Detoxification, or detox is the process through which an addicted individual removes the drugs and related toxins from his or her body to begin a life of recovery from addiction. Detoxification from any drug is not a pleasant process, but there are a number of methods used by various detox facilities to promote health, relaxation, safety, and comfort throughout the process. Detoxification from some drugs is faster and simpler than others, and there are a few drugs that can present severe and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if detox is not supervised and medicated.

Detoxification From Stimulant Drugs

Stimulant drugs like cocaine, crack, and meth are not necessarily easy, but tends to be much simpler than other drugs. Someone who is addicted to any one, or multiple of these stimulant drugs may experience some of the following symptoms when in withdrawal (condition of the reduced presence or complete absence of drugs):Help for Addiction

  • Severe anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain or soreness
  • Paranoia
  • Vivid and disturbing nightmares
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Profuse sweating
  • Severe agitation
  • Intense cravings

None of these symptoms are life threatening, but all of them can (and often do) combine for an extremely uncomfortable and unmanageable detox, when attempted without supervision and support. The severity of these symptoms depends heavily on a few key factors:

  1. The severity and length of the addiction
  2. Any mental health issues the individual may have
  3. Any additional drugs the individual may have been using or abusing

In general, the detoxification process for stimulant drugs in a medical detox setting involves the administration of a long-acting and low potency benzodiazepine (usually Valium). As an anti-anxiety and sedative drug, this helps with insomnia, anxiety, and agitation. Benzodiazepines also have qualities that help to relax muscles. The goal of using Valium is to promote sleep and calm during the detox process. As the days of detoxification continue, and the symptoms lessen, the benzodiazepine dose will be decreased, down to nothing and the individual can be safely withdrawn from all medication.

One additional physical symptom of high blood pressure may be treated with non-narcotic medication to manage it.  Although it is the goal of a detoxification facility to provide a comfortable detox for individuals, staff and clinicians are careful not to get individuals hooked on other drugs, or have them overly sedated. For this reason, unless an individual has a documented case of a mental health issue for which he or she needs to be on medication, it is unlikely that detox facilities will administer any kind of psychotropic medication for symptoms like paranoia.

While the time varies, depending on the individual and his or her circumstances, detoxification from stimulant drugs is usually complete in 3-5 days, providing support and monitoring 24/7.

Detoxification From Heroin and Painkillers

Heroin and painkillers (opioids) have a unique set of withdrawal symptoms, and although none of them are life threatening, they are excruciating and unbearable for most addicts who are going through withdrawal (also referred to as dope sick). The most common symptoms of heroin and opioid withdrawal mimic a severe flu, and include the following:

  • High fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle pain and spasms
  • Insomnia
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe anxiety
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings

These symptoms have been described by addicts as making them want to crawl out of their skin or jump out of a window, anything to make it better. Detoxification facilities are well equipped to manage the many symptoms of heroin and opioid withdrawal, and there are a few different ways in which various centers may complete the detox process.

Rapid Opiate Detox

This form of opiate detoxification is an inpatient procedure in which the addict checks into a hospital where he or she is placed under general anesthesia. At this time, staff administers an opiate antagonist (a drug that immediately reverses the effects of opiates) that sends the individual into immediate and full withdrawal. While unconscious, the opiates are flushed out of the system, while staff constantly monitors vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure. Typically, within 12 hours, the process is complete and the individual may stay in the hospital to ensure stabilization. In general, this process takes about 48 hours from check-in to discharge from the hospital.

It is important to note that there are potential dangers associated with any procedure conducted under general anesthesia and it is imperative to get medical consultation prior to engaging in rapid opiate detox. Another important note is that medical insurance does not cover this form of detoxification, and it is costly to pay, averaging around $5,000.00.

Medical Detoxification

Medical detoxification from heroin and opioids is not the same as rapid detox. In this setting, an individual will likely be given a replacement opioid called Suboxone®. This is a partial opioid agonist containing a small amount of Naloxone, which is an opioid antagonist. This drug binds to the opioid receptors, thereby preventing a full onset of withdrawal symptoms, and clinicians at a detox facility will slowly decrease (or taper) the dosage with each day. The degree of the taper will be dependent on the individual and how he or she responds to the reduction in dosage.

In addition to Suboxone®, an addict is also given a benzodiazepine (usually Valium) to manage the anxiety, muscle pain, and insomnia.

Additional non-narcotic medications may be given for diarrhea and high blood pressure.

