Getting professional help for a substance abuse problem is a step in the right direction to recovery from addiction. Sobriety will not come easy after a long-term substance dependence, but detox helps many people get their bearings and prepare their minds and their spirits for the long haul.
Most people who enter a treatment center will start with medical detox.
The procedure runs 24/7 for three to 10 days and is monitored by medical professionals and addiction specialists. Completing medical detox is important because it is the first stage in becoming stable, so addiction counseling and therapy can begin. That can’t happen until a person is physically and mentally well enough to participate in treatment.
NCBI provides multiple benefits. First, there’s the assurance that the person in recovery is not alone in enduring the various challenges of drug withdrawal.
Detox can be overwhelming and debilitating for people who have been abusing substances for a long time. It also:
- Helps manage the effects and symptoms of substance withdrawal
- Ensures medical help is available for unexpected emergencies during a critical period
- Lessens the chance of relapse, or the return to using addictive substances
- Provides recovering clients with access to treatment options after detox is finished
All of these benefits illustrate why detox supports the mission of stopping addiction in is tracks. The other option, which involves quitting long-term drug and alcohol abuse quickly, is risky and could prove to do more harm than good in the long run. Chronic substance use can lead to an on-again, off-again cycle of abuse that ends in a relapse, overdose, or death.
The onset of withdrawal symptoms is indicative that medical detox is needed. Symptoms need not be underway or worsen before a person gets help. In many cases, a person usually is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they start the process.
Those symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, include:
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever or chills
- Muscle pain
- Mood swings
Detox also may involve medications that are given to help users manage these withdrawal symptoms.
What Are Common Side Effects Of Detox?
Medical detox is designed to make withdrawal easier, but it does not erase the side effects that happen during this period. These side effects come about as the brain and body adjust to changes in drug or alcohol intake. An imbalance can bring changes such as fatigue, anxiety, and depression, and even thoughts of suicide.
Other factors that can help shape a person’s detox experience include the manner in which a substance was misused/abused and the kind of substance that’s abused. Here are the effects of some substances.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can affect one’s physical and mental health and threaten one’s life and well-being. No one should detox without professional help. Doing so is risky and can result in relapse, permanent injury, overdose, and death. Common alcohol detox side effects include:
- High blood pressure
- Appetite loss
- Agitation and mood swings
- Delirium tremens
Benzodiazepines (called benzos for short) are central nervous system depressants that act similarly to alcohol. Users take them for their sedative effects that bring about relaxation and calmness. This is one reason they are prescribed for people who are managing anxiety disorders and sleep disorders. Ativan, Valium, and Xanax are some of the widely known benzos. Similarly to alcohol, the detox side effects of benzodiazepines are dangerous, so medical monitoring is needed to ensure the withdrawal process is handled properly and safely.
Seizures and hallucinations are among the most serious benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. Recovering benzo users also may experience rebound anxiety and rebound insomnia, which are stronger in intensity than regular insomnia and anxiety symptoms. Rebound insomnia can keep someone awake for days, and rebound anxiety has been tied to severe panic attacks.
Other benzodiazepine detox side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired motor functions
- Suicidal thoughts and behavior
- Restless leg syndrome
- Impaired memory
- Chest pains
Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is another thing to be aware of during detox. Full-on psychosis is a sign that this condition is present. Symptoms can become increasingly hard to predict. It is better to have medical professionals standing by to address any situations that result from having benzo withdrawal syndrome.
Opioids, otherwise known as painkillers, are some of the most dangerous drugs available. Opioid withdrawal is not a life-threatening process, but it can be difficult and uncomfortable. A person who is dependent on prescription opioids, such as Vicodin or OxyContin, or the illegal opioid heroin, may experience intense detox side effects that signal that a relapse is not far behind. This is why it is strongly advised that people with opioid use disorder strongly consider completing detox under medical supervision.
Common detox side effects of opioids are:
- Muscle pain and aches
- Excessive sweating
- Abdominal cramps
- Mood swings
- Drug cravings
People with severe addictions may have stronger detox side effects. These symptoms also may be present during opioid withdrawal:
- Irregular or elevated heartbeat
- Extremely high blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Panic attacks
- Uncontrollable muscle spasms
- Suicidal thoughts and behavior
The side effects that come with stimulants are largely psychological as stimulants bring on feelings of euphoria that flood the brain with dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter that mainly regulates the brain’s “pleasure center,”
When stimulant use slows or stops, users “crash” and experience intense drug cravings and severe depression. To alleviate this discomfort, some users go back to using, which increase the chances of relapse and self-harm. Stimulant detox symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness
- Mood swings
- Concentration difficulties
- Extreme depression
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts and behavior
- Disturbed sleep and vivid nightmares
- Intense drug cravings
How To Prevent Detox Side Effects
Preventing side effects can be a crucial portion of remaining sober long-term. Those who enter into treatment and expose themselves to harsh side effects may have no desire following through. In order to alleviate the worst symptoms, detox is vital for administering detox medications. It is the medical staffs’ top priority to ensure the client’s comfort for the duration of detox.
A team of doctors and nurses are challenged with the task of providing the proper medications that are tailored to the client’s situation. For example, someone coming off of meth will be supplied with anti-depressant medications to counter the suicidal thoughts that may occur. Someone recovering from alcohol addiction could be provided with short-acting benzodiazepines to combat seizures.
In addition to administering medications, ongoing monitoring of vital signs, and creating a comfortable environment is crucial for the client’s success.
There are a few steps the client can take prior to entering into detox that helps ease the discomfort of potentially severe side effects that can appear.
Detox can take a significant physical toll on the body, and making sure you are hydrated with fluids can help some of the discomfort and pain. Electrolytes, such as those found in Gatorade, are useful in providing a boost to a body that could be losing a lot of their bodily fluids through sweat or diarrhea as a result of withdrawal. Make sure to drink excessive fluids before entering detox, during, and after the program.
Take Medications As Prescribed
Doctors will prescribe medications that help aid the detox process. These doctors have gone through rigorous training to ensure the client’s safety. Taking medicine as prescribed will help minimize mental, physical, or psychological side effects during the program.
Follow Through With the Continuum of Care
The continuum of care was set in place to ensure the client gets the most out of treatment. Detox is the first step in a long process, and should always be followed up with residential, outpatient, and community-based services. The physical side effects can dissipate quickly, with the exception of those who go through PAWS.
It’s necessary to stay under the care of professionals that can help the client manage these symptoms. Being present in the right level of care will help the client overcome the longer-lasting mental symptoms, and increase the odds of long-term sobriety.
Managing Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
The effects of years of substance use and abuse can linger for weeks, months, and even years after someone has stopped using. This period is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), which is a set of withdrawal symptoms that affect the person mentally or physically. For this reason, users may want to continue to receive ongoing care as an outpatient treatment client. Support from a professional can help make symptoms easier to manage.
There are different PAWS symptoms, and they vary according to the drug used.
Overall, however, symptoms that occur during this period include:
- Trouble with concentrating
- Memory impairment
- Anxiety, panic, fear
- Anger, hostility, aggression
- Sleep disturbances (for example, insomnia)
- Sensitivity to stress
- Exhaustion, fatigue
- Irritability, unpredictable mood swings
- Loss of interest in sex
- Unable to feel pleasure or happiness
If you or someone you know has PAWS and chooses not to get outside help, some things that can help you manage include:
- Getting sufficient rest
- Eating healthy meals and a balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Finding an outlet to manage stress
- Joining a supportive network of people who understand recovery
It is advised that you consult with your physician to develop the best plan for you.