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When an individual is working to recover from drug abuse and addiction problems, it is very important that they take the time to address and resolve all of the physical, mental and emotional causes and effects of drug use. One of the first and most important steps along the path to full and lasting recovery is drug detoxification. Without completing this vital action, an individual is trying to resolve a problem that is still affecting them in quite a major way. Needless to say, this is about as easy as rebuilding a house while it’s still on fire – it simply doesn’t work.

About Detoxification

When an individual first turns to drug use, they are doing so in order to change some life situation that they are unhappy with. Drugs cannot actually solve any of the individual’s problems, they are simply chemical substances that interfere with the normal functions of the human body. However, this interference can cause the individual to experience pleasure through the suppression of undesirable sensations, the stimulation of desirable sensations, or both. It is this pleasure that drives an individual to continue their drug use, with little attention on what this is doing to their overall health and well-being.

The effects drugs cause are only temporary, which can lead an individual to believe that the drug is no longer in their system and they have to take more. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the truth about what occurs is also one of the main reasons for why an individual cannot resolve their drug abuse and addiction problems simply by abstaining from drug use. When drugs move through the bloodstream, the liver and kidneys work to remove these substances from the body and flush them out with other bodily wastes. However, the liver and kidneys were not actually designed to metabolize regular or large amounts of drug substances, and they can become overwhelmed and unable to clean all drug toxins from the bloodstream. These excess toxins are stored in fatty tissues in the body, where they can be reactivated during future moments of physical activity, stress or even pleasure. When drug toxins are released back into the bloodstream, the individual experiences physical cravings, which explains why an individual who has been sober for days, weeks, months or even years might suddenly and “inexplicably” relapse into drug use. Drug detoxification programs seek to help the individual withdraw from drug use as safely and comfortably as possible, and then eliminate residual drug toxins from their body. In so doing, the individual can greatly reduce or even eliminate future cravings that can threaten a relapse, begin to repair the physical damages caused by drug use and restore their physical health, which makes them better able to work through the mental and emotional rehabilitation treatment process.

Withdrawal Symptoms

There usually comes a point in the process of drug abuse and addiction where the individual recognizes that drugs are responsible for the many damages they are experiencing in their life, and they need help to overcome these problems and repair these damages. However, while the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that more than twenty-three million Americans suffer from the problems of drug abuse and addiction, less than eleven percent of these individuals actually receive the rehabilitation treatment they desperately need. There may be many reasons for this, not the least of which is the individual’s reluctance to experience drug withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, working through these physical withdrawals during detoxification is an important part of the recovery process, and it has to occur in order for the individual to successfully break their connection with drugs.

There are several factors that can determine how long and uncomfortable the drug withdrawal process will be, including:

  • The length of addiction.
  • The type of addiction – which drug or drugs have been used.
  • The quantity of drugs in use.
  • The existence of any other physical or mental disorders.

Obviously, this means that an individual who is suffering from a decade-long addiction to opiates will likely have a rougher journey through withdrawal than an individual who has been binge-drinking for two months. That said, an individual would do better to step onto the path of recovery and enter detoxification treatment sooner rather than later.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms an individual may experience during detoxification treatment include:

  • Mood disturbances, including sudden and dramatic mood swings, irritability, agitation and aggression.
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and restlessness.
  • Physical problems like chills, sweating, tremors, shaking, runny nose, headache, nausea and vomiting.
  • Intense cravings for the individual’s drug of choice, not necessarily for the purpose of getting high but simply for the purpose of stopping withdrawal symptoms.

Certain drug substances can yield other, specific withdrawal symptoms in addition to those listed above. For example, alcohol, opiate medications and benzodiazepines can cause seizures and hallucinations during withdrawal and detoxification. Heroin and other illicit opiates often cause severe muscle and bone pain during withdrawal and detoxification. Cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and other stimulant drugs can cause depression and suicidal thoughts and ideations during withdrawal and detoxification. For this reason, an individual should never attempt to withdraw or detox from drug substances on their own and without medical supervision. In some cases, initial withdrawal symptoms may seem mild before rapidly deteriorating and becoming highly dangerous. Medical supervision can ensure that the individual is aided in mitigating some of the more severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms of drug use.

Type of Detox Programs

Just as is the case with rehabilitation treatment, there are different types of detoxification programs available to meet a variety of different needs. Some types of detoxification programs include:

  • Outpatient detox – where the individual comes into a medical facility on a set schedule to receive treatment and then returns home each evening.
  • Inpatient detox – where the individual resides at the facility for the entire duration of their detoxification program.
  • Opiate detox – where the individual receives specialized care from medical professionals who are trained and experienced in opiate withdrawal and detoxification.
  • Alcohol detox – where the individual receives specializes care from medical professionals who are trained and experienced in alcohol withdrawal and detoxification. Alcohol can be one of the most difficult and dangerous drug substances to safely withdraw and detox from, so specialized care is highly valuable.

One of the most successful choices in detoxification treatment is inpatient detoxification, since the individual is placed in a safe, supportive, drug-free environment where they receive twenty-four hour care from trained medical professionals. An individual who is participating in outpatient detoxification does not receive the same critical support throughout the detoxification process, and may find it easier to simply relapse into drug use if withdrawal and detoxification becomes too difficult.

Following Detoxification

While there is no doubt that detoxification is a vital part of lasting recovery from drug abuse and addiction problems, it alone is not a full rehabilitation treatment program. The individual needs to follow their physical detoxification program with rehabilitation treatment that can aid them in addressing all of the mental and emotional causes and effects of drug use. Detoxification can lay the foundation for a healthier future, but rehabilitation treatment services aid the individual in taking responsibility for their past choices and the damages these choices caused self and others. Rehabilitation treatment can also help the individual rebuild their self-confidence and self-respect, and gain the skills and abilities they need to handle life without drugs.