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Facts, steps for drug, alcohol detoxification

Oct. 18, 2013 @ 06:20 PM

Detoxification (or "detox") is a medical term that describes the process for safe and effective removal of toxic substances like alcohol and other drugs from a person's body. Detox is often the first service that drug and alcohol dependent individuals require to successfully live without alcohol and other drugs.

Suddenly stopping drugs or alcohol all at once is known as "cold turkey" for the goose-flesh or goose-bumps and cold chills that can occur during detox. Some detox programs promote going "cold turkey" while others have medical staff (doctors and nurses) that supervise and provide medication to ease the suffering. Detoxing from certain drugs, especially alcohol, can present life-threatening complications so some will be safer in medically supervised detox programs.

Fear of detoxing completely from drugs and/or alcohol can prevent a person from beginning treatment services. Most people with drug and alcohol problems have tried to quit completely on their own and often wind up using drugs or drinking again.

Withdrawal symptoms describe the uncomfortable effect of stopping or cutting down use of alcohol or other drugs. Withdrawal symptoms vary according to the type of drug used. Since all people are not exactly alike, it can be hard to predict who will have worse symptoms or more prolonged withdrawal. Using more than one drug can make withdrawal more complicated and uncomfortable. Using more than one drug is more common than not.

The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (www.SAMHSA.gov) has recommended a three-step process for detoxification. The first step is an evaluation to determine which drugs and the quantity of those drugs in a person's body. Drug testing is used to determine what and how much is in the body so the withdrawal symptoms can be anticipated and addressed and the person adequately treated. It is also important to check for co-occurring mental health issues, so untreated mental health issues can also be addressed and treated as soon as possible.

Stabilization is the second phase of the detoxification process. Information is provided that describes the detox process, anticipated withdrawal symptoms and how they will be managed, and the recovery process.

The last step of the detox process is to get the person ready for treatment services (outpatient/residential) and to encourage them to continue their recovery. Detox provides care for the physical withdrawal, but the psychological issues and the addiction have not yet been adequately treated.

The most successful detox programs combine professional therapy and counseling services with medical supervision and tapering down doses. The psychological stress of drug and alcohol addiction can be overwhelming, and coupled with an uncomfortable detox, can lead to returning to active use of alcohol or other drugs. Some drugs cause psychological addiction so the physical withdrawal symptoms are less, but it is still important to receive therapy or counseling to loosen the grip of drugs like marijuana, solvents, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Many people do not think of alcohol as a drug. It is a toxic substance that depresses the central nervous system. Alcohol is a depressant. Some people think that alcohol feels more like a stimulant as there can be an initial euphoric effect that can feel like gaining energy. That feeling is short-lived and is replaced by the lethargic fatigue that overtakes the drinker when they eventually "black out" (have no memory or recollection) and/or "pass out."

Alcohol withdrawal is almost the exact opposite of the intoxication phase. The most severe and potentially life threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, shakiness, seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are withdrawal symptoms that include shaking (tremens or tremors), confusion, disorientation, hearing and/or seeing and/or feeling things that are not really there (delirium, delirious), severe anxiety and feelings of impending death. Seizures (convulsions) and DTs are the most serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms and require immediate medical attention. Other symptoms include depression, insomnia, fatigue, headache, sweating, nausea and vomiting and a loss of appetite.

Since drugs like "benzodiazepines" (Valium®, Xanax®, Klonopin® and others) and "barbiturates" (secobarbitol, Fioricet®, phenobarbitol and others) are also depressants, they also cause the same withdrawal symptoms as alcohol, including seizures and DTs. The withdrawal symptoms caused by this category of drugs can be dangerous and even fatal in the absence of close and careful medical monitoring and supervision.

The "opiate" and "opioid" drug category includes prescription pain killers like codeine, oxycodone, morphine and heroin. Withdrawal symptoms for this category of drugs can be so overwhelmingly uncomfortable that the person suffering may not be able to tolerate going "cold turkey." Medically supervised detox programs usually accept people on opiates for admission. Other drugs like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, synthetic drugs like MDMA (ecstasy), solvents that are inhaled like gasoline or paint do not require medically supervised detox services as they do not present any kind of dangerous or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Outpatient counseling is preferred for these types of drug addiction.

Detox is usually the very first step in the treatment journey. Detox is not effective as a stand-alone service. When coupled with treatment like therapy, peer support and counseling, detox helps individuals start their recovery journey.

If you or someone you know suffers from an addiction problem, getting help quickly is important. Prestera Center offers rapid intake and effective treatment for adults, children and families. Individuals and families get better with the right kind of care. Prestera Center offers a variety of services that promote addiction recovery and mental wellness, helping people achieve their full potential.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475). The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment and mental health problems like grief, depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. Both offices are accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Winfield location.

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.



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