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Detoxification: The First Step in Drug Addiction Treatment

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Detoxification: The First Step in Drug Addiction Treatment

Once a person makes the decision to quit using drugs and/or alcohol, the first step in the healing process is detoxification, “detox” for short. Everything that is taken into the body passes through the liver and every drug has a half-life. The half-life is the amount of time it takes to clear half the drug from the body. This varies from drug to drug and is influenced by the manner of ingestion, e.g., snorting, intravenous, oral, etc.

The purpose of detox is to help the patient withdraw from the drug(s) quickly, safely, and as easily as possible. Different drugs produce different withdrawal symptoms and require different methods of detox. Some withdrawal symptoms may be dangerous and require supervision by a healthcare professional. This is particularly true if the patient has a long history of drug abuse, is a heavy user, or has concomitant health problems.

In approaching supervised detoxification, the first important step is evaluation by medical and mental health professionals. The purpose of the examination is to detect the presence of drugs, assess the mental health of the individual, address any physical maladies that may be present, and plan a course of treatment. An in-depth history of the patient’s drug use, medical problems, and past drug treatment should be taken, and blood and/or urine lab tests may be performed.

The first step in the detox process is to make sure the patient is or becomes stable. As mentioned earlier, different drugs produce different withdrawal symptoms, and therefore require different approaches to detoxification. Medically supervised detox is especially important for people addicted to alcohol, sleep-inducing/anti-anxiety drugs, opioids, and prescription pain medications. Withdrawal from these substances may result in significant physical discomfort or potentially fatal events such as seizures or even stroke. The decision may be made to gradually decrease the drug dosage or to temporarily administer another drug in place of the problem drug.

Is it ever safe to undergo do-it-yourself detox at home? The answer is that while this may not be safe or feasible for many people, it may be appropriate for some. Just as one would do with inpatient detoxification, a thorough evaluation by a medical professional should be the first step. Ideally, this examination should be done by someone who is familiar with drug addiction treatments and withdrawal management protocols. If it’s determined that the patient has no significant health problems, is not heavily physically dependent on a substance, and does not have a history of using a drug that typically produces dangerous symptoms during withdrawal, then going through the process of withdrawal as an outpatient may be a viable option. A strong social and family support system is vitally important in this process, so only those who do have such support should undertake this endeavor. Even in successful cases of at-home or outpatient detox, the patient should be cognizant of the fact that withdrawal has not cured the addiction and professional help from a counselor and/or support group should be undertaken and continued as long as necessary to maintain the newly established sobriety.



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