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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, more than 11% of Americans ages 12 and older used illicit substances within the month before being surveyed.
Many abused drugs are associated with the development of significant physiological dependence—especially when consistently consumed in large amounts. When substance dependence develops, people may be at risk of experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop drinking or using drugs.
Drug detox is the natural process of ridding drugs and substances from the body. However, our professional drug detox program, also sometimes referred to as “medically managed withdrawal,” entails the use of a set of interventions (such as medications and other therapies) to safely manage the side effects that accompany quitting drugs.
It’s critical to realize the difference between a professional drugs detox program and substance abuse rehabilitation; although ”detox” and “rehab” are often used interchangeably, substance abuse rehabilitation involves a conglomeration of ongoing services that aim to socially and psychologically rehabilitate someone suffering from drug abuse. Medical detox centers, on the other hand, seek to medically stabilize patients, minimize their withdrawal symptoms, prevent the potentially harmful effects of withdrawal, and help them transition into a substance abuse rehabilitation program or other form of continued care.
Those undergoing drug detox may experience symptoms and side effects of drug withdrawal. Side effects will depend on the amount and type of drugs the patient has a history of abusing, but common side effects of drug detox may include:
When someone regularly drinks alcohol or uses certain drugs, their brain may begin to adjust to the presence of these substances. They may eventually become physiologically dependent on their substance of choice and utterly reliant on it to function and feel “normal.”
In people who develop significant levels of dependence, withdrawal is often an inevitable response to the sudden absence or declining blood concentration of a given substance. Withdrawal symptoms may develop when a substance-dependent person quits a substance “cold turkey” or substantially reduces how much they are using. During withdrawal, the body attempts to reach a new state of homeostasis as it rids itself of any lingering chemical influence of the drug in question. This can result in temporary disruptions in brain chemistry and may be accompanied by significant mental and physical health repercussions.
If not medically managed, withdrawal from certain substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, can be quite severe and, in some cases, lethal. But it’s rare.
For instance, severe alcohol withdrawal is sometimes associated with a syndrome known as delirium tremens. If not recognized and appropriately managed, delirium tremens can progress to severe seizures and potential death. Some estimates point to the condition being present in fewer than 5% of people who experience alcohol withdrawal. It is, however, fatal in about 15% of those alcohol withdrawal cases without treatment.
Though opioid withdrawal symptoms are seldom life-threatening, they can be intensely uncomfortable. And though the symptoms themselves may not be lethal, one significant risk for those attempting to opioid withdrawal without medical assistance is returning to opioid use. Should this happen after a long enough duration of abstinence that opioid tolerance has significantly decreased, people may be at a heightened risk of overdose.
In such situations, medical detox—where a team of doctors and nurses can help manage withdrawal symptoms, alleviate discomfort, and minimize the risk of dangerous withdrawal complications—can be immensely helpful in early recovery and has the potential to ultimately save lives.
The precise duration of withdrawal is influenced by which substance someone used as well as the magnitude of their dependence on the substance. It may take days, weeks, and—in some cases—months to reach complete resolution of all withdrawal symptoms, depending on various factors and individual differences.
A general overview of certain drugs and their characteristic withdrawal timeline is as follows:
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