You’ve probably heard horror stories about alcohol and drug withdrawal, and you may be putting off quitting drugs or alcohol for that reason, but withdrawal doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Medical detox, which is performed at an in-patient treatment facility or as part of an outpatient program, vastly reduces the discomforts of withdrawal and can even shorten the duration of withdrawal symptoms.
What is Medical Detox?
Medical detox is a safe and highly effective withdrawal process that’s supervised by medical and mental health professionals and involves administering medications to help alleviate certain symptoms. Inpatient medical detox, through a quality treatment program, may include alternative therapies such as yoga, massage, and acupuncture, which can help relieve anxiety and pain as well as improve your sense of well-being during the withdrawal phase of treatment.
Why Medical Detox is Essential for Recovery
Withdrawal from some substances, such as opiates and stimulants, isn’t particularly dangerous, but the symptoms of withdrawal can be excruciating and typically include intense cravings and high anxiety, which are major triggers that cause relapse for most people who try to withdraw from drugs without medical assistance.
Withdrawal from other substances, however, has the potential to be very dangerous when undertaken without medical supervision. Delirium tremens, or DTs, is a condition associated with alcohol withdrawal that can cause seizures, hallucinations, and dangerous shifts in heart function. For up to 5 percent of people who experience DTs during unsupervised withdrawal, this condition is fatal, according to an article published in the journal American Family Physician.
Quitting benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax cold-turkey may, in rare cases, cause seizures as well as dangerous shifts in blood pressure, body temperature, and respiratory and heart rate, and having medical personnel on hand to treat any of these conditions is essential for your safety.
Medications Used During Medical Detox
Various medications are provided as needed during withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. These are some of the most commonly used pharmaceuticals used during detox from a particular class of drugs.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine cites clonidine as the most commonly used medication for treating the anxiety, muscle aches, runny nose, sweating, and severe cramping associated with detox from opiates like heroin and prescription painkillers, while buprenorphine can shorten the time it takes to detox.
Detox from long-acting benzodiazepines is typically a matter of tapering off the doses over several weeks or months in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms altogether, while switching to phenobarbital or another benzodiazepine is an effective strategy for detox from short-life benzodiazepines, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Symptoms of withdrawal from benzos may include insomnia, irritability, anxiety and panic attacks, headaches, and nausea.
Withdrawal from stimulants like cocaine, meth, and the prescription drug Adderall may cause lethargy, paranoia, psychosis, heightened anxiety, and deep depression. While no medications have been found effective most of these symptoms, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (4), bupropion may help reduce the severity of depressive symptoms and cravings.
Depending on the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which may include nausea, anxiety, tremors, sweats, hallucinations, and seizures, a number of medications may be used during alcohol detox, including neurotonin to treat seizures and restore normal body function and Paxil to reduce the severity of depressive symptoms and alleviate insomnia.
Don’t Detox Alone
There’s no reason to suffer the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, which can be severe and, in some cases, dangerous. Medical detox helps ensure your comfort, well-being, and safety so that you can focus on treatment, and it dramatically decreases your chances of relapse during the detox phase of recovery.
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