The goal of a medical heroin and opioid detoxification is to taper the individual from the drugs over a period of approximately 10 days, depending on the speed of the tapering. For individuals who have been taking massive amounts of heroin or opioids for an extended period of time, it is not uncommon for this process to take up to 2 or 3 weeks to complete in order to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxification From Benzodiazepines

Unlike stimulant drugs, heroin, and painkillers, benzodiazepines can create life-threatening withdrawal symptoms as a part of what is referred to as rebound symptoms. This is a common occurrence when benzodiazepine use is discontinued. Some of the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can range from mild to very severe and life threatening, and include the following:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Grand mal seizures
  • Sensory sensitivity
  • Perceptual changes
  • Depression
  • Severe mood swings
  • Extreme agitation and/or hostility
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tightness and pain

Since benzodiazepines are intended to treat conditions like insomnia, anxiety, and seizures, when they are discontinued, these symptoms tend to come back in greater intensities. During a detoxification from benzodiazepines, most detox facilities will not use another benzodiazepine, as is the common practice for detox from other drugs. Often, clinicians will administer a barbiturate to manage the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Barbiturates are very similar to benzodiazepines, but have more of a hypnotic and anesthetic effect. They are also effective medications to prevent seizures. The barbiturate is administered in the same way a benzodiazepine would be in detoxification from other drugs, and tapered as the symptoms lessen over the following days. After the clinician and addict agree when he or she can be safely withdrawn from all medications, the barbiturates will have been decreased to the point at which complete withdrawal does not result in any severe symptoms.
Never abruptly discontinue use of benzodiazepines, and always seek medical advice prior to detoxification.

Detoxification from Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs of addiction, and detox with supervision can result in very severe and life-threatening symptoms. Some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include the following:Alcohol Detox

  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme confusion
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs) – consists of severe tremors, hallucinations, and confusion
  • Seizures
  • Blackouts
  • Fever
  • Perceptual distortion
  • Balance impairment
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat

Alcohol withdrawal is not always as severe as it can potentially be; however, it can suddenly worsen without notice to become extremely dangerous, and for this reason, one should always get medical consultation before attempting to detox from alcohol after chronic and excessive drinking.

When an individual is in detoxification from alcohol, the preferred medication for the severe symptoms is a benzodiazepine that is adjusted, based on the severity of the symptoms of withdrawal. Since the severity can suddenly change, clinicians have various medications on hand to manage them if they intensify. Additional non-narcotic drugs may be administered to manage high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, fever, and arrhythmia.

Depending on the severity of alcoholism and withdrawal symptoms, some individuals may need several weeks to complete the detoxification process. Clinicians in a detox facility understand how dangerous alcohol detox can be, and will not withdraw any individual from benzodiazepines until they are sure the potential for withdrawal seizures has been eliminated. However long it requires, the individual going through detoxification will have his or her dose of benzodiazepines reduced as the symptoms become more manageable. Typically, alcohol detoxification is completed in 10 days, and the individual can be completely withdrawn and drug free in that time.

After Detoxification

Once detoxification has been completed, it is imperative for individuals to engage in some sort of aftercare or addiction treatment. For those who have been prescribed a medication, exhibited no signs of addiction or unmanageability while taking it, and only need detox to discontinue use, addiction treatment may not be necessary. It is recommended to seek some assistance in acclimating to life without the use of these drugs, however.

For individuals who have abused, and been addicted to any substance, addiction treatment is the one and only way to ensure sobriety and recovery from addiction. The individual must want to change and remain sober, but addiction treatment offers a number of important skills and tools to raise awareness and develop empowerment for each individual to prevent relapse and maintain a drug-free and addiction-free life.

Depending on individual needs, preferences, and belief system, there are a wide variety of addiction recovery programs that can be tailored to seamlessly integrate with the individual, and provide a comfortable and supportive environment in which recovery can begin.

If you, or someone you love, are addicted, and in need of detoxification, please call us now at 1-855-268-0285. One of our trained counselors is available to speak with you now about your situation and the best options for detoxification and addiction recovery. Even if you just need to discontinue the use of a drug on which you are dependent, but not addicted, we can help you to find a detox facility that has compassionate and understanding staff who will get you off of your medication with the utmost respect, safety and comfort.

No matter what the situation, we are here to help you find the facility that best suits your needs, so please call us and we will ensure that you have the best and most effective options for your personal needs and goals. Please don’t wait. Help is available, and it is one call away.

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