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Easing the Pain of Detox

The first time I decided to quit taking 30 Vicodin pain killers a day, it wasn't because I wanted to. I simply ran out of pills and couldn't get any more. A few hours later I drove myself to the hospital emergency room with severe chest pains.

Turns out there wasn't a problem with my heart. It was the first of many panic attacks I was to suffer over the next three weeks while detoxing off opiates. That was my introduction to every addicts nightmare: withdrawal syndrome. Back then I didn't know any better. Now I do, and I want to share with you some important information on how to minimize the danger and discomfort of coming off of chemicals.

Detox is not the same as withdrawal. Detox is the metabolic process by which toxins are purged from the body. Alcohol and other drugs are examples of toxins. Withdrawal, on the other hand, is a side-effect of detox. Withdrawal syndrome describes the host of unpleasant symptoms experienced while detoxing. The symptoms can be physical, psychological or both. Often, withdrawal is severe, painful and uncomfortable. Sometimes - as is the case with alcohol - it can be lethal. For this reason it is imperative that withdrawal be managed by trained professionals at a specially licensed detox facility.

Detox is the first step on the road to recovery. It begins the moment you quit using drugs and alcohol. Withdrawal syndrome can occur in as little a few hours after the last use. Length and severity of withdrawal varies according to the individual, the type of drug and length of use. The misery associated with withdrawal is a primary reason people fail to recover. For example, the U.S. government estimates that up to 95% of people who try to stop taking opioids on their own often fail to complete their withdrawal.

What Are the Symptoms  of Withdrawal?
Common withdrawal symptoms include: anxiety, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, rapid heart rate and sweating. However, different substances can cause different symptoms. For instance:

  • Alcohol - Delirium tremens ("D.T.'s"), hallucinations and seizures. Detoxing from alcohol without medical supervision can result in death.
  • Benzodiazepines - Alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and temazepam (Restoril) can cause symptoms similar to alcohol withdrawal.
  • Cannabis - Aggression, depression and paranoia.
  • Opioid Pain Relievers - Fentanyl, heroin, hydrocodone (Lortab, Norco, Vicodin), morphine, oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet) and Tramadol (Ultram) can cause flu-like symptoms, muscle twitching and vomiting. These can be severe but not life-threatening.
  • Stimulants - Cocaine. crack, methamphetamine, amphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin) can cause apathy, depression, extreme fatigue and paranoia. 

How to Choose a Withdrawal Management Program
The function of a detox program is to make you safe and comfortable during withdrawal. A proper detox positions you for success. Do your research. Many treatment providers claim they offer "detox". Don't be misled. Most are not licensed. Instead they provide nothing more than partial supervision by non-trained staff for the mildest cases of withdrawal. You typically find this with smaller rehabs that promote  detox services in order to entice you to stay for their 30+ day rehab program. Unfortunately, many clients are so un-comfortable they leave within hours or days.

Follow these guidelines when selecting a provider to manage the detox phase of your addiction recovery:

  1. Choose a residential (inpatient ) detox facility. Confirm it is licensed by the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) or Department of Public Health.
  2. Choose a detox facility staffed 24-hours by specially trained clinicians who continually monitor withdrawal symptoms and overall health and wellbeing.
  3. Make sure you will be assessed by a certified professional upon intake, and provided with an individualized detox plan that includes medication protocols to ease the discomfort.
  4. Inquire as to the method of payment and whether your insurance is accepted.
  5. The average length of inpatient detox is a short 3 to 12 days. Nevertheless, choose a facility with quality beds, healthy food, beautiful surroundings and a structure that keeps you safe from temptation and triggers.
  6. Choose a detox that has onsite substance abuse counseling for support and aftercare planning.

Locate a reputable detox program by searching online or asking your family health care provider(s). Oftentimes hospitals that offer an alcohol and drug treatment track also offer comprehensive detox services.

Who is a candidate for detox? Every alcoholic and addict can benefit from inpatient detox. By the time a person gets to this point, they are usually downtrodden and without hope. Perhaps you are there right now? The path to freedom is elusive. You might see only glimmers of stepping stones. Detox is the first step to recovery. Give yourself the best chance at a new life. Without proper planning for this phase of recovery, all your hard work and courageous choices could end up being for nothing.

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