What Happens in Alcohol or Drug Detox Programs?
Written by: Martha Jackson on 16th January, 2018
Drug detox programs and alcohol detox programs offer professional treatment that can help you overcome addiction and create a happier, more hopeful future. More than that, addiction treatment programs can save your life to make sure that you have a future at all. Over 88,000 Americans die of alcohol related causes every year, and drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Don’t put off seeking treatment and wind up becoming another tragic casualty of addiction.
How does detox begin?
Drug and alcohol detox programs start with an intake assessment at the rehab facility. The patient meets with an intake manager, counselors, and/or medical staff, answering questions and filling out paperwork. It is crucial that you remain completely honest and forthcoming throughout this process. Trying to hide or minimize the extent of your problems will lead to you getting less than what you truly need for your recovery in the best-case scenario, and will lead to dangerous health complications in the worst-case scenario.
An example of important information you absolutely should not conceal is if you abuse multiple types of drugs, or both drugs and alcohol in combination. Your withdrawal experience and treatment needs will vary according to the substances you need to detox from, and using different substances in combination can result in riskier forms of withdrawal that may require extra attention from the facility’s medical staff.
Intake assessments will also allow your treatment team to create a recovery plan that is customized to your individual needs, so that you receive services that are tailored to optimize your progress. This recovery plan will evolve and change as you evolve and change throughout treatment, so that you are always receiving the appropriate types and intensity levels of therapeutic services.
What to Expect in Drug Detox Programs
A drug detox program may last anywhere between three days to two weeks, depending on a variety of factors. One of the most important of these factors is your primary drug of use. Heroin, for example, usually takes about a week to detox from the body, while benzodiazepine detox could take a month or longer, because the drug needs to be slowly tapered over time, to avoid life-threatening seizures that can result from quitting cold turkey.
Other factors that impact the length of detox are:
- How long you’ve been using
- How much you use
- Whether you are receiving a medical detox or a natural detox
- The intensity of your individual withdrawal experience
- Any co-occurring mental health disorders
- Health complications that may require additional medical treatment
- Health issues that slow down detoxification, such as liver or kidney disease
Most people are better off detoxing in a facility that offers a medical detox, even if they are hoping to detox naturally. This way they can have medical monitoring and the option of switching to medical withdrawal treatments should their detox experience turn out to be more serious or painful than expected. The physical withdrawal experienced during detox can range from merely uncomfortable to extremely painful or upsetting. You want to be in a facility that is prepared to react to your unique process, whatever that turns out to be.
Physical symptoms of withdrawal can include:
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite
- Sweating, fever, chills
- Tremors, jerking movements
- Liver or kidney problems
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In the case of opiate addiction, some patients will opt for withdrawal medications followed by medication maintenance to help stabilize their brain chemistry and more comfortably get them through the acute detox phase and the counseling/treatment phase of rehab. Patients using pharmaceutical treatments in this way will have to eventually detox from the medication that is treating their opiate addiction, but this will be an easier process than an initial cold turkey detox would have been, especially since the patient will have acquired numerous insights and tools in treatment to help support a healthier way of life.
Some people experience very few physical detox symptoms, but seriously struggle with emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Co-occurring mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are often brought on by withdrawal, or the co-occurring disorder may be a pre-existing issue that is resurfacing now that you are no longer self-medicating with drugs. Also, any emotions that you used to escape from via drug use will now be right there in front of you while you’re feeling weak and vulnerable. Being inpatient at a medical detox facility will make sure that you have the support and supervision to successfully confront these emotional trials and work through them without returning to drugs or alcohol.
Medications commonly used to treat withdrawal in alcohol and drug detox programs include:
Methadone and buprenorphine
These medications are used to treat patients detoxing and recovering from addictions to opioid drugs such as morphine, heroin, fentanyl, or prescription painkillers. They suppress withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, balancing out the patient’s impaired brain chemistry so that they can have the focus and stability necessary to work through psychological issues, and to make the appropriate social and behavioral changes to support continued abstinence from drugs.
Methadone can be habit forming, but at an appropriate dosage, the medication will not create the euphoria or sedation that promotes drug seeking behavior. Buprenorphine has a lower potential for abuse, and can therefore be given as a take home prescription, versus methadone, which is almost always dispensed on a daily basis at a treatment facility.
This drug can block the effects of opiate drugs, and will therefore reduce some kinds of drug cravings and discourage drug use. It is often paired with buprenorphine to more completely treat the range of withdrawal symptoms that patients experience while recovering from opioid addictions.
What to Expect in Alcohol Detox Programs
Like in drug detox programs, the length of your treatment experience in an alcohol detox program will depend on a range of factors, such as how much you drink, how long you’ve been drinking, and if you ever combine alcohol with other substances, such as prescription painkillers or benzodiazepines—both of which combinations are incredibly dangerous to you while you are actively high, as well as later, during the detoxing process. Patients who combine substances in this way are more likely to experience delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can cause confusion, hallucinations, and deadly seizures if left untreated.
