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Updated on September 27, 2022

Drug and Alcohol Detox

What is Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic disease that occurs when a person can no longer control their drug use. SUD affects their brain and behavior, ultimately causing physical and emotional dependence

Use of the following drugs can lead to a SUD:

  • Illicit (illegal) drugs like cocaine
  • Prescription drugs like benzos, opioids, and stimulants
  • Synthetic opioids like heroin and fentanyl 
  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Others  

When someone is addicted to a substance, they are unable to stop using it, despite the harm it causes.

Many people develop an addiction after they use a drug experimentally in a social situation. It’s also possible to develop an addiction to prescription medications.

When someone develops a SUD, their drug tolerance increases over time. This means they need higher and more frequent doses of the drug to achieve the same effects as before.

In such instances, they are unable to stop using the drug even if it makes them feel ill or interferes with their life. 

Signs of SUD 

Some telltale signs of drug addiction include:

  • Continuing use of the drug regardless of its harm
  • Using the drug regularly, often daily or several times a day
  • Experiencing intense urges or physical cravings for the drug
  • Needing more of the drug over time to achieve the same effect
  • Spending money on the drug even if it causes financial issues
  • Neglecting work, school, social relationships, and other responsibilities and obligations in favor of drug use
  • Engaging in risky or illegal behavior to get the drug

Health Risks of SUD

SUD poses many physical and mental health risks. Additionally, the method in which someone uses a drug can also pose health dangers. This is the case when people take a drug via intravenous injection (IV). 

Health consequences of SUD can be temporary or permanent and include damage to the:

  • Brain
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Liver
  • Kidneys

SUD can also lead to:

  • Mood disorders
  • Psychosis and paranoia
  • Brain damage
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Social problems
  • Problems at school or work

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How to Detox From Drugs or Alcohol 

If you or someone you know has developed a drug addiction, seek professional medical assistance immediately. This is especially important during the detoxification phase of recovery. 

Professional detox provides:

  • Medical supervision
  • Access to medications that ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Psychological and emotional support
  • Help with the transition to long-term addiction treatment
  • Relapse prevention assistance

Addiction treatment that begins with a medically supervised detox is always the best option. 

There are several detox options available: 

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT utilizes prescription medications to reduce and manage withdrawal symptoms. Drug withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, unpleasant, and potentially dangerous. 

Medications help ease these symptoms, reduce drug cravings, and decrease relapse risk.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient detox is a full-time, residential program. Participants receive around-the-clock medical supervision and have constant access to medications and behavioral therapies. 

Addiction causes significant changes in the way neurotransmitters in the brain work. It also changes the pleasure responses that are normally felt in response to external stimuli. Detox allows the brain and body to begin functioning as they used to before addiction took hold.

The goal is to no longer be dependent on drugs by the end of detox, but they will still need ongoing addiction treatment. Many move from medical detox to an addiction treatment center.

Inpatient detox programs are effective, but they aren’t right for everyone. 

This is because inpatient programs require you to temporarily leave your loved ones and regular life while you focus on detox.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient detox offers access to support and medication, but participants return home at the end of the day. 

Outpatient drug and alcohol detox can be less intensive than inpatient drug abuse programs. However, they work better for people who are unable to be away from family responsibilities 24/7. These programs also cost less than inpatient treatment. 

Outpatient detox requires a supportive home environment for success. It’s very difficult to stop using alcohol or drugs if roommates or family members are also using.

When assessing your options for drug detox, consider:

  • Balance between work, home, and recovery
  • Disruptions in your life that could interfere with treatment
  • Cost
  • Location
  • Your support system
  • Any exposure to drug use at home
  • Ability to travel to and from appointments

Detoxing From Drugs & Alcohol at the Same Time 

There are pros and cons to participating in drug and alcohol detox simultaneously.

In many ways, it’s more challenging because you are healing from more than one addiction. However, detox affects the entire body. Plus, you’ll have the support you need to achieve sobriety. You’ll also feel better physically and put yourself on a path to sober living, instead of “trading” one addiction for another.

While it might seem difficult to give up more than one addiction at a time, doing so improves the odds of long-term sobriety for many people.

It’s important to seek professional help when detoxing from drugs and alcohol at the same time. There are programs specifically designed to address co-occurring addictions. 

For many people, complete lifestyle changes help them stop using alcohol and drugs at the same time.

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Risks of Home Detox & Quitting ‘Cold Turkey’

Detoxing at home is possible, but it’s rarely considered safe. Medically supervised detox is usually the safest option for treating alcohol and drug addiction.

Without proper medical supervision and care, drug and alcohol detox is a painful and difficult process. This is especially true when detoxing from alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines. In some cases, at-home detox can be life-threatening.

When you stop using a substance after long-term use, your central nervous system (CNS) has to rebalance itself. This is because you have developed a physical dependence on the substance.

During this time, the body produces chemicals and hormones that trigger uncomfortable, unpleasant, and potentially fatal symptoms. Opioid and alcohol withdrawal symptoms are especially dangerous.

Symptoms include:

  • Dehydration
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Nausea and vomiting

Drug and alcohol detox is an unpredictable process. The risk of relapse is high. There might also be a range of medical and psychological effects that are difficult to handle without medical support.  

For many people, immediate detox is just the beginning of a long journey to return to a happy and successful life. The recovery process is involved and can take a lifetime. Quitting is just the start.

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