Detox is a fairly popular topic in today’s society. In fact, with all the advertisements on television, in print, and online for products promising to rid the body of accumulated toxins, you might think that detoxing is a simple and easy process with no ill-effects or risks involved.
This prevailing notion is both misguided and wrong. First of all, the proliferation of detox products in the market make it seem like any kind of detox is perfectly okay to do by yourself in the comfort and privacy of your own home. The problem with this is that detoxing from drugs and alcohol is a completely different issue than simply going on a liquid-formula, pill or other regimen intended to purge the body of toxins from food.
In other words, detoxing from alcohol and/or drugs is much more involved – and more potentially risky — than just a colon cleanse or a do-it-yourself procedure to drop excess water and body weight.
Anyone who wants to get off a dependence on alcohol or drugs should only pursue detox through a licensed detox facility where the process is monitored and supervised round-the-clock by medical professionals.
Why all the concern? What’s really so dangerous about detoxing from alcohol or drugs at home? Here are some answers.
Alcohol Detox is the Most Dangerous
For the individual who believes he or she has simply been partying too much and needs to cut down, the whole idea of detoxing is probably more a change in behavior than anything else. Sure, the coming back from a nasty hangover isn’t pleasant, but it only takes one or two such painful episodes for most people to begin to moderate their drinking behavior.
But when partying becomes a non-stop affair and more of an everyday activity or escalates into a controlling need to drink, detoxing is the first step in seeking to overcome the problem caused by drinking to excess.
Here’s where the difficulty and risk come in. When a person stops drinking alcohol suddenly, just up and quits because he or she thinks it’s time to do so and it’s easy to do, the consequences can be deadly. Sudden alcohol cessation can cause hallucinations, convulsions, and even heart seizure that may result in death. This isn’t something to take lightly and is an excellent reason not to try to detox from alcohol at home.
Anyone with a serious dependency on alcohol should never even consider going “cold turkey” at home. Alcohol detox is a two-phase process. The first phase occurs over a short period of a few days, and it’s during this initial period that the person undergoing detox could experience problems, some of which could be fatal without professional medical intervention. The second and longer phase of alcohol detox occurs over months, as the brain slowly begins to regulate and resume normal functioning. There may be lingering symptoms during the second phase of alcohol detox, but they are not usually life-threatening.
· Delirium tremens
· Heart failure
Naturally, the extent of the severity and occurrence of symptoms will vary depending on the individual’s history of abuse and individual physical condition, including any exacerbating co-existing medical and/or psychological disorder. However, the risks of detox for all serious abusers of alcohol are potentially severe enough that alcohol detox should never be attempted alone.
During professional alcohol detox, medications may be prescribed that can make the detox more comfortable and safer for the individual. Such medications help reduce or eliminate cravings, ease anxiety and help the individual transition more gently from an abrupt cessation from drinking. A person can’t just take a prescription pill and detoxes on his or her own, however, as these medications require constant monitoring by medical staff.
Over the course of several months of abstinence, long-term withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, cravings and anxiety will gradually reduce in intensity. They may be eased somewhat by medications such as acamprosate and naltrexone, but only continued sobriety and the passage of time will end the long-term detox.
Of course, detox is only the first step in overcoming alcohol dependence. You need a clear head, not one that’s foggy from alcohol, in order to begin the process of learning how to live a life of sobriety. After professionally-monitored alcohol detox, the individual is ready to embark on long-term recovery. Such therapy often takes place in residential treatment centers and includes one-on-one counseling, group therapy, educational lectures, and other treatment specifically tailored to the individual’s needs.
Anyone addicted to heroin would be foolhardy to attempt to detox from the drug alone. Heroin, one of the world’s most addictive and dangerous drugs is also one of the most difficult addictions to overcome. But stopping without professional medical supervision is not only unsafe – it’s destined for failure in more ways than one.
First, the nervous system of the heroin abuser’s body has become so accustomed to the chronic exposure of the opioid narcotic, that abrupt withdrawal from the drug can cause excruciating and extremely dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Second, without professional counseling to change behavior and learn how to live life without being strung out on heroin, the individual will simply revert back to using. The craving is too great and the person lacks coping skills and a support system.
Trying to detox from heroin on your own will also produce withdrawal symptoms that cover a wide range of severity and discomfort. Heroin withdrawal symptoms usually commence within 12 hours of cessation of the drug and peak between two and four days. Such symptoms include:
· Abdominal pain
· Body pain
Continued use of heroin exacerbates the risks to users for liver and kidney disease, pulmonary complications, and diseases spread through shared needles, such as HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis B and C. It is estimated that approximately 70 to 80 percent of new hepatitis C infections each year are due to injection drug use.
