Detox Truths: Most Commonly Misused Substances
By: Ann Marie D’Aiuto, LMHC, Clinical Manager at Summit Detox and Nancy Adrien FNP, ARN
Drug detoxification is critical in the treatment of withdrawal. An individual’s consumption of drugs over time often leads to increased amounts used to achieve the desired effect. This is known as increased tolerance. Increased tolerance is frequently followed by withdrawal symptoms when reducing intake or discontinuing the drug. Withdrawal from these substances causes great dangers to individuals because the symptoms can be harmful to the body and life threatening if not addressed in a timely and controlled fashion. For these reasons, detoxification at home alone is dangerous and should be discouraged to prevent an unnecessary health crisis or death.
Complications of Benzodiazepine Withdrawals (Benzos)
Benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety, insomnia and convulsions. They are typically recommended for a short period of time to prevent tolerance. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms during detox are headache, increased anxiety, sleep disturbance, and confusion. Psychosis and seizures are critical complications that may arise during benzodiazepine detoxification. These life-threatening symptoms require timely medical management that is not readily accessible while detoxing home alone. It is imperative that individual undergo benzodiazepine detoxification in a well supervised setting that can meet their needs as they arise during this critical process.
Complications of Opiate Withdrawals
It is often said that opiate withdrawals are not as serious as alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawals. However, there is evidence of dangerous outcomes that result from vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration during opiate withdrawal. The actual vomiting is not fatal, but continued vomiting can lead to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. If these problems are not corrected urgently, they can give rise to other complications such as abnormal heart rhythms that may lead to death in some cases if left untreated.
Complications of Alcohol Withdrawals
According to the Journal of Family Practice, up to 71% of individuals who present for alcohol detoxification experience significant symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. The most concerning symptoms of alcohol withdrawals are hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens. Hallucinations may occur within hours from the last drink for some individual and may last 2 days or more, and this is common outside of delirium tremens. Alcohol withdrawal seizure may occur in up to 25% of individuals during alcohol detoxification. Seizure is more common within the first 2 days, but can occur up to 5 days from alcohol abstinence. The most severe complication of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is characterized by a rapid onset of an altered mental state otherwise known as confusion and autonomic hyperactivity, which is a condition that causes hypertension, palpitations, hyperthermia or hypothermia. Delirium tremens is a medical emergency that can progress to cardiovascular collapse and eventually death. From a medicinal holistic point of view, detoxing in a safe environment will lessen complications and prevent unnecessary outcomes for prevention is known as the best medicine.
Detoxing Isn’t Just Physical
Detoxing from drugs and alcohol induces many psychological responses as well. Some of these psychological symptoms include:
|Heightened anxiety||Fear||Emotional instability||Anger||Agitation||Irritability|
|Sadness||Depression||Poor focus and concentration||Insomnia||Racing thoughts||Restlessness|
|Remorse/guilt/shame||Regret||Worry||Symptoms of psychosis||Cravings||Memory loss|
|Impulsiveness||Confusion||Cognitive impairment||Irrational thoughts||Poor judgement||Stress|
Entering a safe medical detox facility where the withdrawal symptoms will be carefully managed and monitored will also provide support for the individual that is experiencing any of these psychological stressors and symptoms. An individual can work privately with a therapist to help process his/her thoughts and feelings, gain education about addiction and relapse prevention, and receive assistance with making plans and goals for the next step after detox is completed. Additionally, if the individual wants to involve his/her family in the treatment process the clinical team can be a source of support and education to the family that either does not understand addiction or is setting firm boundaries with the loved one in detox. Furthermore, the individual can learn basic tools to help him/her cope with the uncomfortable feelings and symptoms he/she is experiencing as a result of the detox and addiction.
Detoxing alone can lead to isolation and poor judgment which increases the risk of relapse. Entering a safe medical detox facility an individual can be provided with the encouragement, strength, support, compassion, non-judgment, guidance, and empathy every individual struggling with addiction deserves and needs at a time of despair. The overall goal is to ensure the safety and comfort of the individual while providing support, encouragement and guidance at the most critical time of his/her addiction. Professionals can help the individual take the first step into the journey of healing and recovery.