For many people who struggle with addiction, detox is the first step into recovery. Going through detox can help your transition into sobriety go smoother, and for certain people may be necessary to protect their health and safety. 

What is Detox? 

Rather than quitting cold turkey or stopping substance abuse at home, doctors recommend that you undergo a supervised detox or detoxification. Detox is the process of removing a substance and traces of that substance from the body while managing withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes, detox involves prescribing medications that can mimic the effects of the drug to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Different kinds of substances can have different effects on the body when we stop using them, and some of these effects can include seizures or even death. Medical detox is a critical process to ensure your safety and to have the most successful recovery. 

What Does Detox Look Like?

Treatment during detox usually begins with an evaluation that will determine what medications and services you will need. These decisions are based on your mental and physical health as well as the substance you are removing, how much of it you’ve taken, how long you’ve taken it, and how often you used it. A medical professional will take a sample of your blood to determine how much of that substance you currently have in your body. 

After determining the best treatment plan, you may be prescribed medications to help control different withdrawal symptoms. Medications can include those used to treat mental health issues like anxiety and depression, sleep aids, nausea-reducing medications, and medication that has similar effects to the substance you’re coming off of. 

While undergoing detox, you will have around-the-clock monitoring and access to care. Regular checkups will be carried out to ensure that your body is stable and that the substance is effectively removed. Medically supervised detox usually lasts no more than a week, but withdrawal symptoms can continue for months into recovery. Entering inpatient care after detox can help you work through the residual withdrawal symptoms and give you tools to continue coping once you return to daily life. 

What Withdrawal Symptoms Can I Expect? 

Withdraw can bring on both physical and psychological effects. Common physical side effects include symptoms similar to those experienced when you have the flu—nausea, fever, shakiness, runny nose, sweating—or muscle cramping, headaches, increased blood pressure, headaches, body aches, and fatigue. 

Psychological side effects can present mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, and intense cravings for the substance. The presence and intensity of these side effects are influenced by your physical and mental health and the substance that is being removed. Some severe side effects of withdrawal such as seizures, hallucinations, and death are typically related to alcohol or benzodiazepines, but these side effects can be treated and even avoided by undergoing medically supervised detox. 

Why is Withdrawing from Alcohol and Benzodiazepines More Dangerous?

Alcohol is a depressant that impacts the central nervous system by slowing it down or lowering its function. This is why using alcohol tends to make us slur our words, lose cognitive functioning, and have trouble with motor skills. After stopping prolonged and heavy alcohol use, the central nervous system attempts to reset itself and often becomes hyperactive, which can overwhelm the entire body. One of the major concerns during alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens which can induce seizures and hallucinations. While a seizure can be treated and often occur for some individuals, such as those with epilepsy, depending on where we are when they happen, they can be fatal. 

Low levels of electrolytes triggered by the body working hard to flush out the alcohol can increase your risk of heart attack, and low levels of phosphorus can cause breathing issues—both of which can be fatal. Alcohol withdrawal can also disrupt the pancreas and its ability to produce insulin and, when left untreated, can result in death. 

Chronic benzodiazepine use inhibits specific brain receptors. When the benzodiazepine leaves your system, your receptors are essentially “re-exposed” and can become easily overstimulated. This is why benzodiazepine withdrawal can lead to seizures. Seizures are the most common serious concern when withdrawing from benzos. 

What to Expect After Detox

You may continue to experience withdrawal symptoms after going through detox, especially cravings associated with substance abuse. For individuals who required a medical detox, addiction was likely severe—meaning that recovery can be more difficult. Detoxification does not mean that you are no longer addicted to a substance. It has only been removed from your system. Most doctors will recommend that you continue to work with a medical team after detox or begin an inpatient treatment program. Some treatment centers offer both detox and inpatient care, allowing you to have a thorough recovery plan and access to staff you have grown comfortable with. 

Not receiving treatment after detox may make you more likely to relapse and increases your potential to overdose. Recovering from addiction is often a long and strenuous process, but you are less likely to return to substance abuse later on in life by putting in effort early on. Be sure to remind yourself that you have decided to treat your addiction and encourage yourself to continue making choices to protect your health. The discomfort that may come with recovery is a far better alternative to the consequences of addiction. 

For those who are considering entering recovery, the first question they may have is whether or not they will need a medically supervised detoxification and what that process looks like. Detox is an essential step in early recovery, and making sure that this step is done safely and thoroughly can make the rest of your recovery go much more smoothly. If you are struggling with an addiction and looking for treatment, call Rancho Milagro at (951) 526-4582 to discuss your care options. Rancho Milagro offers both inpatient care and detox for individuals who qualify. We give patients the option to detox with us and to continue inpatient care here afterward. Our team is full of compassionate medical professionals and staff that are committed to your recovery. Each patient is given an individualized treatment plan to fit their personal needs because we know that everyone’s path to recovery can look different.

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