Different Approaches to Detoxification

Different Approaches to Detoxification

Detoxification, also known as detox, is a necessary step that any drug addict or alcoholic must take on the path to sobriety. In its simplest form, detox is the time period in which the addict stops using the substance of choice and all traces of that compound leave the body. Some institutions or rehabilitation facilities may include many more steps in the detox process. It may also involve a period of evaluation and post-detox therapy and treatment.

The process of ceasing to use a substance and waiting while it leaves the body entirely is often the most difficult stage in addiction treatment. This is because with addiction comes withdrawal. When the body no longer has the substance, it reacts physically. The symptoms of withdrawal can range from unpleasant to severely painful and depend upon the substance being abused and the seriousness of the addiction.

There are two broad categories of detox: assisted and unassisted. The latter is never recommended, as going through withdrawal symptoms alone, without the help of a trained professional can be uncomfortable, painful, and even dangerous depending on the severity of the addiction. On the other hand, assisted detox can be done in a variety of ways and is usually a safer option.

Unassisted Detox

A drug addict or alcoholic will rarely complete a successful detox alone and unassisted. This essentially means that the addict makes the choice to stop using and then quits cold turkey without seeking out professional help to do so. It can work in cases that are less severe, but is strongly discouraged in most instances. It requires a huge amount of willpower to stop using without help and in some cases; the symptoms of withdrawal can be so severe that the addict’s health and life are put in jeopardy. The possible symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, increased blood pressure, seizures, tremors, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, depending on the substance in question.

Assisted Detox

When an addict chooses assisted detox, a professional of some type can help the addict through the process in a variety of ways. Detox may be assisted by a therapist, a nurse, a physician, a trained counselor, or a combination of health care workers. It may include other medications or substitute drugs and may take several days or weeks.

  • Substitution. The substitution method of detoxification is completed under the supervision of a physician and other medical professionals. The idea is to eliminate the drug in question, but substitute a new substance to make giving up the drug easier, to reduce cravings for it, and to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms. This is commonly used in the treatment of heroin addiction. A similar substance, such as methadone or suboxone, is prescribed to the addict in a controlled manner. The addict takes the substitution drug in carefully measured amounts and slowly becomes weaned from the opiate drug. Substitution detox can be done on an outpatient basis, but may also be used in residential facilities.
  • Rapid detox. A newer, and somewhat controversial method for detoxing very quickly. Some professionals worry that this technique promises a quick fix to addiction, but that the addict will eventually relapse if it is not accompanied by intensive therapy. Rapid detox occurs over the course of just one or two days in a medical facility or hospital. The patient is put under general anesthesia for the duration and detox drugs are pumped through the addict’s body. By the time the addict wakes up, the withdrawal symptoms are over and the drug is out of the body’s system. It does not account for possible relapses and does not necessarily include any therapy to avoid it.
  • Weaning. Similar to the substitution method of detox, weaning means that the addict consumes increasingly smaller amounts of the drug or a substitution drug over the course of weeks. By using smaller and smaller amounts, the withdrawal symptoms the addict experiences are minimized. This method requires very careful measuring and dosing and is therefore done in a clinical, residential setting. It is not recommended that an addict try this alone and unassisted. With the help of a professional, the addict can use the correct amounts to complete a successful detox.

Beating a drug or alcohol addiction is never easy, but with a carefully considered plan for detoxification aided by professionals, an addict can step on the right path to long-lasting sobriety.

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