It’s easy to fixate on the end goal of being completely sober, but every journey begins with the first step. For some, that first step is detoxing. From a clinical perspective, according to drug rehabilitation programs, detoxing is stopping your drug of choice and allowing your body time to eliminate it completely, so you are 100 percent clean and sober. Depending on the drug you take, that process can last anywhere from a few hours to a few months.
Most addictive drugs cause changes to neurochemistry that take a significant amount of time to clear; in some cases, stopping them cold turkey may be painful or even downright deadly.
At BlueCrest Recovery Center, we never recommend patients enact at-home detoxes. Not only is the risk too high, but a patient’s chance of full recovery is much less than if they seek substance abuse treatment. From the dangers of detoxing, from alcohol to hypokalemia, here’s what could go wrong if you try to detox at home.
Alcohol is perhaps the most dangerous substance to fully detox from, in spite of how socially acceptable it is in our society. It is fairly unique in that the physical side effects that come from detoxing are lethal without medical assistance if the addiction is severe enough. Alcohol addicts shouldn’t quit cold turkey without medicated support in a hospital or drug rehab center.
Here’s What Happens When You Detox from Alcohol
A chronic drinker’s body develops an intricate physical dependency with alcohol. This makes the first few days of sobriety the most difficult and dangerous, depending on how severe the addiction is.
The first step is the hardest. This is when medical supervision is a must.
There are some typical side effects from alcohol detoxing; the severity depends on the addict’s tolerance and how much they are drinking. Anxiety, hallucinations, nausea, and shakes can occur, and, without treatment, these may lead to extreme insomnia, seizures, and even heart failure. It’s much safer to detox in a professionally controlled environment for alcohol abuse treatment with the proper medical treatments within reach.
Meth, Heroin, and Other Substances
Alcohol has the most physical repercussions from detoxing, whereas meth is one of the most difficult drugs to quit from a psychological standpoint. Meth has a few physical side-effects that aren’t quite as difficult to cope with, comparatively speaking, but the mental and emotional consequences are very difficult to deal with alone.
The addict experiences intense cravings while feeling the lowest of lows, which makes it very easy to relapse without support from others. Adding to this is the fact that chronic methamphetamine use leads to changes in the serotonin system in the brain, which potentially could cause depression or even psychosis.
Heroin withdrawal sits somewhere in between alcohol and meth when it comes to detox side effects and their severity. Most addicts (even those on a light dose) experience extreme physical withdrawal symptoms similar to severe flu.
Variability in how addicts process withdrawal can mean that two addicts with the same addition could experience very different withdrawals; the first may have only diarrhea and vomiting, while the second may become hypokalemic from fluid loss and wind up in heart failure.
In extreme cases, heroin withdrawal may even do irreparable damage to brain chemistry— this is where methadone maintenance comes in.
Knowing that your friends, family, and support groups are there for you is an essential part of recovery and detoxing, but it’s important that they’re there for you in the right way. A family member who continuously enables you will only hinder your recovery, but a sober buddy is of immeasurable value. Without social support, addicts can go through the detox process multiple times and continue to relapse.
Struggling together with others on the same journey as you provides you with an ideal opportunity to learn about yourself and grow as a person. You gain more insight into the source of your addiction and how to overcome it by looking at it from other viewpoints. It’s better to open up to someone about your struggles, whether they are an addict or not—even if you think you’ve got it all figured out. That’s what makes inpatient and residential treatment so useful.
It’s much safer and more effective to detox with others at your side than to do it yourself. Getting sober is only one part of the journey. Even after withdrawal, it is still necessary to have the right support. Don’t do it alone; it’s uncomfortable, painful, and, often, even dangerous. Come to BlueCrest Recovery Center for professional substance abuse treatment and take the first step of your journey today instead.