The problem with detox is relapse. It’s the word no one wants to say out loud, and it’s what you fear almost more than the addiction itself. Detox has a reputation for being difficult. Some people even mistakenly believe it’s worse than the side effects of long-term drug abuse.
The anticipation of detox is worse than the actual experience for most people, but relapse remains a real possibility, which is why you need treatment after drug detox. One thing worse than going through detox is going through it more than once. If you start using again, there is no way back to recovery except through detox.
Drug addiction recovery involves much more than detox. Every recovering addict needs a plan, a support system and a desire to live a clean and happy life.
How Effective Is Drug Detox?
Detox, short for detoxification, is a process that removes drugs from your body. The basic theory of detox is to stop putting the drugs in and let your body expel them naturally. In time, anywhere from two to twenty days, the drugs will be out of your system. Detox is a very effective method for getting clean, but it has little to do with remaining that way.
After admitting to having an addiction problem and expressing the desire for help, addicts usually begin with detox. To end the addiction, you have to stop exposing your body to drugs. Most addicts maintain some level of chemical intervention in their systems. As you progress through the detox phase of recovery, the amount of time between doses gradually becomes longer, and the inability to function without the drugs seems to diminish.
Depending on how long an addict has been using, he or she is probably well adjusted to having drugs in his or her system. Most people who use drugs on a regular basis would feel uneasy if their toxin levels dropped below a certain point. Even if they can’t describe the discomfort, addicts feel it. However, going through detox is the only way to eventually clear the drug from your system and start on a path to sobriety and a better life.
Dangers of Detox
Your body is used to maintaining certain systems without thinking about it. You breathe, your heart beats, your blood circulates and you digest food and perform a whole list of other functions automatically. Drug abuse disrupts these basic functions, but your body learns to adjust. For the most part, it keeps your heart beating no matter what you take.
Non-medical drug intervention puts a strain on your vital organs. These automatic systems must work harder to accomplish their tasks. Body chemistry is flexible and adaptable, so it adjusts to the changes those drugs create in your internal environment. The body, however, cannot maintain its equilibrium against the drugs forever. That’s why it’s important to detox and let your body return to normal.
Detoxing can be dangerous, though, and should not be undertaken without medical supervision. When you suddenly stop taking drugs and your body chemistry changes, it can take some time to return to normal. The side effects of detoxing can be life-threatening, depending on your specific addiction.
Side effects of detoxing can include:
- Muscle cramps
Drug detox can also affect your heart rate and your ability to maintain a constant body temperature, which is why medical supervision of detox is so important. If needed, medical intervention can help stabilize your vital signs until your body can recover enough to manage on its own. Most of the withdrawal symptoms go away at the end of detox, but depending on what substances you were addicted to, some symptoms could persist for several weeks.
For some addicts, the pain of detox can become overwhelming, leading them to give up and abuse drugs again. Sometimes they believe they can use a small amount one more time to take the edge off of their struggles. Unfortunately, relapse during detox often leads to overdose because an addict can’t use only one additional time – or use only a little. Qualified supervision of your detox can help you get through it and guard against the reintroduction of drugs into your system.
Cold turkey detox is mostly a myth perpetuated by addicts who really don’t want to face their issues and heal their lives. Much drug abuse takes place in secret, sneaking around behind closed doors. The antidote to addiction is to expose the behaviors and the ramifications, so you can deal with the real issues.
Detox is necessary for addiction recovery, and some consider it the hardest part. Making the decision to give up drugs and seek rehabilitation is a big step that, ideally, should be well supported by family, friends and medical professionals. Unfortunately, shame often causes people to attempt to seek sobriety on their own. Detoxing alone is never a good idea.
If it were as simple as removing the drugs from your system, everyone would overcome addiction as soon as they realized they were hooked on a substance. Anyone can detox — it’s breaking the habit of using for good that is difficult. Addiction is a complicated concept that doctors are still working to fully understand.
Perhaps one idea that complicates addiction is that it can exist on two levels simultaneously.
Physical addiction may be the easiest form to understand because there is a more obvious cause-and-effect scenario. Nicotine, for example, is one of the most physically addicting drugs. If a smoker misses a cigarette break, he or she can experience physical symptoms, such as a headache, which are relieved when nicotine is administered.
