Important wisdom when you’re ready to quit alcohol or drugs
When someone struggling with a substance use disorder has “hit bottom” and resolves to get help with their dependency on alcohol, drugs or both, one of the important decisions is about how to detox. That is, whether or not to get medical help with the process of clearing the body of the toxic substances that have been ingested for months, years or decades.
The point is, detoxing can be a painful, arduous, and even life-threatening process. Therefore, detoxing from alcohol, drugs or both on your own, without medical support and care, can significantly increase the risk of physical and/or psychological harm, as well as result in an unsuccessful detox (i.e., a relapse back into drinking and/or using).
What most people don’t know is that without proper medical care, the symptoms of withdrawal can be fatal. And while it’s more frequent to experience a wide variety of discomforts when detoxing—rather than death—the choice to medically detox provides a number of extremely valuable benefits.
1) Medical detox can smooth out and diminish the often painful, sometimes harsh and excruciating experiences that come with the body’s natural detoxing process. Even the less challenging, uncomfortable, potentially damaging withdrawal symptoms—which include fainting, headaches, hunger and dehydration, among others—can be distressing, disturbing and disconcerting without supportive medical personnel around to provide care and specific measures to alleviate such symptoms. Even more, though, when other more severe symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs arise (as they can with any person who’s detoxing, based on a number of factors such as one’s age, gender, amount used, length of time used, etc.), their manifestations can include:
- Muscle aches & muscle spasms
- High fever
- Nausea & vomiting
- Abdominal cramps & diarrhea
- Rapid heart rate
- Chills and sweating
- Insomnia/difficulty sleeping
The good news is that the physical and emotional pain of withdrawal symptoms often times makes people in medically-assisted detox much more likely to complete their detox (and not relapse, but instead go on to get treatment and recover) than those who try to detox alone at home. It makes sense, actually, that if a person fails to successfully detox, the likelihood of relapse dramatically increases.
2) For countless people who successfully complete addiction treatment, their first step was choosing a medically-supervised detox program. And we say, the “first step” (or “first stage”) is detox because it’s essential that one frees the body from the toxins of the addictive substance prior to any attempt to begin identifying and therapeutically treating whatever thinking and behaviors patterns that have contributed to an alcoholic or addict life. Only then can one begin to learn and practice new mental, emotional and behavioral responses that contribute to a healthy, sober new way of life. In other words, detox is not a replacement for treatment, but the essential first stage of a process of recovery.
3) With detoxing at home on your own, any underlying medical condition may go undetected and untreated. In contrast, when one chooses medical detox, the addictions-trained medical doctor can detect symptoms of any opportunistic infections or underlying physical problem and recommend appropriate treatment. The advantage of this is that they will then put you under appropriate medication or any other therapy specific to the ailment. The doctor will also be able to prescribe medications depending on the nature of the occurring problems. As well, you may receive a recommendation for a particular diet or physical exercise to help address whatever condition has been found. The point is, expert medical advice can be crucial during one’s detox, especially to ensure the smoothest possible recovery process.
4) Having a professional medical doctor on the team supporting your detox, including your ability to consult directly with him or her, significantly increases the likelihood of your full recovery. With a consulting physician spending time with the you, supervising and monitoring your recovery process, controlling the medication therapy and customizing it to fit the your specific needs throughout the entire detoxing process adds a great deal of confidence in your ability to get through the admittedly challenging detox experience.
The bottom line? By decreasing the potential danger and discomfort associated with the detox process, medical detox and the supportive care it provides can significantly increase the chances of having a successful detox, a successful transition to treatment, and the beginning of a life-changing recovery process.