated into society without the need of drugs.”

Trying to do it yourself — Outside of treatment centers, some people try to wean themselves off of a substance by continuing to take it in gradually smaller doses. However, when you are addicted, this can be very difficult for you to do without slipping. Of course, the problem with quitting cold turkey is that as an addict you will often experience intense withdrawals, with debilitating symptoms.

This explains why some treatment centers will employ medication assisted treatment, in which the addict is not given their drug of choice but rather is given a certain medication within the same general drug family such as suboxone in the case of opiate addiction. Not everyone agrees with the merits of this type of treatment, but the point of it is to try and wean the person off without directly giving them their even worse drug of choice (such as heroin), allowing them to detox slowly without major withdrawals.

Other forms of detox may also involve medications, such as Librium (chlordiazepoxide), that are not in the same general drug family, to treat withdrawal symptoms for alcohol rather than opiates. The primary purpose is to treat anxiety, which is a common problem among people who have previously self-medicated through drugs and alcohol in order to calm their nerves. Other medications may also be used in the detox process to alleviate certain symptoms of withdrawal, as well as to maintain the overall health of the addict or alcoholic as they begin the cleansing process.

It is important to note that, whether or not medications are involved, detox is actually a natural process. The human body generally flushes itself out, and in so doing eliminates traces of drugs and other toxins to make room for the nutrients that the body needs to function properly. The result means that, while there may be discomfort at first, you will generally feel much healthier by the time the detoxification process is complete. However, when a person wonders about how the detox process will affect them, they are typically more concerned with the short-term effects than the long-term effects. And in the short term, detox can be quite uncomfortable.

The length of time that detox will take depends on the person seeking the treatment. For some people, the detox process might take as little as 3 days, while for others it can take up to 2 weeks. This will usually depend upon what types of substances the person has been abusing, how much of these substances they have been consuming, and how long the period of abuse has lasted. These are the most important factors, but there may be others. It is important to recognize this fact, as undergoing a period of detox will have some effects on a patient’s successful addiction treatment and recovery.

The withdrawal symptoms that you experience during your detox treatment is affected by the type of substance you consumed. For instance, people who suffer from alcohol withdrawal may experience sweating, vomiting, anxiety, shaky hands, and other mild symptoms, and in particularly bad cases, might also experience DTs (delirium tremens). This can in turn cause symptoms such as body tremors, disorientation, hallucinations, fatigue, and even seizures. There are many other symptoms such as pale skin, palpitations, and extreme irritability, but the symptoms experienced will differ with each person.

On the other hand, withdrawal symptoms experienced during the detox period by people who suffer from opiate withdrawal will be similar symptoms to those of alcohol withdrawal, such as anxiety, sweating, vomiting and nausea, but they will also often experience severe and sometimes practically debilitating abdominal cramps. Just as with alcohol addiction, the specific nature of the symptoms may differ with the person, and they usually come in two phases (early symptoms and late symptoms). Some opiate addicts may even find that the detox symptoms are severe enough to be a powerful deterrent from using again, but this is unfortunately not always the case.

In any event, the causes for withdrawal symptoms, whether experienced during a detox from alcohol, opiates, or numerous other drugs, are generally about the same. In simple terms, the body has attempted to achieve equilibrium while consuming dangerous toxins over a long period of time, and this has had extreme effects on both the body and the mind. The changes that have occurred within the user’s body are aggravated when the substance is no longer present, and the person then experiences the full effects of the harm that they have done to themselves. The specific scientific explanation for each type of withdrawal is quite complicated, but the most important point is that the discomfort experienced during detox is actually the feeling of the body returning to normality.

Once the detox treatment has been completed, both your brain and body health will greatly improve. There are several benefits that have been experienced by recovering addicts and alcoholics, including improved blood pressure, better nutrition, more lucid thinking, and normalized sleep cycle (circadian) rhythms. People also find themselves more likely to pay attention to certain issues such as dental care and hygiene. While withdrawal will be challenging, the health benefits experienced afterwards make the discomfort just a little bit more justifiable.

In addition to the physical rewards of detox, there are mental and emotional rewards as well. A major problems with substance addiction is that it can cause a person to get caught in a negative feedback loop. As you use your substance of choice more and more frequency, you fail to receive the emotional benefits that you had originally sought when using drugs and alcohol – another term for this is a buildup of tolerance, which means you need consume more of the substance to get the same high. The only way to end this destructive cycle is to enter a period of detox and clear the body of the substance that has caused you to enter this loop to begin with. Breaking this loop is one of the most important First Step®s for receiving adequate treatment and entering into a stage of true recovery. Breaking the negative feedback loop and entering into a period of true recovery is also an important prerequisite to successful cognitive behavioral therapy, which is designed to change the thoughts and feelings that cause the you to behave in self-destructive ways. If you are still stuck in a negative feedback loop and are driven by compulsion to keep behaving in the same manner, then it will be much more difficult to treat you.

It is important to note that many addicts and alcoholics suffer from concurrent or dual diagnosis mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. In such cases, it is often those underlying psychological disorders which caused substance abusers to try and stabilize their mood by self-medicating through the use of drugs and alcohol. By cleansing the body through detoxification, it is easier to analyze the patient and determine through psychiatric evaluation whether or not these disorders are present. If it turns out that you do, in fact, suffer from one or more mental or emotional disorders, then you can receive treatment to deal with those issues once these issues have been discovered.

During active substance addiction, drugs and alcohol take over a person’s life. Not only does this have personal effects, but even social effects as well. In fact, studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have shown evidence that addiction recovery centers, and even simple detox facilities, have reduced the amount of crimes related to drug abuse. On a personal level, this implies that the people who have made the most of their detox and follow-up treatment have been lifted of their compulsions to engage in anti-social behaviors and even criminal. This means that if you are serious about making a positive change in your life, you should seriously consider receiving detox treatment, as well as the follow-up therapy provided by an addiction recovery center.