“Detoxing” is the process of weaning your body off of alcohol and dangerous substances. For medical reasons, it’s best that this process not be done alone. This is because the body becomes used to living with the effects of these substances, so much so that the process of stopping can feel like a rude, even dangerous, awakening.
The detox process can sometimes cause withdrawal symptoms, which make people feel sick and can pose significant risks. Detoxing without medical supervision can be dangerous and even fatal in extreme cases. When done in a proper facility, people suffering from addiction can work with professionals to develop a treatment plan to help guide them through detox safely.
Read on to learn more about the different types of detox treatments available, what to expect, and how removing toxins from the body is both an emotional and physical experience.
Different Types of Detoxing Programs
Detoxing doesn’t look the same for every person or for every kind of substance abuse. The age of the person, the type of drugs, any mental health conditions that are present, and the cost of the program (not all are covered by insurance) will determine the type of program that will be the best fit. While these programs and treatments may work slightly differently, they all have one unifying goal—to ease the body off of drugs and back into health. Generally, there are two types of detoxing programs: residential inpatient care and holistic detox.
Residential Inpatient Care
Residential inpatient care provides a home-like environment to receive intensive, high-level detox care. It has a more comforting structure than a sterile hospital setting, which helps many patients feel safer and emotionally cared for as they receive personalized treatment and participate in programs on a 24-hour schedule. The type of care offered is both psychological as well as physical. Patients can also expect to receive a stable, healthy diet to help ease the physical effects of the detoxing process.
Many people who have experienced relapse find a prolonged stay in residential care to be what they need to kick the addiction for good. Not everyone is able to detox in their own homes if they do not have supportive family or friends to help them.
This type of detox involves a combination of healthy eating, regular exercise, and medications for co-occurring mental health conditions or physical symptoms. It is available in residential treatment facilities and aims to purify both body and mind through practices such as yoga, mindfulness exercises, and meditation. Other types of holistic detox may include experiential practices such as being out in nature, hiking, swimming, and other activities unique to the location of the treatment center.
Withdrawal Symptoms to Expect
Withdrawal symptoms are common when weaning the body off of substances. Quitting “cold turkey” can worsen them, as opposed to slowly coming off the drugs. The body will essentially go into shock as it tries to adjust to the sudden loss of chemicals that have profoundly altered body and brain chemistry over time. Therefore, one can expect both physical and emotional side effects from withdrawal.
The most common side effects of substance withdrawal include:
- Worsened anxiety
- Excessive sweating
- Disrupted sleep, insomnia
- Muscle aches and body pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Shaking and tremors
These symptoms usually start to appear within the first 24 hours of detox and can last up to a day or two. Withdrawal itself is rarely fatal, but that doesn’t mean complications can’t occur. Dehydration is common during the withdrawal period, which requires replacing lost electrolytes in the body. There is also a risk of asphyxiating on vomit if the person is not in a position to release it from the body (the detoxing person should never be lying flat on the back). These are two critical reasons why detoxing alone can be dangerous and is not recommended.
The Mental and Emotional Struggles of Detoxing
Having a medical professional monitor physical reactions to detox is important, but having someone there to help ease the emotional struggle is important as well. It’s not unusual for people in detox to experience anxiety and irritability as well as extreme exhaustion. Lack of sleep can greatly affect one’s mental state. To help preserve mental health, having a family member or close friend there during the detox process can help people deal with strong emotions, such as depression, guilt, or shame, that may arise during this time.
The next biggest risk of detoxing alone is lacking the tools or skills to cope with the influx of side effects. It’s not uncommon for people who detox by themselves to turn back to drugs because withdrawal is just too physically and emotionally painful. Therefore, medical professionals highly advise against detoxing alone, as it is rarely a successful way to start the sobriety journey.
How Treatment Leads to Successful Sobriety
Detox treatment does more than wean the body off of toxic substances. The medical staff will perform a full physical and mental intake to get a comprehensive picture of health. The mental health assessment will help determine which type of treatment program is best for your particular addiction, especially since many people turn to drugs as a way to cope with a co-occurring condition like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. When the whole person is understood in this way, they can be recommended a multi-faceted approach to recovery that has solid roots in research and evidence.