What’s Detox Really Like?

malibu detox center
Medically supervised detox is one of a few ways someone can more comfortably wean off of drugs, alcohol or other substances. Our bodies experience withdrawal symptoms, which, depending on the length and severity of the addiction, can be extremely uncomfortable and can often times even be deadly. Medically supervised detox is typically an inpatient method under the supervision of medical professionals. This is because once our bodies have become dependent on a substance it then feels as if it is required to be in the body. Re-wiring the brain into remembering that it doesn’t need substances can lead to an initial period of discomfort. Depending on the length and severity of the addiction, different medications may be used to help ease these uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that arise during detox.
Different types of withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Sweating
  • Shivering
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle or bone pain
  • Hallucination
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Deep sleep

Types of Medication Used

Depending on the addiction, many different types of non-addictive medication may be used during the detox process to ease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. They vary between alcohol, opiate and drug dependency.

Alcohol Dependence

When it comes to alcohol dependence and giving patients relief from the detox withdrawal symptoms, Benzodiazepines are the agents of choice. They are often administered on a fixed or symptom-triggered basis, depending on the length and severity of the addiction. For example, if someone is experiencing non-stop symptoms, they will receive a fixed schedule. If the addiction was less severe and someone is only experiencing symptoms certain times through the day, then it will be administered when needed. Benxodiazepines are used to help control symptoms such as:

  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

Another medication used to treat alcohol withdrawal detox symptoms is Carbamazepine. It is an alternative to a benzodiazepine with outpatient treatment of patients with mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This can be used to help wean, or taper, the patient from alcohol which helps make the detox process more comfortable. Other medications to help in the treatment of complications of withdrawal include:

  • Haloperidol
  • Beta blockers
  • Conidine
  • Phenytoin

Opiate dependence

When experiencing opiate withdrawal, there are many uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that someone could experience. Opiate addiction includes the dependence of such narcotic pain relievers such as:

  • Codeine
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Methadone
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin)

These drugs can cause physical dependence, which means that a person relies on the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Over time, more of the drug is needed for the same effect, or even to just “feel normal”. This is called drug tolerance, a clear sign of dependency and addiction, and can escalate very quickly. In order to live a healthy, substance-free life, detoxing from these drugs is required in order to re-wire the brain and body into remembering it does not need to physically depend on substances anymore. Once the body begins to need more of the substance in the beginning stages of detox, it will begin the withdrawal process.

Cocaine Dependence

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include anxiety and depression, which antidepressant drugs such as desipramine or a combination of phentermine and fenfluramine have been successfully used to reduce. This helps keep the patient calm and focused on recovery, rather than battling anxiety or depression issues.

Benzodiazepines (which is also used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms) and tranquilizers such as diazepam have been also used to help with anxiety caused by cocaine withdrawal.

Amantadine, which is a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease, may also be an effective treatment for cocaine-dependent patients with severe cocaine withdrawal symptoms and may also help reduce cocaine cravings.

Bromocriptine, a drug that works on the brain’s dopamine system, has been used to decrease the craving for cocaine during detoxification and to reduce mood disturbance. This is also helpful with keeping the patient focused on their recovery, rather than feeling the need to fulfill cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Medical Supervision

Wherever you choose to receive inpatient or outpatient medical detox, a health care provider will always first perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and drug use. In the case of inpatient medical detox, this usually happens within the first day, or hours, of arrival.

Tests and monitoring that may be included during your stay are:

  • Urine or blood tests to screen for drugs
  • Blood chemistries and liver function tests such as CHEM-20
  • CBC (complete blood count, measures red and white blood cells, and platelets, which help blood to clot)
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Testing for hepatitis C, HIV, and tuberculosis due to the sharing of needles and other paraphernalia
  • Monitoring of vital signs

Detoxing Alone

The low-cost and privacy of detoxing at home is often attractive to many people. This especially true when everyone around a patient is saying to “just stop.” Unfortunately, there can also be a lot of shame that follows after the realization that one needs help, moreover, to go away for help. This can lead someone to want to detox in the privacy of his or her own home and in secret. However, many are surprised to find out that detoxing from many substances, such as alcohol, can be very medically dangerous and even deadly. This is because of the very serious withdrawal symptoms associated with detox, and should be done under the supervision of a medical professional.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Therefore, it is best to be under the supervision of a medical professional during this uncomfortable time. Outpatient or at-home detox also tends to be less successful in terms of keeping sober. Relapse rates are much higher in recovering addicts who choose to detox at home. This is because the substance of choice can be much more readily available with no one working to keep the patient accountable, or to offer emotional support during cravings. Mental and emotional help is just as important as the physical detox.

Detoxing in a high-end inpatient facility, along the lines of Cliffside Malibu, is important because physical detox is not the only focus. Therapy, continued support and coping strategies are provided after the physical detox process is over, giving the individual tools and methods to help continue their recovery after they leave the program and return home back into normal life.

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