People often try to stop using drugs or alcohol on their own. They believe they can stop at any time, and they believe they can handle it. They “really don’t use that much.” These usually turn out to be famous last words as a relapse is right around the corner. 

Going through withdrawal is always uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s severely painful, physically and emotionally. Sometimes it results in a psychosis that can precipitate suicide. Having medical detox with supervision and medication to ease the symptoms gives you your best chance for success.

What is Medical Detox?

Detoxification is usually the first step in the treatment of alcohol or substance abuse. A good thing for you to do is prepare yourself for what the detox process will be like. Detox is the process that flushes the body of any substances that created a dependency. As your body returns to normal, there are withdrawal symptoms that can be mild to very distressing. 

Medical detox is a way of safely managing the severe physical symptoms associated with quitting drug or alcohol use. The length of the process and the types of medications used will vary, depending on the:

  • Type of addiction
  • Patient’s personal and family history
  • Resources available at the detox center

A group of experts organized to improve the quality and effectiveness of substance abuse treatment known as the Washington Circle Group (WCG) defined detox this way, “A detoxification program is not designed to resolve the long-standing psychological, social, and behavioral problems associated with alcohol and drug use.” In other words, detox doesn’t address your psychological or emotional reasons for abusing substances.

What is Medical Detox

Three Elements of Detox

In addition, the WCG described three essential elements to detox. They may take place all at once or in steps. They are:

  1. Evaluation: Evaluation includes testing for substances of abuse in the blood, measuring the concentration, and screening for co-occurring mental and physical conditions. This evaluation is the basis for the treatment plan after detox is completed.
  2. Stabilization: Stabilization includes the medical and social processes of helping the individual through withdrawal and into a medically stable, substance-free condition. This may or may not include medications. It also includes informing the patient on what to expect during their treatment program and the part they play in their treatment and recovery.
  3. Promoting the patient’s entry into treatment: This step involves preparing the patient for entry into treatment. It asserts the importance of following through with the complete course of treatment.

What Causes Withdrawal?

Your body and brain work together to maintain a state of balance known as homeostasis. Using a substance changes the balance. Therefore, your body has to take measures to adjust, including changing the levels of certain neurotransmitters (chemical transmitters). These substances act on your brain’s reward system, causing the release of chemicals.

When you take a substance regularly over a period of time, your body builds a tolerance and dependence on that substance. This means that larger doses of the substance are needed to feel the same effects you felt when first using it. Dependence means that your body now requires the substance to avoid the effects of withdrawal.

What is a Medical Detox Center?

A medical detox center provides a supervised detoxification process. Medical detox programs are for people suffering from the more extreme side of substance abuse issues which is the most difficult part of recovery. There are two models of detox that may be used:

  • Medical model: In this model, medical detox is achieved with nursing staff, a doctor, and the use of medication to help the individual go through withdrawal safely.
  • Social model: This model doesn’t use medication and routine medical care. It generally makes use of a non-hospital environment and a nonmedical staff to monitor withdrawal symptoms and helps ease the patient through the withdrawal process.

These days, treatment centers don’t stick to either model strictly. Some social models use medication but still depend on nonmedical staff to monitor patients’ symptoms. In the same way, medical models will usually have some elements to address the social and personal features of addiction.

Changing Needs

Due to the changing concepts of addiction, detoxification needs have changed too. The popularity of cocaine, heroin, and other substances has brought about the need for different detox services. People with substance use disorders (SUDs) are likely to have abused more than one drug at the same time.

When a person goes through detox, they need to know that someone cares about them and respects them as an individual. As a result, medical personnel regularly demonstrate that there is hope and that their treatment program can be followed and trusted.

What to Expect in Withdrawal

Detox is difficult for everyone. However, keep in mind that while the symptoms can be painful, they are temporary. Here are the most common and serious symptoms for the most common addictions:

Symptoms of Alcohol and Tranquilizer Withdrawal

Alcohol and tranquilizers produce the most dangerous physical withdrawal symptoms. Suddenly stopping alcohol or tranquilizers can lead to serious complications.