Physical addiction means your body develops a tolerance for a substance and then needs a greater amount of it to be satisfied. When the substance is withheld, you experience physical symptoms that can be as serious as changes in heart rate or dizziness. It’s as if your body cannot function without that substance.
Addiction also exists on a mental level, which is harder to define with a cause-and-effect model because of the intangibility of the connection between substance and symptoms. It is possible to be mentally addicted to a substance that is not physically addicting. The mind is so well connected to the body that strongly believing you need something to function can become a physical reality.
Addiction can also happen with people or activities. Sex addiction and an addiction to people (co-dependence) are real. Despite the lack of physical need for a substance, as evidenced by physical withdrawal symptoms, a mental or emotional addiction is equally as serious and often accompanies a physical one. If you treat the physical addiction, you must also make the mental and emotional break.
The other set of complicating factors when it comes to understanding addiction is comorbidity. Addiction, classified as a mental illness, seldom presents without other disorders. It would be unusual to meet a person who is only physically addicted to one substance, but not mentally or emotionally addicted, with no other mental illness or chronic diseases.
The longer an addiction lasts, the more likely it is to cause other physical diseases. There is well-documented proof that smoking causes lung cancer, but there are other more subtle examples, as well. For example, a sugar addiction can precipitate diabetes and then progress to kidney disease. Addictions to stimulants or other drugs that affect heart rate tend to lead to cardiovascular disease.
Mental illness can lead to addiction as a means of escaping the emotional pain associated with the condition. Many drugs used to treat mental illness are highly addictive and difficult to control in the hands of patients. Also, addiction can lead to mental illness. Many illicit drugs affect brain chemicals. By continually rearranging the chemical makeup of your brain, you can actually change your thought pattern and create a mental illness.
As our understanding of addiction develops, it is seen more as an all-encompassing issue. Addiction is related to a person’s genetics, any history of trauma, pre-existing mental illness and physical health or disabilities. Addiction affects a person’s physical health, family, career and social interactions.
A holistic approach to addiction recovery, which means treating the whole person and all aspects of his or her life, is the only way to true success.
What to Do After Detox
Addiction is an all-encompassing problem that requires an effective, complex treatment program. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) outlines these principles of effective treatment:
- Addiction affects brain function but is treatable.
- It is critical to match the treatment methods to the individual.
- On-demand treatment is necessary to accommodate an individual the moment he or she is ready.
- Treatment must address all life issues, not only drug abuse.
- An appropriate length of time, usually 3 months, must be devoted to treatment with periodic follow ups.
- Behavioral therapies must be employed to make significant lifestyle changes.
- Medication can be an effective element of a comprehensive behavioral treatment program.
- Treatment plans must be re-evaluated and modified as needs change.
- Co-occurring mental illnesses must also be treated with the addiction.
- Detox, as the first stage of treatment, must be followed by therapy.
- Mandatory, rather than voluntary, treatment can be effective.
- Drug-use monitoring during treatment is important to provide an early indication that the plan needs to be adjusted.
- Drug treatment should include testing for common co-occurring infectious disease.
Drug addiction has health and social implications that go beyond the compulsion to take drugs. Addicts are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease, both because of their increased risk-taking behaviors and their compromised immune systems. These concerns need to be addressed in a treatment program through necessary therapies for any existing diseases and education about how to avoid such health risks.
Drug treatment should also address behavioral issues, the most obvious of which is a compulsion to take drugs. Drug addiction is accompanied by other dysfunctional behaviors that affect relationships and even casual social interactions. Addressing these issues can help the recovering addict repair or rebuild his social network, from intimate relationships to professional ones.
Treatment After Drug Detox
A comprehensive addiction recovery program includes detox as the first step. And like any good plan, it is not a wise idea to get started until you have the next several steps outlined, as well. Regardless of your intelligence and competency, you’re going to need help outlining an appropriate addiction recovery plan.
A strong recovery program treats mind, body and spirit. It should support your post-detox body’s efforts to recover, and your mind’s attempts to rebuild. It should help you repair or reshape your life, from basic self-care routines to interpersonal relationships. A strong recovery program will do all of this in a safe, comfortable and nurturing environment. This is why it is almost always recommended that detox is immediately followed by treatment in a rehab facility.