How Long Are Detox Programs?
In general, most patients in an alcohol detox program will complete their detox in seven to ten days, and then enter a treatment program of 30, 60, or 90 days duration. This may be inpatient, outpatient, or a combination of the two. Studies show that patients get the most benefit from a 90 day rehab program.
When Does Withdrawal Begin?
Alcohol detox begins with acute withdrawal: a 24 to 48 hour stretch at the beginning of detox, where the patient will likely experience tremors, heart racing, high blood pressure, fever, chills, sweating, and stomach pain and upset. On the third day of detox, patients move into the abstinence phase of detox, where most of the physical symptoms will have passed, leaving primarily emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Symptoms that are partly physical and partly emotional, such as insomnia and fatigue, will also persist through this phase, which may last a week or longer. Some symptoms can even last for months, slowly improving over time, but coming and going in a way that can be discouraging to patients who don’t realize that this is a natural part of recovering from alcohol addiction.
How Can You Treat Withdrawal Symptoms?
Many alcohol detox programs treat patients with vitamin and mineral supplements, especially B vitamins and vitamin D, which tend to be chronically low among heavy drinkers. Staying hydrated is crucial during alcohol detox as alcohol is already dehydrating, and the nausea that accompanies withdrawal can cause some people to become dangerously dehydrated if they aren’t supervised by professionals who will encourage the patient to drink stomach calming broths or herbal teas, or if the patient is unable to drink, will be able to supply IV fluids to prevent dehydration. Good nutrition is also important during detox, as chronic heavy drinkers are often malnourished from having relied on alcohol more than food for their caloric intake.
Are Medications Used During Detox?
Medications can be helpful during alcohol detox. Acamprosate is used when patients experience prolonged withdrawal symptoms of restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety. Ativan can calm the overactive nervous system reactions that lead to delirium tremens, thereby preventing seizures, and antidepressants can assist with the dysphoria patients may experience as their brain attempts to recover normal levels of neurotransmitters that have been impaired by excessive alcohol consumption.
Naltrexone can be used in alcohol detox the same way it is used in drug detox programs, to block the intoxicating effects of addictive substances. Patients who are unable to experience the desired effect from drinking alcohol will benefit from reduced alcohol cravings, which in turn will reduce their chances of relapse. Disulfiram is another medication that combats relapse, only patients cannot take disulfiram until all the alcohol is out of their system. At this point, disulfiram functions by causing nausea and vomiting if the patient drinks alcohol while on the medication.
Benefits of 90 Day Rehab Programs
Although rehab programs can last anywhere from two weeks to several months, longer spans of treatment have been proven far more effective. Drug and alcohol treatment programs under 90 days are considered to be of limited effectiveness, while 90 day rehab programs produce more positive outcomes.
Patients will usually begin with inpatient detox treatment, and then may proceed to a 90 day rehab program that remains inpatient, or they may move from inpatient treatment to outpatient treatment, where they return to living at home while continuing treatment. Opioid addicted patients on methadone maintenance may take part in outpatient services for a year or longer. No matter your individual situation, you have to receive an adequate length of treatment for a good recovery outcome. Addiction is a chronic, medical condition that requires the same degree of thoughtful, ongoing treatment as other chronic diseases, like asthma or diabetes.
Your 90 day rehab program will always involve counseling and therapy. Individual therapy is excellent for diagnosing co-occurring disorders, and giving you in-depth insight into past traumas and your individual psychological makeup. Family therapy is needed to repair damaged relationships, improve communication, and create a strong support network for you to turn to after being discharged from your treatment program. Group therapy will give you a great deal of valuable insight and advice, but it will also give you a feeling of connection and community that will remind you that you are not alone in the challenges you face. In addition, seeing the success of patients who are further along in their recovery can be incredibly inspiring.
How to Pay for Drug Detox Programs and Alcohol Detox Programs
Some people choose not to seek detox treatment because they think they can’t afford it. This is a tragic misunderstanding. With a little effort, addiction treatment can be shockingly affordable, especially when compared to the cost of addiction. Health insurance is your best bet for covering the costs of addiction rehab, as companies are required to cover treatment for substance use disorders—although the duration of that treatment and which facilities are covered will vary between providers. Insurance companies have also come to recognize that they will save a great deal of money by preventing the development of the expensive health problems that result from continued drug or alcohol use.
Even if you don’t have insurance, there are still ways to afford addiction treatment. Many treatment facilities offer a range of payment options, including costs that are based on your income and what you can afford to pay. There are even free detox and addiction treatment programs that are funded by churches, non-profit organizations, or governmental agencies. No matter your financial situation, Detox.com can help you connect with the effective and affordable treatment you need to overcome addiction. Call 800-483-2193 to begin your recovery and live the life you deserve!