  • Shaky hands
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia

Some of the more serious symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations (12 to 24 hours after last drink)
  • Seizures (within the first 2 days)
  • Confusion
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Depending on the severity of your physical dependence, other symptoms may appear after 24 hours. Some potentially severe symptoms may appear two to four days after quitting.

You might require anti-seizure medication, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants, and other drugs as needed to address your symptoms. Twenty-four-hour monitoring is necessary during alcohol withdrawal.

Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

These symptoms usually start in the first 24 hours after you stop using and include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent yawning

After the first day, more intense symptoms may appear and include:

  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms typically start to diminish within 72 hours. Intense symptoms might require medications and hospitalization. 

Clonidine and Suboxone are common medications to treat withdrawal symptoms. Methadone may be prescribed for long-term maintenance. Occasionally, people experience symptoms not mentioned here — another reason to work closely with the supervision of medical providers.

Withdrawal Symptoms From Stimulants (Cocaine, Crack, and Meth)

Depending on the stimulant used, withdrawal may start in as little as one hour after the last use. Symptoms generally begin to diminish over the next week to 10 days.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Extreme hunger 
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • Increased heart rate and rapid breathing
  • Tremors
  • Excessive sweating

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Major depression
  • Paranoia
  • Panic
  • Constant psychosis (disturbed thoughts and perceptions, delusions)
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of focus
  • Mood swings

Severe symptoms include:

  • Stroke
  • Cardiac arrest (heart malfunctions and stops)
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Seizures

People who abuse stimulants tend to binge on the drugs until their supply is gone, they generally have poor physical health. This is associated with an unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, and poor hygiene. Many psychological and physical deficiencies are associated with stimulant use and only add to the unpredictability of withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal

What is Medical Detox

The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are somewhat mild when compared to other drugs. But still, they can be bad enough so that the individual returns to using rather than go through withdrawal. And while it is not terribly painful physically, withdrawal from a severe marijuana addiction can cause psychosis and should be monitored. The initial withdrawal period usually lasts 24 to 72 hours. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Loss of focus
  • Cravings
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Stomach issues

What to Know About Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Post-Acute-Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) refers to a set of impairments that may last for weeks or months after stopping substance abuse. PAWS is sometimes also referred to as post-withdrawal syndrome or prolonged withdrawal syndrome. This syndrome features symptoms similar to those found in mood and anxiety disorders including:

  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Increased anxiety

The symptoms of PAWS commonly show up after a withdrawal period from alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids, but have also been seen after stopping the use of other psychoactive substances.

It has been estimated that 90% of recovering opioid users and 75% of recovering alcohol or other psychoactive substance users experience the symptoms. The exact reasons for PAWS are still being investigated, but it’s believed that the physical changes that occur in the brain during substance abuse and are responsible for increased tolerance are also responsible for the recurring symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of PAWS fluctuate in severity and may disappear completely, only to come back at a later time. Some common symptoms are:

  • Problems with cognitive tasks (learning, problem-solving, memory recall)
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Craving originally abused substance
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Apathy or pessimism
  • Difficulty with social relationships

These symptoms are likely to increase in severity when triggered by stressful situations. But, they might flare up even without any clear catalyst.

After Detox

Treatment and rehab include continuing evaluation of the patient’s physical, psychological, and social status as well as environmental risk factors that might trigger a relapse. Skills and strategies are developed to help the patient prevent relapse. 

You may need an inpatient treatment program or an outpatient program that suits your needs and wants. Many times, when an individual enters treatment after detox, they find that they have an underlying mental issue that also needs treatment (dual diagnosis).

In any case, the goal is to help the individual reach a higher level of social functioning by reducing the risk factors and decreasing the possibility of relapse. 

Detoxing Safely at Intrepid

At Intrepid Recovery, we understand that everyone is different, so we make sure you receive treatment designed just for you. We also recognize that we all need some of the same things. That’s why we provide 24-hour medical supervision for every one of our patients. Intrepid has licensed and certified clinicians to help you through the difficulty of detox and on to treatment. 

You should contact us now. Waiting will only make it harder. We are available to answer your questions around-the-clock. Whether you want to talk about your addiction struggles, hear about treatment options, or discuss your addicted loved one, we are here.