The first step of any effective addiction treatment program involves withdrawal management, also known as “detoxification” or “medical detox”. The purpose of medical detox is to enable an individual to safely withdraw from a substance while minimizing discomfort.
Uncomfortable symptoms may occur when a person with a substance use disorder stops using drugs or alcohol, but the supervision and care provided by a medical detox program can ensure the safety of each patient.
As the person rids their body of the substance, their body’s physical dependence on the chemical is reduced. Typically, a detox will help stabilize a patient so that they can have counseling and therapy to address any lingering cravings.
Medical detox can be provided in certified residential and outpatient drug treatment centers in Boston. To find out more about the process, call Boston Drug Treatment Centers at 857-577-8193.
Strictly speaking, the service performed by drug and alcohol treatment centers known as “detox” or “medical detox” is more accurately called “withdrawal management”. Technically, it’s the patient’s body that detoxifies and expels chemical traces of drugs and alcohol.
Medical detox can be effective for a variety of substance use disorders. Research by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that over 41 percent of detox admissions are for the treatment of alcohol misuse. Opioid drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers, accounted for the most drug-related admissions, and marijuana was also responsible for a large number of cases.
Addictive behavior is a result of chemical changes in the brain. These changes make it difficult and even dangerous for an individual to attempt to withdraw from a substance without help. A “cold turkey” attempt at withdrawal is unpleasant and risky. In a medically-supervised detox program, a gentler approach to withdrawal is taken. This can be done by tapering doses and substituting a similar but less harmful drug.
Tapering off the substance of abuse can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Some medications may also be administered to reduce cravings and act as a temporary substitute for the original drug of choice, a practice called “drug substitution” or “drug replacement therapy”. As the patient becomes more ready to live a completely drug-free life, the substitute drug can be reduced and finally stopped.
Medical professionals also closely monitor each patient at a detox center and provide nutrition, hydration, and medical treatment if necessary. They may also treat any co-occurring psychiatric disorders related to substance use as well.
Different substances will cause different withdrawal symptoms. The severity and type of withdrawal symptoms will also vary depending on the extent and duration of the substance use disorder.
Alcohol, for example, is a difficult substance to withdraw from: Sweating, anxiety, shaking and even seizures are common during the withdrawal process. For some individuals, a serious condition called delirium tremens may develop. The severe agitation, hallucination, and confusion associated with this condition require prompt medical attention.
Opioid withdrawal can also be an uncomfortable process, but it is rarely dangerous. Some common symptoms of opioid withdrawal are rapid heartbeat, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting. Cocaine and crystal meth can cause intense feelings of depression during withdrawal, and some people may suffer from hallucinations.
So-called “self-detox” typically has low long-term success rates compared to a supervised medical detox at a residential facility. Recovering individuals may also go through extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can quickly trigger a relapse.The early hours of withdrawal can be intense, and it’s not uncommon to experience psychotic episodes or suicidal thoughts.
The medical professionals at a detox center are trained to handle the needs of patients during this difficult period. They can check periodically check on patients to see if they’re safe and administer appropriate medical intervention as the patient withdraws and becomes more stable. Once a patient has been stabilized, they can focus on making the patient comfortable as they work through the rest of the treatment process.
One advantage of going to a medically-supervised detox program rather than a “self-detox” is the availability of medications to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal. This can help recovering individuals comfortable and less likely to relapse.
Several different medications are used for drug replacement therapy (also called drug substitution or drug maintenance). These medications are similar to the recovering individual’s drug of choice but cause less harm. This can allow withdrawal symptoms to be addressed without causing serious harm to the patient.
Drug replacement therapy is especially important for treating opioid and alcohol use disorders, as withdrawal symptoms for these drugs can be fatal. Buprenorphine can be effective in the treatment of opioid withdrawal: Subutex, Suboxone, and Buprenex are a few formulas that contain this drug. Naltrexone and methadone are also used for cases of opioid withdrawal.
Drug substitution is not the only way medications are used for treating substance use disorders. For instance, people who are completing treatment for alcohol use disorders can benefit from the use of Antabuse, a drug also known as disulfiram. Antabuse produces hangover-like symptoms in users when it is combined with alcohol; this physical effect can help curb the desire to drink.
Neurontin is another medication that can be used for alcohol use disorder. The chemical makeup of this medication is similar to that of GABA, a chemical in the brain that is impacted by alcohol use. The chemical similarity may be useful in correcting the chemical imbalances that promote addictive behavior.
Clinicians may also prescribe medications to treat co-occurring psychiatric or physiological disorders that may be caused by or are contributing to the substance use disorder.
Thankfully, the Greater Boston Area is home to some of the most advanced drug and alcohol treatment facilities in the United States. If you live in Massachusetts, finding a detox center that could help you or your loved one is only a phone call away.
Find out more about detox treatments and sobriety support when you call Boston Drug Treatment Centers at (857) 577-8193.