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July 24, 2022

How Do Detox Programs Work?

Detoxification, or detox, is one of the first steps you’ll need to take when you’re ready to recover from addiction challenges. During detox, you help your body to remove all of the addictive substances you’ve consumed. Quickly eliminating substances that the body has grown accustomed to can be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes, dangerous. As the body works to restabilize itself, symptoms of withdrawal can occur. These symptoms, depending on the type of drug you used and how long you used it, can be mild or very severe.

The detox process can also affect vital functions such as your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and oxygen levels. The good news is that professional detox programs can help you safely rid your body of drugs, manage symptoms of withdrawal, and prepare yourself for addiction treatment.

What Happens During Drug and Alcohol Detox?

But if you’ve never participated in detox before, you may not be completely sure how the process works.

Most detox programs work by:

Evaluating Your Current Health

Generally, the team responsible for your detoxification will want to evaluate your current physical and mental health. This medical assessment will provide the team with an accurate understanding of your individual needs. During the evaluation, a medical team will gather information about your physical and psychological health. They will typically ask you questions about your medical history and emotional health. You should also expect to answer questions about your substance use habits. For example, they may want to know:

  • The last time you used
  • What substance(s) you currently use
  • How often you use your preferred substance
  • If you’re a polysubstance user (or addicted to more than one substance)
  • Any other medical issues you may have
  • Any allergies you have

In addition, most detox teams will perform a blood test and check your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing to determine your current health. Once gathered, they’ll use this information to develop a personalized detox plan for you. This plan generally includes:

  • Types of medications you may need to ease symptoms of withdrawal
  • Therapies you might need as you transition into addiction treatment
  • Coping strategies to help manage severe anxiety or depression
  • Treatments for any co-occurring mental health disorders

Once they have fully developed a detox plan, it’s time to stabilize the brain and body.

Stabilizing The Brain and Body

Whether you use drugs or alcohol, misusing addictive substances can lead to physical and psychological dependence. When this happens, your brain and body have become so accustomed to the addictive substance that you need a constant supply in order to feel and function normally. When you quit using drugs or alcohol or reduce the amount you consume, the brain and body react negatively, triggering symptoms of withdrawal. The specific symptoms you experience generally depend on the kind of substance that has been in your system, but common symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite or excessive hunger
  • Night sweats
  • Clammy skin
  • Cravings
  • Feeling cold or sweating
  • Agitation
  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Self-harm
  • Hallucinations and delirium
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Racing thoughts
  • Disorientation
  • Mental confusion
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling detached from self
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Sensitivity to pain
  • Seizures

Stabilization helps the brain and body relearn how to function without drugs or alcohol. Retraining the brain can take some time and effort, but medication and psychological therapy can help speed up and ease the process.

There are a number of safe, FDA-approved medications doctors can prescribe to prevent, ease, and reduce withdrawal symptoms, but some of the most common include:

  • Benzodiazepines. These medications help reduce the anxiety and irritability that are commonly associated with withdrawal. Benzodiazepines can have a sedative effect, which can help ease alcohol withdrawal. Although effective, many doctors have hesitations about prescribing benzodiazepines because they can be addictive.
  • Antidepressants. Once you become addicted to drugs or alcohol, your brain struggles to produce happiness-inducing chemicals on its own. The addictive substances become the primary source of pleasure instead. As a result, quitting drugs and alcohol can trigger depression. Antidepressants can help relieve feelings and symptoms of depression until the brain can produce dopamine and other happiness-inducing chemicals on its own.
  • Clonidine. This medicine used during alcohol and opioid withdrawal helps reduce sweating, cramps, muscle aches, and anxiety. Clonidine can also help stop tremors and seizures.
  • Naltrexone blocks receptors in the brain that produce alcohol’s pleasurable effects. This medication also suppresses the urge to drink. Naltrexone also helps reduce the effects of opioids and helps curtails cravings. The medication works the same way for both addictions because alcohol and opioids activate some of the same brain receptors.
  • Acamprosate. In addition to helping relieve the emotional and physical distress caused by alcohol addiction, acamprosate reduces the urge to drink by preventing negative feelings associated with anxiety and depression.
  • Disulfiram is the first medication approved for alcohol detoxification. If you drink while taking disulfiram, you’ll likely experience nausea and vomiting.
  • Methadone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain but doesn’t get you high. The medication suppresses cravings and withdrawal symptoms instead. Although effective, methadone can be addictive.
  • Buprenorphine. This medication works like methadone but has a lower potential for addiction.

After the brain has been stabilized, the next step in detoxification is preparing for treatment.

Preparing You To Begin Addiction Treatment

Although beneficial and necessary, detox doesn’t actually treat addiction challenges. But detox can help prepare you for addiction treatment. Since the detox team has your medical and substance abuse history as well as an in-depth understanding of your mental health, they can help you transition into addiction treatment.

Since the brain can take quite a bit of time to establish new habits and neural connections, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends remaining in addiction treatment for 90 days or longer. This amount of time gives the brain ample opportunity to restore its chemical balance, allowing your mind to change for the better. Research specifically shows that behavioral therapies can help strengthen brain connections and improve brain functionality. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, can strengthen brain connections by helping you create healthier responses to stress and teaching you how to reframe negative thoughts and emotions.

Depending on the results of your evaluation and your specific needs, you might begin behavioral therapy as a part of your detoxification process. If that’s not the case, you may learn coping techniques from different types of behavioral therapies that’ll help transition you into an addiction treatment program.

Empowering You To Take Charge Of Your Recovery

Here at Meta, our mission is to empower you to take charge of your recovery. Detoxification isn’t an easy process, but ridding your body of addictive substances is a necessary step toward sobriety. Our flexible, outpatient treatment programs can help you take charge of your recovery after detoxification. Don’t let addiction continue to control your life. Contact us today if you’re ready to begin or continue your recovery journey.