Detox is best attempted with medical supervision, and it should be the first issue addressed in a recovery program. You need to be drug-free in recovery so that you’re not working against yourself or contaminating the healing environment for everyone else.
Medical treatment should also address any infectious or chronic diseases you’re facing. With the drugs out of your system, you will begin to feel things again. This is a good time to deal with the causes of any physical aches and pains. Physical health and mental health are closely linked. Trying to improve one without working on the other can be counterproductive.
Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle – something most people abandon as they abuse drugs. A good recovery program provides ways to reintroduce physical activity into your daily routine. Healthy exercise is also tied in with self-care, one of the concepts that bridges the gap between physical and mental health. As you work on the mental and emotional side of self-care, exercise provides a physical manifestation.
When the body is healthy, one of the things that keeps it running properly is good nutrition. People who abuse drugs are not usually too concerned with other substances they put in their body. With detox complete, it’s helpful to seek education and guidance on how to create a healthy diet and rebuild your relationship with food.
One of the most obvious issues to tackle after detox is cravings. Your desire to do drugs won’t suddenly disappear after you’re sober. A strong recovery program will give you access to various types of therapy, which should be incorporated when appropriate. Not only is everyone’s addiction different, but your path to recovery will change over time, as well. The initial plan for your recovery should be continually modified. Some therapies may be dropped, others may be added and some may be intensified.
Mental illnesses — aside from addiction — must be identified so they can be treated, as well. Most people refer to addiction recovery as peeling an onion. What appears on the surface is what you need to deal with first, but once that is accomplished you will find a deeper issue. Recovering from addiction requires getting to the root causes of your drug abuse behavior and finding a way to work through them so you no longer need to cover them up with drug use.
A multi-pronged approach to sorting out the mental and emotional side of your addiction is key to successful recovery. Your recovery program should be flexible enough to provide you with many options for therapy because you never know what you’ll encounter on that next layer. A strong support team will include expertise in all facets of mental health that pertain to addiction.
Addiction leads to a lonely lifestyle filled with secrets and lies. When you’re ready to move away from that existence, you will need some help re-acclimating. You may not remember your social life before you began abusing drugs. For some people, the shift in their social life is subtle until they wake up one day and realize their family has fallen apart, their career is in jeopardy and the only friends they have are also addicts.
For some, addiction offered a different — and perhaps exciting — social scene. It will be impossible to maintain a successful recovery while interacting with those same people, in those same places. Severing ties with drug-using friends and building a new social network can be scary. A strong recovery program will provide support and encouragement for these steps.
Addiction often comes with isolation. True friends are often replaced with drug dealers and other regulars at the bar, causing addicts to begin to dislike themselves. People with low self-esteem often find it difficult to initiate and maintain friendships. Addicts often have trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships, partly because of their avoidance behaviors. They tend to distance themselves from anything that starts to feel emotional. Humans are emotional creatures, however, so relationships require emotional involvement.
Through group therapy, other structured small-group interaction and individual counseling, a strong recovery program will help you develop skills to rebuild your social network. It will take some effort, but when you’re ready you’ll find the support you need to connect with other people.
If you have existing relationships that can be saved, your program should include some sort of education and outreach to those people. Helping family better understand your experiences in recovery can make repairing relationships that were damaged by addiction a little easier.
How to Get Started
Knowing that detox is not enough shouldn’t scare you away from kicking your drug addiction. Remember that detox is safest when it is accomplished with medical supervision. Experiencing detox with additional therapy and support is a much more comforting and successful way to approach rehab.
To further reduce your anxiety and increase your chances for a successful recovery, contact 12 Keys. From the first phone call, you will know you are in capable hands. Our comfortable, supportive environment includes a wide range of diverse therapy options to individualize a program that is right for you.
Don’t stop at detox. Let us plan a complete recovery program to meet your specific needs. Our compassionate staff will assess your initial needs and explain the rehab methods we think are right for you. During your rehabilitation at 12 Keys, your progress will be noted and your program re-evaluated periodically. Our flexible services can be adjusted to your changing needs as you move through your rehabilitation.