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Guide to Drug Detox: What to Expect During the Process

We often think of recovering from drug addiction as a mental process. In many ways it is; building the skills and will to resist the temptation drugs have for you is certainly a part of most addiction recovery programs. However, any person struggling through addiction knows there is more to it than that. One of the hardest parts of kicking a drug habit comes early and is almost entirely physical: detoxing.

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We won’t pretend kicking an addiction is easy but it’s possible with effort and hard work. The drug detox process is tough but today we will break down what to expect from it. Then we’ll give some advice for making the process easier.

Why is Drug Detoxing Hard?

Detoxing is so difficult due to something called dependence. As you take drugs, they don’t just make you feel good. They also hijack various parts of your body and brain.

At its simplest, your body and brain get used to this altered, hijacked state. Unfortunately, this can cause serious trouble once the drug’s effects start to wind down. The body and mind aren’t used to “normal” and instead crave the altered state the drug put them in.

This is what is called dependence. Dependence comes in two forms: psychological and physical.

Psychological dependence is what most people mean when they say they’re addicted to a drug. It is essentially the feeling that you need a drug or your life would otherwise be better if you took it. Overcoming psychological dependence comes after overcoming physical dependence.

Physical dependence is when the body becomes used to a drug and cannot operate normally without it. Whatever you think about the drug, your body physically begins to hurt and otherwise act up without it.

To overcome a psychological dependence, you first must overcome physical dependence. This is where drug detoxing comes into play.

Drug detoxification is denying your body and mind the drugs it craves so your body can normalize. You must undergo withdrawal, which unfortunately is regarded by many as one of the hardest parts of kicking a drug addiction.

In the interest of fairness, it is also worth acknowledging not every drug is linked to strong physical dependence. For example, marijuana and nicotine cause only relatively minor withdrawal symptoms. For some drugs, it is almost entirely psychological dependence with causes kicking them to be so difficult.

If you’re not sure the exact nature of your addiction, try talking to a professional specializing in addiction recovery. You can trust them to discretely give you advice on the best course forward and what to expect over the course of the recovery process.

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is the dark side of physical dependence. When a body that has grown used to drugs is denied them, things go haywire.

Exactly what form your withdrawal takes will depend on numerous factors, including:

  • The drug you are dependent on
  • The frequency you were taking the drug
  • The dosage you were taking the drug at
  • The length of time you’ve been taking the drug
  • Your own physical health

Taking a drug at high doses and/or for a long time will generally lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms. Even then, perhaps the most important factor in determining the severity of your withdrawal is the drug you’ve been taking.

One of the most difficult classes of drugs to kick for this reason is opiates. About 72 hours after you stop taking opiates, the withdrawal process gets notoriously difficult. You may become extremely nauseous, suffer from diarrhea, and shake with chills.

The goal of going through withdrawal is basically two-fold:

  • Purge the body entirely of the drug it is dependent on
  • Have it grow used to not having the drug affecting it

Exactly how long a drug stays in your system varies pretty widely. For example, opiates are detectable in trace amounts in the body for a few weeks.

Stages of Withdrawal

Withdrawal broadly could be said to come in three stages (four if you count when symptoms fade completely).

The first stage is early withdrawal. This usually comes a few hours after you stop taking a drug you’re dependent on. Symptoms tend not to be severe but are going to get worse before they get better.

The second stage is severe withdrawal. Usually coming 24-72 hours after cessation of drug use, symptoms will be at their worst. Sometimes symptoms get so bad at this stage they can be dangerous without professional help.

This second stage could continue for as long as a few days. It is for many people struggling through addiction is the “wall” that they have the hardest time overcoming. However, symptoms will fade over time and you will enter the last stage of withdrawal.

This final stage of withdrawal takes the longest but generally only continues to get easier over time. It may take weeks or even months for all symptoms to disappear but they should now be growing less and less severe as time passes.

Eventually, withdrawal symptoms should disappear more or less entirely. Just remember this is different than beating your addiction (although a critical milestone).

When kicking any kind of drug, be sure to research what specifically to expect. If you expect the dangers of withdrawal might be significant, it is time to seek expert help. Addiction recovery is hard enough without putting your life on the line.

How Can Recovery Centers Help?

It is not impossible to overcome withdrawal on your own but it is difficult. This is where recovery centers (also called detox centers) can be a massive help. They have special detox programs that can make recovery a much easier task.

Boca Recovery Center and facilities like it exist to help patients recover from drug addiction more easily. One of the most useful services like ours offer are medical detoxing programs.

medical detox program is an acknowledgment of just how hard withdrawal can be. Now, instead of dealing with the symptoms alone in your house, a team of doctors is used to make the worst parts of withdrawal much easier.

These sorts of programs greatly improve the chances you pull through the withdrawal process. This is because having to deal with severe withdrawal on one’s own reduces your chances of successfully beating an addiction.

Importantly, doctors can make sure the withdrawal process isn’t life-threatening. This is especially valuable for people with a severe alcohol addiction, as alcohol can cause quite severe withdrawal symptoms for how common it is.

For the bulk of patients trying to detox, going through a medical detox program will be their safest and most comfortable option. You will have a team of doctors helping to keep you comfortable in a facility specifically built to help you recover from addiction.

Recovery centers also make taking drugs more difficult. Since you’re not in your usual environment, it is often much easier to resist the usual temptations that might push you to use.

Discussed later, recovery centers also make the rest of the recovery process easier. They are full of experts who have literally made their job to help people recover from addiction. These centers greatly improve one’s chances of getting clean and staying clean.

Importance of Follow-Up

However you get through withdrawal, remember it isn’t the end of your recovery process. Addiction doesn’t disappear with physical dependence.

Psychological dependence is a complex beast. Exactly what draws you to drugs may be different than another person, even if their situation is almost exactly the same.

Facing addiction is complex and a process you shouldn’t have to face alone. This is again where facilities like Boca Recovery Center can help. We can make sure you have the tools you need to resist the draw drugs might still hold over you.

Whatever choice you make, remember to tailor your environment so you have the best chance of staying clean.

A strong network is often key to recovery. You still must avoid people who push you to do drugs. Try and stay connected with people who can support your recovery process.

Start Your Journey to Recovery

The drug detox process is hard enough. Don’t force yourself to go through it alone.

There are no easy answers to beating an addiction (and you should be wary of anyone claiming otherwise). It takes time and effort. However, facilities like ours are full of professionals who can help you on that difficult journey.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to get help from our experts, contact us! We’d love to talk with you about how to best start your journey to recovery. We can also answer questions you might have about how best to help someone else in your family who might be struggling with addiction.

Updated June 20, 2023
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