Understanding Drug & Alcohol Detox from a Family Member's POV
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Understanding Drug and Alcohol Detox from a Family Member’s POV

How to Get Help with Drug Addiction

If you’re wondering how to deal with an addicted loved one who is repeatedly using drugs or alcohol, you probably know that they needs to go to rehab. But what does that involve exactly?

Medically assisted detox is the first step in the treatment process. Here’s what family members need to know in order to create an intervention plan that is safe and likely to lead to long-term sobriety.

What Medically Assisted Detox Is, and Why It’s Safer than At-Home Detox

Acute Withdrawal Timeframes for Specific Substances Chart - Reflections Recovery CenterDetox refers to the initial period of treatment in which the body is cleansed of the drugs and/or alcohol. This first step is critical because it’s impossible for an addicted person to make healthy lifestyle changes while still under the influence of toxic substances.

While detox can occur naturally simply by no longer ingesting the substance, this is not recommended because, in some cases, it can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms – even death.

While severe withdrawal doesn’t happen in all cases, there’s no way to know for sure until it does happen. So, it’s best to play it safe and make sure that your loved one goes through a medically assisted detox program.

Medically assisted detox means that the addicted individual goes to a rehabilitation or treatment facility where medical staff oversees the detox process. In a safe and controlled environment, doctors monitor the client for any signs of health problems during the detox process, and they can prescribe medication to help ease the pain and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms.

The medical assistance provided during the detox process makes medically assisted detox both the safest and most comfortable method of overcoming withdrawal.

The Dangers of Detoxing Alone

In addition to potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, one of the dangers of detoxing alone is that the individual will simply find the process too unbearable and decide to go back to substance use.

Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the drug and the individual, but can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal discomforts
  • Fever, chills, sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • A runny nose, excessive tearing
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Depression (including suicide risk in some cases)
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
  • Hallucination
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Intense drug cravings

Detoxification is an intense process both physically and psychologically. For these reasons, a professionally managed environment can support your loved one through this process much more reliably than even the most supportive and loving family member.

Who Benefits from Medically Assisted Detox?

Because of potentially life-threatening withdrawal complications, medically assisted detox is especially important for those addicted to the following substances:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines and Barbiturates
  • Opiates and Opioids (i.e., heroin and prescription painkillers)

Even for substances that do not have dangerous withdrawal symptoms, it is still important to have a professional oversee the withdrawal process to provide support and supervision and to ease discomfort.

Since going through withdrawal is the first and most painful part of the treatment process, most drug users and alcoholics are eager to avoid it. Helping your loved one understand that the medical staff can ease their discomfort may help convince your loved one to agree to go to rehab.

The Three Stages of Detox

If your loved one is unclear on what detox in a professional setting involves, let them know about the three different stages in the process:

  1. Evaluation Medical professionals assess the individual to get a thorough understanding of their condition, including which substances are in their body, his current mental health state and any history of medical or mental health issues. Then, an appropriate detox strategy will be created based on their needs.
  2. Stabilization This is the main part of detox treatment, when the patient is introduced to the process and provided with ongoing medical and/or psychological services to help ease them through the detox process.
  3. Awareness building The patient is informed about the next stages in the recovery process, and encouraged to commit to further treatment, since detox alone is not sufficient for full recovery and long-term sobriety.

What Happens After Detox

Once the detox process is complete, which can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the substance and the individual, then the second phase of addiction treatment begins. This second phase of treatment features 1) counseling to help the individual overcome the issues that led to addiction in the first place, and 2) education to help them avoid relapse in the future.

This step sometimes begins during the later stages of the detox process, once patients have detoxed enough for them to have a clear head and honestly process their thoughts and feelings without the influence of substances.

Rehab programs differ in terms of how much of the addiction recovery process they cover:

  • Some facilities only do detox, in which case you would need to make plans for continuing support at another facility, either on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
  • Some rehabs only provide long-term treatment and will refer you to a separate facility for the initial detox process.
  • Some rehabs offer a combined, full-service detox and treatment program. This may be entirely on an inpatient basis, or a combination of an initial inpatient period followed by outpatient care.

When evaluating rehab centers, find out what they do to support family members and educate them on how they can help their loved one stay sober when they return home.

How to Get a Loved One into Detox

To find the appropriate medically assisted detox program for a family member, as well as long-term treatment, it’s best to work with a professional interventionist who knows how to convince even the most stubborn person to agree to rehab. Intervention experts can also help you choose a detox and treatment facility that is right for your loved one and fits your insurance and budget requirements.

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