If you have any doubt that addiction is a disease, the challenges of detox make it clear that addiction is virtually indistinguishable from other illnesses. When you use drugs and alcohol for an extended period of time, your body grows accustomed to these substances, undergoing biochemical changes. When you suddenly stop using, your body resists the change, giving rise to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The process of withdrawal, through which drugs and alcohol exit your system, is commonly referred to as detox. Detox is often a part of inpatient rehab, but you can also attend a detox program independent of rehab.
What Happens in Detox?
In detox, you’ll have both medical and psychiatric care. You’ll provide in-depth information about your addiction history, health, and psychological state. When you’re ready to quit, you’ll stop using drugs and alcohol, usually cold turkey. Rarely, though, if you have serious health problems or a long-standing addiction, your doctor may recommend tapering down your use instead.
As your body goes through detox, you may experience unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Extreme emotional distress, including anger, anxiety, and depression.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Excessive sweating or chills.
- Weight loss.
- Paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.
- Difficulty resisting your cravings.
- Tremors and, in rarer cases, seizures.
- Aches and pains such as headaches.
- Feeling disconnected from your body.
- Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or clearly communicating.
- Feelings of regret over your decision to quit; don’t worry, these feelings are short-lived and are often the surest sign that drugs and alcohol are leaving your system.
In most cases, detox isn’t dangerous. If you have certain medical conditions or a long history of addiction, though, the process can be more challenging. For this reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor before detoxing, even if you want to go it alone. Though detox can be challenging and exhausting, you’ll only have to do it once, as long as you don’t relapse.
How Long Does Detox Take?
Detox usually takes about a week, though the specific length of detox depends on your age, health, and the drugs you use. Opioids such as heroin, for example, often demand a bit longer in withdrawal than drugs such as marijuana.
What Should I Take to Detox?
The detox or rehab facility you’ve chosen should provide you with detailed information about what to expect and what to bring. Don’t take anything that might trigger a craving. For example, if your favorite book contains lots of drug references, it’s better to just leave it at home. Likewise, most facilities ban potentially addictive substances, including some prescription medications and mouthwash that contains alcohol. If you take any drugs, whether prescription or over-the-counter, be sure to tell your intake coordinator. These items may need to be locked up so that they’re inaccessible to other detox participants.