The word “detox” has become incredibly prevalent over the past few years, as many associate the word with the fad cleanses that have become increasingly common as many people seek to improve their physical health. These cleanses often utilize several herbs, laxatives, and other ingredients in order to flush out the body’s waste. And since you will inevitably hear people mention detox many times when pursuing treatment at an addiction recovery center, you might easily jump to the conclusion that the word means the same thing in both cases.
This, however, is something of a misunderstanding. While there is certainly nothing wrong with flushing out the body from a health standpoint, the manner in which these cleanses accomplish this goal is a bit different from the way detox is used by treatment centers. If you look at our list of programs, you’ll find that none of them go out of their way to mention the type of laxative treatment used in a standard cleanse. It is therefore important to know what treatment centers mean when they refer to detox, how it affects the addict or alcoholic, and why it is an important step in the recovery process.
So What Exactly Is A Detox?
Detox stands for “detoxification,” and essentially means the same thing as the aforementioned cleanses in the sense that the primary goal is to allow your body and mind to become clear of the mood-altering substances to which a person has become addicted. The word is also used in a couple of other ways, each bearing a slightly more specific description than the simple process of cleaning out one’s body.
For instance, some people who use the word “detox” are actually referring to treatment. There are some treatment centers and other facilities that offer detox programs in which the patient does not receive the same level of therapy received in more hands-on treatment centers, but is rather given a place to stay in which they can receive medical attention while their body cleans itself out. The problem with defining detox in this manner is that cleaning out the body does not fully treat the physical effects of drugs and alcohol on the body. It especially does not treat the ways in which the addict has been affected mentally, emotionally, socially or spiritually.
According to Dr. Nora Volkow, who works with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox is simply “the initial stage that allows a person to stay clean.” In other words, detox is the very first stage of recovery, after the addict or alcohol has acknowledged their problem by agreeing to receive treatment and is now willing to deprive themselves of their drug of choice for a while so that they may be a bit more lucid when receiving the help that they need. Volkow’s belief is that detox is not technically a part of treatment and recovery, and that these things describe “that process by which the person who has been addicted is reintegrated into society without the need of drugs.” But without detox, this process cannot begin.
There are a few different ways in which detox is done. Outside of treatment centers, many people may try to wean themselves off of a substance by continuing to take it in gradually diminishing doses. However, when a person is addicted, this can be difficult for them to do without slipping. Of course, the problem with quitting cold turkey is that the addict will often experience intense withdrawals, the symptoms of which can be quite debilitating.
This is why some treatment centers will opt for medication assisted treatment, in which the addict is not given their drug of choice but rather is given a certain medication such as methadone or buprenorphine and naloxone (more commonly known as Suboxone). This type of treatment is generally used to treat opiate addiction. While people have varying feelings regarding the merits of this form of treatment, the point of it is to try and wean the person off without directly giving them their drug of choice, allowing them to detox slowly without major withdrawals.
Some forms of detox may also involve other medications, such as Librium (chlordiazepoxide), to treat withdrawal symptoms. This is not technically the same as the medication assisted treatment described above, as it is used for alcohol withdrawal rather than opiate withdrawal. Its primary purpose is to treat anxiety, which is a common problem among those 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 mitigate certain symptoms of withdrawal, as well as to maintain the overall health of the addict or alcoholic as they begin the cleansing process.
How Does Detox Affect You?
What some people may not realize is that, whether or not medications are involved, detox is actually a natural process. The body generally flushes itself out, eliminating traces of drugs and other toxins to make room for the nutrients that the body needs to function properly. This means that, while there may be some discomfort at first, a person 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 usually more concerned with the short-term effects than the long-term effects. And in the short term, detox can be rather uncomfortable.
First, it is important to recognize that detox will take different lengths of time for different people. For some, the detox process might take as little as three days, while for others it can take up to two weeks. This will usually depend upon what types of substances the person has been abusing, how much of these substances they have been imbibing, and how long the period of abuse has lasted. There may be other factors, but these are some of the most important. 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 type of substance imbibed by the addict in question will also affect the withdrawal symptoms that they experience during their period of detox. For instance, those who suffer from alcohol withdrawal may experience such symptoms as sweating, vomiting, anxiety, shaky hands, and other mild symptoms. In particularly bad cases, they might also experience DTs (delirium tremens). This can result in 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.
For another example of withdrawal symptoms experienced during the detox period, we might look at those who suffer from opiate withdrawal. They will experience 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. Again, 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 the detox symptoms to be a deterrent from using again, but this is unfortunately not always the case.
The causes for withdrawal symptoms, whether experienced during a detox from alcohol, opiates, or numerous other drugs, are generally about the same. The body has attempted to achieve homeostasis while ingesting dangerous toxins over a long period of time, and this has had extreme effects on the body and mind. The changes that have occurred within the user’s body are exacerbated when the drug is no longer present, and the person then experiences the full effects of the harm that they have done to themselves. This is, of course, putting it in layman’s terms. The specific scientific explanation for each type of withdrawal is fairly complicated, but the most important point to underscore is that the discomfort experienced during detox is actually the feeling of the body returning to normalcy.
Once detox is complete, brain and body health will vastly improve. There are several various benefits that have been experienced by recovering addicts and alcoholics, such as improved blood pressure, better nutrition, and normalized circadian rhythms. People also find themselves more likely to pay attention to certain issues such as dental care and hygiene. Withdrawal can be difficult, but the health benefits experienced afterward make the discomfort just a little bit more worthwhile.
What Makes Detox So Important?
After reading about what detox is and how it affects you, it should be relatively clear why this process is important to addiction treatment and recovery. The physical health benefits, not to mention the increased lucidity gained from being free of drugs and alcohol, can help a person to improve their life for the better. It may seem like withdrawal can be a lot to suffer through, but the rewards cannot be overstated.
In addition to the physical rewards, there are mental and emotional rewards as well. One of the problems with addiction is that it can cause a person to get caught in what is known as a negative feedback loop. As they use their drug of choice with increasing frequency, they fail to receive the emotional benefits that they had originally sought when using drugs and alcohol. The only way to end this cycle is to enter a period of detox and clear the body of the substance that has caused them to enter this loop to begin with. Breaking this loop is one of the most important prerequisites for receiving adequate treatment and entering into a stage of true recovery.
Breaking this loop and entering into a period of true recovery is also an important prerequisite to successful cognitive behavioral therapy. The main point of this type of therapy is to change the thoughts and feelings that cause the addict to behave in self-destructive ways. If the addict is still stuck in a negative feedback loop and is driven by compulsion to keep behaving in the same manner, then it will be much more difficult to treat them in this fashion.
It is also worth stating that many addicts and alcoholics suffer from concurrent mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression. In such cases, it was often those disorders which caused them 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 they do, in fact, suffer from one or more mental or emotional disorders, then they can receive treatment to do with those issues once said issues have been discovered.
During active 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 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. This means that anyone who is serious about making a positive change in their life should seriously consider receiving detox treatment, as well as the follow-up therapy provided by an addiction recovery center.
Ultimately, the quality of a person’s treatment and recovery depends upon that person’s ability to detox properly. After receiving medical treatment to help them through the withdrawal symptoms associated with their drug of choice, they can begin more intensive therapy and seek to discover the cause of their addictive behavior. Detox may be a relatively small part of this process, but it is a vital one nonetheless. As long as the addict continues to seek treatment and remains focused on their recovery, detox can lead them to a better quality of life free of the crutches of drugs and alcohol.