Medically supervised heroin detox is the only way to ensure the safety and well-being of the individual who has made the life-affirming decision to stop using heroin.
Although there are few physical symptoms present with meth withdrawal, the psychological symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and present a major threat to recovery. What happens is that the intense cravings for meth coupled with deep psychological lows often lead the individual right back into using again.
· Fatigue, and sleeping for days on end
· Increased hunger
· Intense cravings
· Severe depression
· Suicidal thoughts
With the preceding as preamble, is it any wonder that individuals who are contemplating detox from meth are advised not to go it alone? Getting clean from meth is a difficult process, one that very few individuals can make it through on their own. The best way to proceed to detox from meth is to do so at a licensed detox facility under constant medical supervision. It’s also important to be sequestered and away from access to meth and any other intoxicating substances.
One other point is important in any discussion of meth detox. The longer a person abuses meth, the greater the difficulty he or she will face in treatment and the greater the depths of meth depression that will need to be overcome.
Combination Alcohol and Drug Detox
For persons suffering from multiple-substance abuse, or a combination of alcohol and drug abuse or addiction, detox is indeed a complex and dangerous process. This is another situation where the individual is well advised to seek professional medical help to safely detox. Never, ever attempt to go cold turkey if you’re an alcoholic and a drug user. You’ll be endangering your life and making the entire detox process much more painful and uncomfortable than it needs to be.
Take any one of the risks and lists of withdrawal symptoms from various drugs and add them all together and the result is a downright scary detox situation. Who in their right mind would even consider doing such a risky procedure? The first sign of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, or intense cravings, and, with no medically-supervised assistance to ease the symptoms with prescription medications and the individual is headlong right back into using. Too tough, too uncomfortable, too painful – and that’s only the beginning. The user rationalizes that they’ll detox later, next month or in six months’ time, but not right now. All that’s important is to get rid of the pain, to feel that sense of euphoria or numbness again. In other words, the desire to use takes precedence over the inclination to get clean and sober. No wonder such self-detox efforts fail – if the person manages to somehow live through them.
How to Find a Professional Detox Facility
Hospitals provide facilities for inpatient treatment for medical detox. In addition, there are also licensed outpatient and residential treatment facilities that also carry out medically-supervised detox. Inpatient and residential treatment facilities with detox programs are especially beneficial for individuals with chronic addiction, while outpatient facilities are better suited for those with less severe addiction problems.
Since not all detox facilities or treatment facilities for substance abuse are the same, it’s important to do your research. The number and variety of different facilities available, as well as their core specialties, price range and level of services provided can be confusing and more than a bit intimidating. Don’t let it. Start by using the Treatment Facility Locator (//wwwdasis.samhsa.gov/dasis2/index.htm), an online searchable database from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Click on your state and then “Detailed Search” and specify detoxification. If money is a problem, also click on “Sliding fee scale” (fee based on income and other factors), and “Payment assistance” (check with facility for details).
You can also specify other types of services provided such as: substance abuse treatment, methadone maintenance, methadone detoxification, halfway house or buprenorphine services. Type of care options include outpatient, partial hospitalization/day treatment, residential short-term treatment (30 days or less), residential long-term treatment (more than 30 days), or hospital inpatient. Other search-defining areas to consider are special programs/groups, special language services, and forms of payment accepted.
Once you’ve made your initial selections and pressed search, you’ll receive a number of treatment providers based on your search parameters. Look through what’s available and then do a deeper dive into what the particular facility has to offer. You can also ask your primary doctor for a referral or call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
The key point to remember is that it’s never safe to attempt to detox from alcohol or drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs at home and by yourself. Even if you think you have some assistance from friends or family, none of them is trained or equipped to deal with the potentially life-threatening consequences of a do-it-yourself detox.
You may think that the way out of alcohol or drug abuse or addiction is impossible or that you’re not capable of getting through it. The longer you’ve been abusing substances, the tougher getting sober may seem to you. Just the idea that you can come out of the serpentine labyrinth of addiction may seem elusive and not applicable to you.
Guess what? You’d be wrong. The truth is that you can learn to overcome your past dependence or addiction to alcohol or drugs but you do need professional help to get there. Yes, it will most likely be one of the most difficult challenges you’ve ever faced, but with the support and encouragement of loved ones and friends and self-help groups following detox and substance abuse treatment, you can once again be clean and sober and well on your way to a successful life in recovery.
Bottom line: Never even consider dangerous detox. Doing it at home could be deadly. Seek professional help for a safe and medically-supervised detox and follow it up with a treatment program to help you overcome your addiction.