Drug detoxification (detox for short) is typically the first step of a rehab treatment program for a person in active addiction. During this critical time in the recovery process, medical professionals give monitored, around-the-clock, specialized care as the toxic substance(s) is removed from the body and withdrawal symptoms are managed.
Detoxification aims to minimize the effects of the harmful substance while managing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms the user may have. These symptoms, which are non-life-threatening in most cases, occur when use is abruptly stopped or greatly reduced. A person may enter detox before withdrawal symptoms start or after they are fully underway.
The care a client receives at this time may include medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms. This period can last anywhere from seven to 10 days, sometimes longer. Much depends on how far along a person is in withdrawal, what kinds of symptoms they have, and the severity of those symptoms. Other factors include the method used to consume the drug (whether it was crushed, smoked, swallowed, injected, or snorted), the frequency of use, family history, and other physical and mental health factors.
Throughout drug detox, the symptoms of withdrawal will occur in two phases: acute and post-acute. The acute phase can entail physical and psychological symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, joint pain, anxiety, insomnia, and depression depending on the type of drug that was abused.
Because of the severity of these symptoms, medically-assisted detox helps to treat and relieve the client from the symptoms of the withdrawal phase. For example, benzodiazepine tranquilizers are used to numb the withdrawal symptoms of cocaine and methamphetamine addictions.
The post-acute phase of detox is the most difficult stage. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can occur during this phase. The symptoms of PAWS affect memory, sleep, the ability to cope with stress, emotional stability, and physical coordination. Similar to the treatment of the acute phase of detox, the post-acute phase incorporates clinical methods for the safety of the client.
Drug detox is highly important and widely viewed as the beginning of an extended drug rehabilitation program. It is not designed to replace drug addiction treatment that addresses the whole person. It is just the first step.
In addition to stopping drug abuse, the goal of treatment is to return people to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and community.
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