Detox is the first step on the road to recovery for those suffering from substance abuse. The means of drug detox varies depending on the type of substance being abused. Various drugs are classified below, along with their effects on the body, and their withdrawal symptoms.
The self-detox known as “quitting cold turkey” is undertaken at great risk; it does not involve a medical intervention or oversight, and it can be fatal in cases where a person is a longtime user of alcohol or benzodiazepines or is withdrawing from long-term use and/or high amounts of methadone.
Not all drugs are potentially fatal in the withdrawal process, but those such as cocaine and amphetamines can still present severe difficulties. One of the most significant complications is the relapse factor. The body loses its tolerance for the substance that was abused, and if that substance is then reintroduced into the body at the level of prior consumption, overdose becomes a significant risk.
- Opioids relieve pain and can cause feelings of euphoria. These include prescription pain medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, heroin, morphine, fentanyl. Withdrawal symptoms can include sweating, muscle aches, agitation, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, vomiting. For opioid addiction, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved methadone and buprenorphine.
- Depressants suppress or slow the activity of the brain and nerves to create a calming or sedating effect. These include barbiturates like phenobarbital; benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax; alcohol; and the club drug GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate). These minor tranquilizers act against anxiety and convulsions and produce sedation and muscle relaxation. Withdrawal symptoms can include palpitations, hand tremors, sweating, panic attacks, anxiety and sleep problems. For depressant withdrawal, the strategy is to continue to take the drug in decreasing amounts, switch to another benzodiazepine, or substitute phenobarbital.
- Stimulants accelerate central nervous system activity and cause one to feel energetic, focused, and alert. They can also cause feelings of edginess, anger, and paranoia. These include cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA or ecstasy. Withdrawal symptoms can include sleepiness, muscle pain, anxiety, tremors, low mood, and in some cases suicidal ideations or cardiovascular problems. There are no FDA-approved medications for stimulant addiction; in the absence of such options, some drug treatment centers use depressants (benzodiazepines) to counteract the effects. These can be addictive; they are prescribed mostly due to lack of alternatives.
- Hallucinogens affect the central nervous system to alter the perception of reality, time, and space, including hearing or seeing things that don’t exist or imagining situations that aren’t real. These include magic mushrooms, LSD, peyote, Angel Dust. While hallucinogens are not physically addicting, they can be psychologically addicting, as the user feels they can’t enjoy themselves without the drug, and higher doses are required to achieve the same effects.
Road to Recovery
Full rehabilitation from substance abuse can be considered a journey on a long road, with detoxification as the first step. It’s important to note that while the physical detoxification is extremely challenging, the brain can take months after detox to recover the ability to operate normally without the substances in question.
Medication treatments for withdrawal vary depending on the type of substance abused, how much was taken and over how long a period of time. There are also addiction treatment programs that operate entirely drug-free. Regardless of which one is chosen, utilizing a specialized treatment facility is highly recommended for safety as well as the far higher chance of success. Medications and intervention are available, along with a support system to help one through the psychological challenges of breaking the addiction. While the relapse rate is high, the chances of success are as much as ten times greater when treatment is undertaken in a specialized facility.