You may fear the idea of withdrawal. Perhaps you’ve heard horror stories about the agony and discomfort. The good news is withdrawal doesn’t have to be painful.
With professional support, you can safely and comfortably make it through detox. And usually, it will take about a week.
What Is Withdrawal?
Technically termed detox, the withdrawal process is defined by what happens in the brain and the body when someone who is addicted to a substance stops taking it, whether gradually or abruptly.
Addiction is defined by both a physiological and a mental dependence on a substance. Not only does the body respond with symptoms of physical illness when a physiological dependence is an issue, but it can feel like there is no possible solution to the problem other than to use the drug again.
The mental addiction is, arguably, the most crippling. You may feel like without your substance of choice, life is just too hard to navigate.
What Detox Timeline Can I Expect?
There are a number of factors that contribute to how detox is experienced and the timeline. These things play a role from the first moment withdrawal symptoms begin until they are no longer a minute-by-minute or hourly problem. Some of these include:
- Drug of choice.
- Dose of the drug of choice at the time use stops.
- Use of other drugs.
- Use of medications.
- Amount of alcohol ingested if alcohol is not the drug of choice.
- Length of time spent living with an active addiction.
- Underlying mental health issues.
- Underlying medical ailments.
If you are addicted to marijuana or crystal meth (drugs that do not typically come with overwhelming physical withdrawal symptoms), withdrawal can begin very differently. In these cases, the psychological cravings can be the most difficult to push through, especially after the point that physical issues like headaches, body aches, insomnia, and other symptoms begin to fade.
Is It Possible to Detox at Home Without Medical Help?
It’s possible, but it’s not recommended.
Just as the detox timeline will be deeply impacted by the specific details of your individual experience with drugs, alcohol, and co-occurring disorders, the ability to detox alone is based on a number of personal factors as well. In fact, many of the same factors that contribute to the experience of detox are also factors in how best to manage detox.
- Drug of choice: Some drugs cause a detox experience that is heavily defined by intensive and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. If you are addicted to alcohol and/or benzodiazepines, for example, you are advised to enter a medical detox program with onsite access to medical care during the initial, most intensive physical withdrawal symptoms. If either of these drugs are the primary substance of abuse, supervised medical detox is recommended.
- Dose of the drug at the time of cessation of use: If you are living with a high-dose addiction to any drug, a high tolerance has been built to the drug of choice and potentially to other drugs of abuse as well. This can increase the severity of withdrawal symptoms or lengthen the amount of time it takes to stabilize after detox. Those with high-dose addictions are advised to attend an intensive addiction treatment program that starts with medically supervised detox.
- Use of other drugs: If there is a primary drug of abuse but common abuse of many substances of all kinds, detox can be especially tricky. It is likely that underlying medical conditions have built up over time.
- Use of medications: If you are currently being treated with medication for medical or psychiatric reasons, suddenly stopping the use of illicit substances may alter how your body and brain process other medications. This can complicate detox and trigger issues with the underlying disorder as well. It is important to have a doctor’s supervision during the detox process in order to make sure the process unfolds safely.
- Amount of alcohol ingested: Many people who try to detox from their drug of choice believe that they can safely use other substances of abuse or moderate their use of substances in some way as a form of treatment. Because alcohol is legal, if you are addicted to pills or cocaine, you may think that drinking is okay during detox and addiction treatment. This is not an accurate assessment. If there is no commitment to full abstinence, it is important to connect with a detox program.
- Length of time spent living with an active addiction: If years have been spent in active addiction, the patterns of compulsive use are heavily ingrained. An inpatient detox or an outpatient detox with high accountability is recommended followed by long-term inpatient addiction treatment and/or sober living if you have spent years living in addiction.
- Underlying mental health issues: If diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia, both the psychological and physical issues associated with detox can be exceptionally difficult. It may be difficult to complete the detox process alone. Supervised detox is recommended.
- Underlying medical ailments: If you are living with chronic pain or other chronic disorders, it is essential that medical care is available throughout the detox process. Stopping use of all substances can make it more difficult to manage the medical ailment. Inpatient detox is recommended followed by a comprehensive drug addiction treatment plan that includes treatment for the medical disorder.
Additionally, and perhaps the most important factor, is the environment at home and the relationships there that could support or sabotage your ability to stick with detox all the way through to sobriety. If others in your home are abusing drugs or alcohol, if you live alone or do not have a stable living situation, or if there are rocky relationships that make life emotionally difficult, then it is much more likely that a medically supervised, inpatient detox program will be needed.
What if My Loved One Needs Help?
What does your loved one need to be successful in recovery? Are there co-occurring disorders to consider, a long history of drug use and abuse at play, multiple failed attempts at long-term recovery, or relationships that are making it harder to think clearly and focus on treatment?
It is important to consider all the unique issues that may make the recovery process more challenging as well as the things that could improve the likelihood of long-term sobriety.
Providing more space for supportive relationships and focus on health and wellness, while decreasing the stress of emotional and physical challenges, is key to a safe and efficient drug detox experience.
As detox is the first step in a comprehensive drug addiction treatment program, it is essential that treatment starts strong. Building a solid foundation during detox can help someone begin a new life in recovery and do the groundwork they need to manage co-occurring disorders. They can turn their attention to the inner work that is necessary to leave active drug addiction in the past.
Supportive family members are very often the reason that people struggling with addiction are able to transition into recovery. If you are concerned about your loved one’s use of substances, take the time to find out more about available options for medical detox.