How Difficult is the Detox Process?

Detoxification is often one of the first steps in a substance abuse recovery program. And because it is one of the earliest steps, it can also be challenging for many individuals. The first stages of detox can be difficult mentally, emotionally, and physically. But with the right support, detox can be a pivotal point on your path to recovery and sustained sobriety.

What is Detox?

Detoxification is a process during which the body filters out harmful toxins and substances. In the case of alcohol and drug detox, the body needs to first stop consuming the harmful substances. After this, the individual will begin to experience sensations known as “withdrawal symptoms.” These physical symptoms flag that the human body has become dependent on the substance. Thus, detox is a necessary component that helps the body learn how to function without addictive substances. 

It is important to remember that while detox is a very important part of the recovery process, studies have shown that detox is less effective as a sole treatment for substance abuse disorders. The research shows that detox must be integrated with additional treatments, rehabilitation programs, and therapies to promote a longer and more sustained sobriety.

How does Alcohol Detox Work? 

Since alcohol is a depressant, it slows and sedates the normal ways that a body functions. For those who have been drinking heavily over prolonged periods of time, their brains have changed due to the consistent exposure to alcohol. In many cases, the human brain attempts to rebalance and reorient itself to the foreign substance. When that substance is alcohol, the brain initiates a new regulation of its chemistry and stimulates chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine in large quantities. 

When a person stops drinking to begin the first steps of detox, such chemicals will continue to be produced. As a result, the brain and the rest of the body are over-exerted, which causes substantial confusion for the vital organs. This is one of the reasons why detoxing at home without professional supervision can be dangerous and can sometimes result in harmful physical health consequences. 

What are the Options for Detox?

When it comes to choosing a detox treatment program, each person is unique and needs to assess their own situation. Each person has specific needs that depend on their health background, life circumstances, and cultural upbringing. All of these aspects are considered when therapists evaluate a person’s recovery trajectory and before they recommend a treatment program. 

Health information such as preexisting or underlying conditions are important in deciding the best route for treatment. This also goes for how much of the substance is active within your body, as well as other medical background that might be helpful to discuss. 

Because they are aware of the difficulties of the withdrawal process, therapists and other medical professionals are well-suited to advise on what services are best for each person. If you’re thinking about receiving treatment, a personalized approach is essential in order to move through a successful and sustainable recovery. After the detox phase, you can continue in a variety of recovery programs, which may include:

  • Sober-living homes
  • Residential or inpatient treatment program
  • Co-occurring disorder treatment
  • Intensive outpatient program
  • Aftercare programs
  • Group and/or individual therapy

What Are Detox Withdrawal Symptoms?

During substance detox, the person in recovery will likely experience a combination of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Cravings
  • Chills
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia or disruptive nightmares
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Tremors 
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Agitation

Some of the more severe and well-known withdrawal symptoms are tremors and hallucinations.  Tremors usually begin within a few hours after the last use of the substance and are most intense during the first day or two. Along with physical trembling, the body often exhibits periods of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and temperature fluctuation. 

Like tremors, hallucinations can be a frightening withdrawal symptom. They usually start within twelve to twenty four hours after the last substance use and can last up to three days. Hallucinations are seeing things that are not really there—objects, movement, colors, lights, or even people. Others may experience hallucinations with their sense of touch, and may hallucinate the feeling of bugs or crawling on the skin. Although it may sound hard to believe, substance withdrawal hallucinations can be extremely vivid.

Although some of these symptoms may be disruptive, alarming and uncomfortable, they are not usually life-threatening. The more serious side effects, however, can result in permanent damage or even death if they’re not closely monitored. Working with a renowned recovery facility will ensure a comfortable, supportive, and safe recovery process.

How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Usually symptoms of substance withdrawal last between three to seven days. Sometimes an individual may experience symptoms longer than a week or more, but this is an exception to the norm. Detox programs often facilitate a seven-day program. Remember that each person is different and may experience different levels of severity and durations of time of withdrawal symptoms. The severity and duration are often determined by the length of time the person was involved in substance abuse, how heavily they used, and their unique medical background. Co-occurring disorders such as trauma, personality disorders, or other mental health conditions may also extend the duration of withdrawal symptoms. 

How Important is Continued Treatment?

During the final stages of detox, a treatment program will prepare you to make a plan and map out how to continue your addiction treatment program. By understanding what is required and acquiring the skills you need to regain control of your life, you will be able to maintain long-term sobriety and prevent relapse. Counseling sessions can play an important role in this follow-up process and can help bring you to a place of understanding yourself and your environment. This also includes learning how to manage stressful situations and triggering life events. Despite the difficulties of detox, you are not alone—don’t hesitate to start the process today!