The whole purpose of a drug detox is to get your system cleaned out of all accumulated drugs and alcohol. The purpose for doing so is to regain control of your life and attempt to start living in recovery. As such, there are at least 2 or 3 stages that we can think of when we visualize the process of going from using drug addict to a successful recovering addict who is living a clean and sober life.
If you are on a lot of drugs, detox might be the only sensible option for you in terms of getting started on your recovery. There actually is an alternative to complete abstinence and that would be drug therapy or drug maintenance of some sort, but this should never be tried as a first line of defense against addiction. In other words, if you have not tried several times to get clean and sober already, then you really should not be considering long term drug therapy as a solution for addiction. Instead, you should focus on getting all of the drugs out of your system and getting a fresh start with a clean slate. Note that when we say “all of the drugs,” we are referring to all mood and mind altering substances that are addictive, not necessarily all medications. For example, you don’t have to stop taking your blood pressure medicine or your asthma medicine. Talk with your doctor and use common sense when it comes to these sorts of issues. Better yet, get yourself to a drug rehab or a treatment center of some sort, where they can supervise your detox process from a medical standpoint and have a doctor making these decisions for you.
Your typical drug detox center
Some drugs do not require much assistance when it comes to the medical detox from them. For example, someone who uses either Cocaine or Marijuana will not have much of a problem when detoxing, and there really is no need for medical supervision at all in most cases. On the other hand, drugs like opiates, alcohol, and sedatives all have much more serious withdrawal symptoms and therefore require close supervision during detox.
The typical drug detox center will attempt to control these withdrawal symptoms by using medication in most cases. For example, people coming off of alcohol tend to get the shakes and tremors, so most detox centers will start the client on an anti-convulsant medication that can help prevent these tremors and also help to prevent seizures. The alcoholic will not normally stay on this medication permanently, it is just used for a short time in order to get them through the detox period.
The same thing happens with opiate users who are addicted to painkillers or heroin. Medication is used to control the withdrawal symptoms and help keep the addict at least somewhat comfortable. Without using these methods, many addicts would not be able to make it through withdrawal and would end up leaving treatment altogether.
Rapid drug detox
If you happen to be addicted to opiates, such as prescription painkiller pills or heroin, then you have the option of looking into something known as ultra rapid detox. This is a medical procedure where they put you under as if you were in surgery and then flush your system very quickly of all the opiate drugs that are in your body. It takes a few hours and after you wake up you will generally experience almost no withdrawal symptoms whatsoever. If you do have any detox symptoms at this point they will tend to be very mild, not the usual sickness that opiate addicts are used to experiencing.
Ultra rapid detox is not yet approved in the U.S. so it does not qualify to be done under insurance coverage. As such it is quite expensive and will likely cost several thousand dollars out of pocket. This is undoubtedly worth it if it really is a magic treatment, but many have relapsed after having it done, and in some cases people have actually died during the procedure. So it remains controversial and you might want to look into other, more realistic options for yourself.
Drug detox facilities are the best option for most people
If you go to a standard drug rehab then this is probably the best option in most cases. Regardless of what drug you are on, the medical staff at a rehab can monitor your condition for safety and also keep you comfortable by treating you with certain medications. In this way they can treat specific withdrawal symptoms and prevent you from getting too sick.
In some cases, treatment is almost a necessity, such as with heavy alcohol users. Their condition can be life threatening when they stop drinking so it is important to seek medical care in a treatment center.
Detox does not do you much good if you just end up relapsing. Unfortunately this is all too often the case and most people will not even make it to 30 days clean and sober. As such, you should look for a drug detox facility that has a residential treatment program integrated with it. There you can attend groups, lectures, and therapy so that you can learn a new way to live and increase your chances of staying clean after you leave.
If you cannot get into a drug detox program
Depending on what substances you are detoxing from, there are some things you might be able to do at home that can help.
* Disclaimer: alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Go to the ER if you start shaking badly. Seizures may occur, even if you have never had a seizure before.
Detox at home from opiates
If you are coming off of heroin or other opiate drugs and you cannot get into treatment, then here are some suggestions for you:
1) Try to sleep as much as possible. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and stay up all night. The next night you should sleep well if you stay active all day. You can also take Benadryl 50mg to help with sleep at bedtime.
2) Take Tylenol and Ibuprofen to help with body aches and pains. You can take 1,000mg of Tylenol, then 4 hours later take 800mg of Ibuprofen, then 4 hours later take another 1,000 of Tylenol, and so on. You can continue this indefinitely. Do not take more than what I just suggested or combine them at the same time unless your doctor tells you to.
3) Take Immodium for diarrhea.
4) Take 50mg of Benadryl every 4 hours as needed for anxiety and restlessness.
5) Drink lots of fluids, including both water and juice. Avoid pop, caffeine, and alcohol.
6) Don’t take drugs not found on this list unless directed by a doctor. Most will just complicate the withdrawal and could possibly make it worse.
Detox at home from alcohol
Try to do whatever you can to get to a medical treatment facility, as alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. If you are doing it at home on your couch, the best bet is to try and ween yourself down slowly to avoid seizures and DTs. A small bottle of Nyquil might get you through, but really you should seek medical attention if you can find a way. It is extremely dangerous to try this at home, I advise against it completely and if you are shaking badly then you should go to the emergency room.
Detox at home from other drugs
Most other drugs do not require medical attention, though some do such as barbituates and benzodiazipines. If you are detoxing from those then you really need medical supervision. If you are detoxing from Cocaine, Marijuana, or hallucinogenics then you should be OK without doing anything special.
Alcohol is the big one you have to worry about and also Benzos and barbituates. If you are detoxing from any of those then do whatever it takes to get to a treatment center.
Drug detox centers are not cheap
Unfortunately, drug detox centers are fairly expensive, and the treatment you receive from them is quite costly. This is due to the need for medical staff and 24/7 care that is provided. This can be a huge problem because the average drug user from the target population generally does not have insurance or tons of cash laying around. This is not to say that there are no wealthy drug addicts, but just that most of the clients that need this sort of service are not in a financial position to be able to realize it.
Another problem with this is that the success rate for detoxing clients and then sending them through a short term residential program is notoriously low. The vast majority of addicts who go through a detox program such as the one described do not end up staying clean for longer than 30 days after release. In many cases, the same addicts will keep coming back to the same detox program if they have a funding source such as medicaid or a grant to do so from the government. On the other hand, addicts who pay out of pocket almost never return to the same treatment center, which should illustrate a bit that they system is broken to an extent. Those who can get a free ride to go through detox are abusing the system to some degree, whether they do so intentionally or not.
I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this problem, as it has proven to be very difficult to produce any better success rates in the treatment industry. You can give people every advantage possible in early recovery and most of them will still relapse. Of course some addicts do stay clean and find a new way to live, so it is definitely worth the fight. But I doubt if there is a radical change in the detox process that could really have a significant impact on overall success rates of treatment.