Detox is just the beginning of a person’s journey from addiction to recovery. Although this is a short stage in what is often a lifelong experience, it is a frightening one. Many addicts have heard what happens in detox and run from the prospect as though this brief period of agony will be worse than the rest of their addiction experience put together.

What Is Detoxification?

When a substance abuser becomes chemically dependent upon a drug or alcohol, it gets into his body and his brain. To get it out of there, this individual must go through a cleansing process. It can be done with or without medicinal drugs, but the most important part of this process is going without heroin, crack, alcohol, etc.

Where Does Detoxification Take Place?

Detox takes place in one of two places. Many people will go through this cleansing process in a hospital. Here, physicians and nurses take charge of the patient for the entire time it takes to get the drug out of her system. The duration of detox can be hours or days, depending on what a person has been using, how much, and for how long.

Some clinics have their own detox clinics which are only used for this process. They are not as clinical as a hospital, but they are safe and licensed for alcohol or drug cleansing.

Who Needs Detox?

Just because you abuse drugs or alcohol does not mean you will have to go through a cleansing of this kind. It is only necessary if you are chemically dependent. That means that your body cannot do without a substance. If it was deprived its long-used chemical substance, the body would go into shock.

Most alcoholics do not need detox, but there are exceptions. Many drug addicts do need detox because meth, crack, and other substances affect the way a person’s brain works. Lots of clients are able to say ‘no’ to drugs in a physical sense, but something emotional holds them back such as fear or depression.

What Happens During Detoxification?

Addiction is a scary thing. It takes a very short time to become addicted to a substance, but a long time to overcome addiction, if one is ever truly cured. Many doctors would say there is no cure, just ongoing maintenance. Evidence of just how powerful chemical dependency is comes when one considers what can happen to a body when it is cleansing.

Mild symptoms include nausea and shaking. Patients sweat. They feel distressed, agitated, angry, and they long for another fix of the drug that would instantly end their suffering. Physical pain is common, though not life threatening.

Drug detox for the severely addicted individual can be fatal. People who try to do this on their own encounter serious health problems which are best caught and managed in a medical facility. This is why one should never try to do detoxification at home.

A doctor performs a physical exam to assess the person’s health prior to the procedure. If there appears to be a risk factor, a doctor might opt to use medicines which make the process safer.

Is Drug-aided Detoxification an Oxymoron?

Some doctors believe it is unethical and unnecessary to use drugs to help someone get off of drugs or alcohol. They believe the last thing an addict needs is more chemicals in his system.

Others disagree. Physicians who encounter drug addicts regularly believe there are clients who should go through detoxification slowly so as to lessen the painful symptoms, partly because they can, but also because it is safer.

Another method, called rapid detox, is growing in popularity. This is where someone is anesthetized and given drugs to speed up cleansing. Although her body goes through hell, she knows nothing about it. After a short stint in hospital, this individual is ready to head to rehab.

Several people in any community will become reliant on the narcotic pain killers their doctors prescribe for short term or ongoing pain. If they use their drugs as directed, addiction is often a result of psychological factors, especially a fear of going without narcotics entirely and feeling severe pain resurface.

Doctors combat this problem by prescribing methadone or buprenorphine, both of which are replacements for narcotics. They are less powerful and can be taken at home without the client entering rehab. During a course of several weeks, a patient slowly reduces her need for the replacement drug, leading to complete withdrawal from narcotics.

Occasionally, a person will become addicted to one of these drugs. There are many methadone maintenance programs around the United States to testify to this fact, with participants taking the drug every day in small doses as a means of overcoming more serious addiction.

They regularly undergo urine testing to ensure they are not abusing their maintenance privileges. Eventually, the goal is that these individuals will also detoxify from methadone.

Detoxification from buprenorphine involves a short stay in hospital followed by slow weaning and rehab. For all addicts, detox is just the start of recovery, giving way to intensive inpatient or outpatient counseling, behavioral therapy, and often transitional living at a halfway house.