Is it safe to detox alone?
Detoxification (“detox”) is the process of allowing the body to cleanse itself of a drug and dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal. Detox itself is not the entire treatment, but it the first and important step in addiction treatment process.
Many people struggling with addiction will attempt to perform detox alone and in the comfort of their own homes. While this may seem like a self-sufficient, inexpensive solution to an addiction issue, it is highly unadvised and, in fact, a very dangerous approach that occasionally can even be fatal.
Solving an addiction issue is not like other less-severe, innocuous, such as the flu or going on a diet for weight loss. Addiction is a serious, life-threatening disease that needs to be handled in the monitored setting of a professional, certified addiction treatment center.
The risks of withdrawal
Recovering from withdrawal can be a process that lasts either days or weeks, depending on the abused substance from which one is detoxing. But it is important to consider that recovery from withdrawal symptoms is not the same as treating an addiction.
Going through withdrawal from any substance can feel like having a very bad case of the flu. It is not at all like other holistic self-treatment processes, such as an intestinal cleansing. Drug and alcohol withdrawal is serious and potentially deadly.
Symptoms of withdrawal
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 28,000 people were undergoing detox on a typical day in 2011. The symptoms of withdrawal from any substance either be mild or severe, depending on the length of time and the degree to which the person is addicted. That being said, the symptoms of withdrawal vary widely and can include a number of combinations of these symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Fatigue and/or insomnia
- Respiratory depression
How long does withdrawal take?
Different drugs and substances have varying times in which it takes for an addict to recover from withdrawal symptoms. Of course, for the addict, if withdrawal symptoms are severe enough, several days could feel as if to drag on like multiple lifetimes. It is only after going through the process of detoxification and cleansing the body of toxins that the rest of the recovery can proceed.
- Heroin and prescription painkillers withdrawal have flu-like symptoms that last from 1-2 days.
- Benzodiazepine withdrawal causes anxiety and seizures that can last from weeks or, in some cases, months.
- Cocaine withdrawal results in depression and restlessness that lasts between 7-10 days.
- Alcohol withdrawal causes tremors and seizures, and can last several days to weeks.
Alcohol in particular, is well-known to be one of the most dangerous substances from which to suffer withdrawal. In many cases, attempting to self-detox from an alcohol addiction can actually lead to death.
Delirium tremens (DT) is the part of an alcohol addiction detox that can kill someone — sudden cessation from heavy alcohol use can lead to death, especially for those who use alcohol in great quantities every day. Alcohol withdrawal can lead to sweating, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and heart seizures which are the deadly element of the process.]
DT will typically occur within two to four days of the last drink. More than 5 percent of alcoholics who attempt to detox alone will go through seizures, according to NIAAA. Among those who experience a seizure during their detoxification, 5 percent to a quarter of those people will die. Assisted detoxification in a professional setting will eliminate these grim odds entirely.
This is why it is important never to commit to detox by one’s self, not just from alcohol, but all drugs. There is no way to tell ahead of time for certainty how much your body can handle without medical assistance.
Benefits of inpatient detoxification
One should never attempt to detox alone, but in a safe medical setting within an addiction treatment center. The benefits of seeking medical help for detox in a facility massively outweigh the potentially deadly risks of going cold-turkey on your own.
In an addiction treatment facility, medical staff and nurses will be present to assist you through detoxification — the symptoms can be overwhelming (and, as stated, deadly) and you do not want to be alone in this vulnerable condition. If there are any unexpected complications, they can be addressed as soon as they arise.
In a professional treatment setting, the symptoms of withdrawal can sometimes be treated and even avoided, sparing the patient from a lot of suffering.
There is also the high risk that an addict attempting to perform detoxification by themselves will relapse, due to the enormous pressure and suffering of the symptoms. Assisted detoxification in a professional medical setting will provide an environment free of temptations. Medical professionals will be there to help alleviate otherwise unbearable symptoms of withdrawal by other means than relapse back into substance use.
Weaning, rather than “cold turkey”
Sometimes, such as in the example of benzodiazepines, detoxification doesn’t require an immediate cessation, a “cold turkey” approach. There are times when it is better to undergo a gradual tapering, or “weaning,” from the substance. This approach is usually the safest and easiest method.
However, just like all detoxification, it is still better to have the help of medical professionals rather than trying to edge your way off of a drug on your own. Enormous self-discipline is required to steadily reduce one’s dependence on a substance. Each and every exposure to drugs or alcohol is a risk of relapsing. In a facility, there will be medical professionals there to monitor your use and assist you through the symptoms of withdrawal.
The comforting company of others
Even the presence of other people there to take care of you is itself a comfort which will ease suffering. A drug addiction facility will help address the psychological and spiritual needs of a patient who is in the throes of withdrawal. The company and care of others is itself a kind of pain reliever that is worth every expense.