Detoxification or detox is the process of managing the symptoms of drug withdrawal. When a drug addict undergoes detoxification, it does not necessarily mean that all the toxic components of the drugs previously used are removed from the body. However, it is important to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal, often through the use of medication, because these can be dangerous to the user physically. If not managed properly, these withdrawal symptoms can cause detrimental side effects. These withdrawal symptoms can result from abusing not only illegal drugs but prescription drugs as well.
When one stops heroin use, for example, the person can experience sweating and chills, muscle aches, pain in the bones, nausea, diarrhea and insomnia. Those who abuse Valium, Xanax, Ativan and other benzodiazepine drugs and stop using them are bound to experience anxiety, headaches, chest pain, dizziness, weakness and nausea at the least to seizures, extreme depression and suicide at the worst.
Alcohol, too, produces withdrawal symptoms which have to be managed. These can include uncontrollable shaking which is medically known as delirium tremens, seizures, anxiety, stomach aches, depression and restlessness, among others. It is also important to understand that drugs like Methadone and Suboxone which are used to treat addiction can also exhibit severe withdrawal symptoms after their use is stopped. These include vomiting, mood swings, irritability, drug cravings, severe muscle and bone pain and sweating.
These withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a whole month depending on the type of drugs used and the degree of addiction of the individual. Of all the commonly abused drugs, users of amphetamine which is a component in methamphetamine, cocaine and in prescription medications like Ritalin and Adderall often experience lighter withdrawal effects. The drugs that produce the most severe withdrawal symptoms are those that have benzodiazepines, methadone and Suboxone.
Detoxifying a patient from drug use often involves giving similar medications in lighter doses to manage a person’s physical withdrawal symptoms. Although medications to induce sleep and reduce anxiety are given in some detox programs, these can cause more withdrawal symptoms which can also delay the detoxification process.
For alcohol detox programs, the objective is to prevent seizure. If the person is able to detoxify without going into seizure then medication is not given. However, benzodiazepine drugs may be given if the risk of seizure exists.
The problem with drug detox programs is that the drugs used to aid in the detoxification process can also be abused by the patient. Thus, there are detox programs that don’t rely on drugs. Instead, they use vitamin therapy and alternative modes of treatment like acupuncture and massage to manage the symptoms. Patients don’t experience side effects with drug free detox programs. However, it should be noted that patients who are at risk for seizure, other side effects and even death should not undertake drug-free detox because medications are needed to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms.