Addiction and drug dependence is a growing problem in the United States, and the prospect of getting professional help for a drug problem may seem daunting. A quick Internet search will reveal a host of home remedies and alternative therapies that claim to help people kick drug addiction and dependence. Some hold more water than others and may even be found in addiction treatment centers across the country.
But what about the more serious withdrawal symptoms? Is it safe to go through detox and withdrawal on your own? Also, will it be an effective way to escape the oppression of active addiction and achieve lasting sobriety?
Learn more about drug withdrawal, the detoxification process, and whether or not home remedies are a viable detox option.
Withdrawal symptoms are the result of your nervous system suddenly going out of balance after you remove a chemical it came to rely on. In some cases, your brain will attempt to produce chemicals that counteract the drug to achieve balance, but the chemicals are ultimately suppressed by the powerful foreign substance. When you stop taking the drug, the natural chemicals that were held at bay will be unleashed and cause uncomfortable symptoms until your brain reaches a balance.
The symptoms and severity of withdrawal depend on a number of factors, including:
While your doses and the amount of time you were in active addiction are important factors in the timeline and intensity of your withdrawal, the most significant danger factor is the type of drug taken.
For instance, drugs like marijuana do not cause strong drug dependence or physical addiction. If a person does become addicted to marijuana, it will be a psychological addiction. After quitting, it might cause irritability or anxiety, but these effects are usually mild. However, drugs like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids can cause more intense withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous.
Opioid withdrawal is the least likely to result in a fatality, and symptoms are typically described as flu-like. In some cases, vomiting, excessive sweating, and diarrhea can lead to dehydration which can cause potentially dangerous complications. With medical treatment and monitoring, fatal opioid withdrawals are easily avoided.
Alcohol and benzodiazepines are another story. They are both in a class of drugs called central nervous system depressants that slow down your nervous system. When you become dependent on depressants, your system might start to make more stimulating drugs to counteract the effects. When you stop drinking or using benzos, your brain will have a serious deficit of inhibitory chemicals and a sudden influx of excitatory chemicals resulting in nervous system overactivity.
This can cause dangerous effects like delirium, seizures, and convulsions. Without medical attention, these symptoms can be deadly, but with help, the change of fatality drops considerably.
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In very few instances, an at-home detox could be an option for a healthy individual without a significant physical dependence or with a history of substance abuse. A thorough evaluation is necessary, however, by a physician to determine someone’s substance use history and where this process should take place. The only time this could potentially be conducted is when someone has a lot of support at home and is not severely addicted to drugs or alcohol. If someone is dealing with an addiction to alcohol, opioids, or sedatives, they should not consider this option.
Outpatient programs may be beneficial for some whose addictions are slightly more severe, but their symptoms will not require intensive supervision around the clock. This is only available at a more intensive residential treatment center. The option is well regarded for those with significant family and community support behind them since the client will return home after each treatment session.
Those with a significant history of substance abuse that involves heroin, alcohol, or prescription sedatives will be best suited in a residential program that provides around-the-clock care. If you are dealing with life and death matters, you must take the situation seriously.
There are a variety of home remedies that range from helpful to dangerous when they are attempted at home on your own. It’s important to note that you should always contact a medical professional if you have decided to get off of a drug you are dependent on. They will be able to tell you more about the risks and symptoms you face and can offer help in safe detox. Here are some of the most common home detox methods and whether or not they are effective.
Getting off of a drug by stopping abruptly, known as going cold turkey, is the most extreme method of detox. In some cases, it can be necessary, like if it would be more dangerous to continue using.
However, it’s also the method that typically produces the most intense withdrawal symptoms. With some drugs, it can even be extremely painful or uncomfortable. With substances like nicotine or caffeine, cold turkey detox can be effective, and fairly safe. After a few bad days, your symptoms clear up, and you’ve broken your chemical dependence. Though, you may still have cravings and compulsions to smoke or drink caffeine.
Other drugs, particularly alcohol and other central nervous system depressants, are significantly more dangerous when you quit cold turkey. Stopping depressant use abruptly makes you much more likely to experience dangerous symptoms like Delirium tremens, a condition that comes with convulsions, catatonia, confusion, and death. If you have become dependent on a prescription or illicit drug, the safest thing to do is consult a doctor before quitting cold turkey.
Eating a nutritious diet can definitely help replace toxins from drugs and alcohol in a healthy diet. Dietary changes can help you recover from the detoxification process but might not be as helpful when it comes to withdrawal symptoms. When you are feeling nauseous, sweating profusely, and suffering from other flu-like symptoms, the last thing you will be thinking about is incorporating more chia seeds in your diet. Still, detox centers often have nutritionists on staff to help clients recover during detox, and it can be effective in conjunction with other interventions.
With less potent substances like nicotine, exercise can help purge toxins out of your body, improve your moral, and help you sleep better at night. However, with more serious substances like alcohol and opioids, too much physical exertion can actually be dangerous.
Withdrawal symptoms can cause blood pressure and heart rate changes, fatigue, and dehydration. In that state, even if you are on medication and feeling good, you are better off resting and recuperating until after you complete the detox process.
Addiction and detox have a plethora of alternative therapies that are said to help ease cravings and symptoms. Some have very little evidence supporting their efficacy while others are used in addiction treatment facilities. Some of the more common alternative therapies include:
While many of these have some clinical evidence to support that they do work for some people, none of them are supported by scientific research. While they may be helpful when used alongside evidence-based therapies, they will most likely be only marginally effective on their own.
Medical detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment, and it’s designed to ensure your safety 24 hours a day. Medical detox involves medically managed services that typically last about a week, depending on your needs. The nature of your detoxification and the services that are provided to you will also depend on the drug you are coming off of.
Medical professionals may administer drugs to help you safely wean off of the substance if necessary. Either way, they will make you as comfortable as possible, managing symptoms and monitoring for any potential complications. If at any point you need medical interventions, staff will be alerted to spring into action at all hours of the day.
Medical detox is also equipped to handle other medical conditions and complications that might be related or unrelated to your substance use disorder. In many cases, addiction can lead to diseases and even injuries that need to be addressed early in treatment.
Medical detox will also help keep you accountable.
When detoxing on your own, even if you have the best holistic home remedies, there will be times when it is difficult to resist the urge to use again. The uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal mixed with the intense cravings some drugs cause can be nearly impossible to resist.
Addiction, by nature, means that your brain has been rewired to seek a particular drug compulsively. With 24/hour supervision, you won’t be able to relapse during a moment of craving like you would at home.
Finally, medical detox facilities can help you get connected to the next step in addiction treatment. In most cases, detoxification isn’t enough to stop an addiction. Triggers, cravings, and compulsions to use will continue for a long time after detox. Addiction treatment can help you learn to cope with these cravings but addressing underlying issues of addiction and learning relapse prevention strategies. Clinicians at your medical detox facilities can help you find the next level of care you need.
The level of support and supervision someone can receive under the care of professionals can save your life during withdrawal. It may sound dramatic, but there are severe cases of withdrawal that end up in death.
If someone is willing to make a drastic change in their lives, it’s necessary to take precautions and use the resources available. Not to mention, relapse is far more likely for those who attempt to forego this process by themselves. Relapse can result in an overdose, which can lead to death.
You may not be prepared for the intensity of the symptoms awaiting you, but a detox center can provide medication that helps take the edge off your worst symptoms.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm
Sau, M., Mukherjee, A., Manna, N., & Sanyal, S. (2013, September). Sociodemographic and substance use correlates of repeated relapse among patients presenting for relapse treatment at an addiction treatment center in Kolkata, India. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3824454
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction