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People who abuse drugs may feel as though they are in control over how much they take, and they may even feel a little burst of pride when they think about how much they can take without passing out or feeling ill. But even people who feel as though they are in control over drug use can be surprised at how sick they can feel when they try to recover. Drug detoxification, in which a person moves away from drugs and towards sobriety, can be very taxing, and sometimes, it can even be dangerous. That is especially true when people try to detox at home.
The best way to prevent the surprises drugs can bring during recovery is to enroll in a medical detox program and see that program through to completion. But some people choose to fight back against an addiction without the help of professionals. They may try detoxing at home.
As drug addiction wears on, the cells of the brain and body become accustomed to the constant presence of substances of abuse.
The body and brain can become so accustomed to drugs, in fact, that these cells simply will not work unless drugs are available. When drugs are not available, people can feel profoundly ill.
One way to handle this issue at home is to use a taper process. Here, people with drug addictions simply take smaller doses of their drugs of choice until, at some point, they are not taking any drugs at all. These slow tapers allow the brain and body to adjust to sobriety slowly, and that could help the person to avoid feelings of sickness.
It sounds reasonable, but as an article in Healthline points out, it is very difficult for people with addictions to control their drug use. Someone attempting a taper still has access to the drug of choice, and when that drug is available, it can be very difficult to resist the temptation to take in that drug. People who attempt to taper may revert to drug use long before they have completed the process.
Medications sold over the counter are made to be safe for almost anyone to use, and as a result, they tend to be weaker than prescription drugs. People who use these medications may not get the relief they need, and without relief, they might be tempted to turn back to drugs to make the discomfort stop. The drugs might be right there, just outside of reach, and people might know that using the drugs could make the discomfort stop. When over-the-counter meds do not do the trick, relapsing can seem like a good solution.
That risk is not present in a medical detox program, as medications used there are often stronger and more effective. They really can make discomfort stop when given by a knowledgeable professional. Medical detox programs can also help with some of the other risks that come with an at-home detox program.
People who go through detox can feel profoundly ill, and they may lean on over-the-counter medications for help, such as:
As mentioned, the body and brain can become accustomed to the constant presence of drugs and alcohol when an addiction is in place. When those substances are no longer available and the body and brain return to a normal level of functioning, withdrawal symptoms can appear. In some cases, those symptoms can be life-threatening.
Alcohol withdrawal, for example, has been associated with life-threatening complications, such as heart rate abnormalities and seizures. That is why the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends that people with moderate-to-severe alcoholism get help in a qualified treatment program. These people may experience terrible health problems during withdrawal, and they need help if those symptoms appear.
Someone attempting alcohol detox at home could experience these symptoms, and if those issues are not addressed immediately, they could strengthen and grow. A delay of a few minutes or a few hours could mean the difference between life and death.
Other drugs come with their own life-threatening complications. Opiates like OxyContin, for example, can cause nutritional deficiencies and/or bowl obstruction issues, and those can come to light during detox. Cocaine can cause heart abnormalities, which could grow severe during detox.
Even drugs like marijuana can cause health issues that need to be addressed during detox. An at-home program cannot provide that kind of care.
In a medical detox program, clinicians can use prescription medications to ease health problems, so people can move through the process without feeling profoundly ill or at risk of death. The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests, for example, that medications like buprenorphine can be beneficial for people with opiate addictions, as these medications can soothe withdrawal symptoms and shorten the amount of time people spend in detox. By using medications to soothe distress, people might not face serious health complications, which makes medical detox superior to DIY at-home solutions.
Health complications that appear during withdrawal are a major issue to consider, when people are attempting to determine the best path to recovery from addiction, but another important factor to consider is the possibility of recovery from drug use and abuse. It is quite possible that people who attempt an at-home recovery do not have the same recovery rate seen in people who get help from professionals. That is due, in part, to the fact that people recovering at home may relapse more frequently than people who enroll in formal programs.
In a medical detox program, medications can help to soothe physical and mental distress, and that can prevent people from reverting to drugs as a form of pain relief. They may not feel ill due to the help of medications, and that could help them to stick with the therapy program the medical detox team pulls together.
Supervision may also play a role. In a medical detox program, people are surrounded by trained medical professionals from the moment they awaken in the morning to the time they head to bed at night. They do not have the opportunity to relapse, simply because they have so many people around them all the time, and that supervision could keep them from regressing to bad habits.
In one study of the issue, published in the Cochrane Library, professionals compared relapse rates of people getting help in supervised, around-the-clock medical detox programs, and they compared those success rates to those seen in people participating in outpatient programs, in which people get care in appointment settings. Researchers found that 70 percent of those with around-the-clock care were free of drugs on discharge, while only 37 percent of those in outpatient care were free of drugs. It is easy to assume that people who got no medical help at all would do even worse than those in outpatient settings.
The support and clinical care given in a professional medical detox program could keep people on the right recovery path. In a medical detox program, people have the opportunity to stay away from the communities that seem to foster drug use.
In a study in Lenus, The Irish Health Repository,
researchers found that 59 percent of people who completed a detox program relapsed in one week.
They moved back into their communities, began seeing their drug-using friends, and fell back into bad habits. Someone detoxing at home may relapse even faster. A drug dealer might visit during detox, causing a relapse within just a day or two. A drug-using friend might share a stash during detox, or family members might continue to use in the home, sparking a relapse. When people do not leave their communities to detox, relapse is a very real possibility.
When people relapse after detox, terrible things can happen. For example, a study in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety found that unintentional deaths due to drug poisoning rose about 5.3 percent every year between 1979 and 1990. Some of these people overdosed when they took a dose of drugs that seemed safe, but if they had been through detox, they may not have had tolerance for that drug dose. It could be too big and too much, and overdose could occur.
Enrolling in medical detox cannot guarantee a relapse-free future. But medical detox can make a clean break easier to accomplish, and it could help people avoid the serious risks that come with relapse.
People who choose to get sober want to see the process through to completion. A real risk of at-home detox involves skipping the next step. Many people who use at-home detox never enroll in rehab, and that could have dangerous consequences.
In a study of the issue, published in Drug and Alcohol Review, researchers found that abstinence was closely associated with voluntary enrollment in a medical detox program. Those who took recovery seriously and enrolled in a program like this were more likely to get sober, when compared to people who did not enroll. They were more likely to get sober, in part, because they enrolled in later treatment programs, too. They did not stop their journey to recovery with detox. They finished detox and then moved on to rehab, where they learned lessons that helped them to preserve the sobriety they got in detox.
In medical detox, staff members work hard to help people to understand the ins and outs of long-term sobriety. As people are healing, learning, and growing in detox, they are also learning about how rehab works and why it is important. When medical detox is through, they might even be transported to the next phase of care. They may not feel as if quitting is an option. They will know why rehab is required, and that could lead to lifelong success.
Those who do at-home detox may not be aware of what rehab is and how it works. They may never enroll in the next phase of care, and as a result, they may not get the recovery they seek.
Drugs of abuse can seem overwhelmingly powerful. Cocaine, for example, can cause very intense cravings during withdrawal, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Overcoming those withdrawal symptoms at home without help can be difficult, but medical detox programs can make all the difference.
In a program like this, you will have the medical support needed to move to sobriety without feeling ill. You will also have supervision and emotional support you can lean on in order to stick to your plans and make them work. In medical detox, you will not be alone. It could be just what you need to kick a drug habit for good.