Drug Detox with Medications: Helpful or Risky?
Detoxification is a process that an alcoholic or drug addict goes through to cleanse the body and to fight through the symptoms of withdrawal. If you are battling with addiction and have made the decision to come clean, you have taken a very big step already. The next one will be very difficult: leaving your drug of choice behind you. This means going through a process of detoxification. There are many ways to detox and you need to choose the path that will be the best for you. If you are helping a loved one through this process, you can stand by them and help them make the right decision.
Types of Detox
You have a few choices for detoxing from drugs or alcohol. By far, the best option involves others who can help you through this difficult time. Ideally this means checking into a rehab center with professional counselors and doctors. Whatever method you select, do not try to go it alone. You are facing a very tough battle and the more support you have, the easier it will be to succeed.
- Cold turkey. Going cold turkey means simply quitting your drug. There is no easing off gradually when you go cold turkey. You simply don’t use anymore. The withdrawal symptoms that you will experience can be severe and extremely unpleasant. This is not recommended that you do this in the “comfort” of your own home, but rather in a rehab. Depending on the drug, going off a drug cold turkey can be dangerous.
- Gradual, natural detox. Some people who can’t face the idea of going cold turkey try to gradually lessen the amount of drug they use. The idea is to lessen withdrawal symptoms by slowly reducing the drug until it is no longer used. This requires incredible willpower.
- Inpatient detox. If you choose to use the help of addiction professionals, you can check into an inpatient facility. Your time there could be weeks to months depending upon your needs. You can expect to be given a variety of techniques and treatments to help you deal with symptoms of withdrawal as well as counseling and support.
- Medication-assisted detox. This type of detox can be performed on an inpatient or outpatient basis. It involves taking a replacement drug to ease withdrawal symptoms and to curb cravings.
Using replacement medications is most common with opioid addictions and alcoholism. With medications, you can be given a replacement that helps you to be weaned off of your drug. You can also take medications that help relieve the symptoms of withdrawal to ease your way into sobriety. This type of detox should be undertaken with the help and guidance of a doctor or other experienced professional. Many of the medications used in this type of program are controlled substances and there use is regulated by the government.
For alcohol addiction, common medications used for detox are naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate calcium. Naltrexone, which is also used for opioids is designed to reduce cravings if you have already stopped using alcohol or drugs during treatment. Disulfiram is used to keep an alcoholic from drinking. If you drink while on this drug, you will experience very unpleasant symptoms, so it works as a deterrent. Acamprosate calcium helps to keep you from drinking after you have already stopped.
For opioids, in addition to naltrexone, methadone and buprenorphine are common medications for assisted detox. Methadone is a synthetic opioid that can help you get through cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is used often with heroin addicts, but can be used for other opioid addictions as well. Buprenorphine is also a synthetic opioid and serves the same purpose as methadone.
The Risks vs. the Reward
Overall, medication-assisted detox is a better choice than natural or cold turkey detox for most people. Trying to quit without medication to ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms requires extreme willpower that most people don’t have. It is possible to come clean from alcohol and opioids without medication, but the odds are not in your favor. Just the idea of withdrawal symptoms can keep many addicts from seeking treatment. Knowing that you will have medication to minimize them can be a great relief.
You might want to know, however, if there are risks of further addiction when using medications to help with detox. The truth is that detoxing with replacement medications is low-risk if done correctly. Drugs like methadone and buprenorphine can be addictive. If you use these drugs for detox, you may suffer withdrawal and cravings, but this will be much less severe than with the original drug.
The key to using medication to detox is doing so with the guidance and help of a professional. A doctor who is trained to assist with detoxification can give you the correct dosages, make sure there are no interactions with other medications, select the right drug for you, and help you come away from the replacement medication without an additional addiction. A good detox program also includes therapy and group counseling. Success rates for medication-assisted detox with counseling and therapy are much higher than without.
The bottom line is that you need to do what is right for you or help your addicted love one select a method that is right for them. You must consult with experienced professionals to help you make the right choice and to get through the program with the best chance of success.