What Is Drug and Alcohol Detox?

Whether self-managed or part of a professional addiction treatment program, detox is the process of abstaining from drugs and alcohol so that all of these substances are allowed to leave the system. Drug and alcohol detox is the first step in recovery. It gives people the opportunity to clear their minds, and to begin learning to overcome temptations and cravings. Sadly, however, detoxing isn’t easy. Given that addiction always indicates chemical dependency upon the substance or substances that a person uses, a number of highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will invariably arise.

Withdrawing can cause both physical and psychological distress. In some instances, such as when withdrawal symptoms are poorly managed, it can even prove fatal. For these and many other reasons, people are strongly advised against going “cold turkey” or detoxing on their own at home. If you’ve been abusing drugs or alcohol for quite some time, it’s highly likely that your brain and body have been conditioned to rely on these substances for certain aspects of their normal functioning. When you get intoxicated or high, your brain releases a flood of neurotoxins like dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals. These chemicals are a natural part of your brain’s reward system, and they are typically released to acknowledge reward-worthy behaviors, such as completing a challenging workout or engaging in positive social activities. With substance abuse, the brain often stops its natural production and release of these chemicals. As a result, many addicts find themselves unable to experience happiness, comfort, or even general mood balance unless they’re actively using.

This change in brain functioning can lead to overwhelming depression, intense feelings of hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts and tendencies. More importantly, because neurotransmitters control ooth mood enhancement and basic physiological functions, people can experience significant changes in their:

  • Cognition
  • Memory
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Blood pressure

and more while detoxing.

How Professional Detox Programs Make Abstaining Easier

When you think about abstaining from drugs or alcohol, you probably imagine that facing your temptations and cravings down will be the most challenging part. One of the key signs of addiction is an inability to stop using drugs or alcohol even though you recognize the incredibly negative impact that they’re having on your life. Addiction, however, isn’t caused by a lack of willpower. This is instead a very complex disease that actually takes away your ability to stop substances. When addicts attempt to abstain, their bodies exhibit signs of serious distress. Your heart may beat faster and you’ll probably have a hard time getting to sleep. Many substances present a vast range of symptoms across multiple systems including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Chest pains
  • Heart palpitations

When going cold turkey, these and other physical symptoms can drive a person to use simply to get relief. Moreover, if your self-managed detox isn’t derailed by your physical pain, the psychological challenges that arise could be too much to bear. Medical detox is designed to take a needs-specific approach to managing withdrawal symptoms. The treatments used in these programs alleviate both physical and psychological pain, even as they help stabilize patients’ vital signs. With the right interventions and support, detoxing patients don’t experience dramatic changes in their blood pressure or blood sugar, extreme fluctuations in their body temperatures, or other signs of widespread physiological distress. Medical detox programs can provide medications for promoting better sleep while detoxing, and for gently easing the body and brain away from a state of chemical dependence.

Medical detox services also acknowledge that many people have started using drugs or alcohol as a way to combat the symptoms of undiagnosed, underlying mental health conditions. For instance, you may be using drugs or alcohol to relieve feelings of chronic anxiety or chronic depression. With the right detox support, you can learn new and healthier ways of managing problems like post-traumatic stress disorder, general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and more. Dual diagnosis treatment in detox gives people the tools and information they need for achieving mood balance naturally, and for maintaining it. Thus, not only is medical detox easier for those who’ve been abusing drugs or alcohol, but it also has a much higher likelihood of paving the way for long-term success in recovery. If you’ve been living with addiction and are ready to start the path to sobriety, we can help you do this in a safe and comfortable way. Call 833-364-0736 to connect with one of our counselors, and to find the perfect drug or alcohol detox program for your needs.