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What to Avoid Doing When Helping an Addict Detox

person trying to help their loved one struggling with addictionDrug and alcohol addiction recovery often begins with the challenging process of detox. The client must overcome withdrawal symptoms and cravings to use more of the substance of abuse. Withdrawal can be taxing on the body and often requires medical treatment. Some people try to help their friends and loved ones without medical care and often resort to “home remedies” that can be futile or even dangerous.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information has established its Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management for Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. In addition to detailing medical standards and practices for treating withdrawal, it outlines some important points on helping a person through detox, including things that should be avoided during detox.

  • Don’t try to counsel the person in detox. They may be in a state of confusion and extremely vulnerable, so any words of consolation may be taken the wrong way.
  • Don’t instruct the individual to exercise. Withdrawal symptoms may be exacerbated with physical exercise and even prolong the experience.
  • Don’t provide unrealistic expectations. Sometimes, friends may try to give the person reassurance by saying things that aren’t true about withdrawal symptoms. Simply be there to support them.

Reasons to Avoid Home Remedies

Individuals who abuse opioids, for example, may try to slowly taper off the drugs at home. This can be a challenge without medical supervision, and users go back to using the drug at original doses simply to feel better. Some people may take over-the-counter medications for diarrhea, nausea, and aches and pains to combat withdrawal symptoms. This can be dangerous because one’s tolerance to other medications can change with exposure to opioids, and medical complications, such as dehydration, may require hospitalization.

According to NIH’s Overdose Death Rates, for all drugs, around 50,000 overdose deaths occurred nationally in 2015, compared to around 40,000 in 2011. If an individual has overdosed, all the signs may not be evident at home. Medical testing and treatment may be required to manage the effects of an overdose and, quite possibly, save the individual’s life.

Many people who attempt to detox at home try to stop taking drugs suddenly, or “cold turkey.” For certain substances of abuse, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, this can put the body into shock and trigger life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

There are other reasons to avoid at-home detox attempts, such as:

  • The risk of relapse is high. Anxiety, muscle cramps, stomach pain, perspiration, and other opioid withdrawal symptoms can be hard to cope with. Benzodiazepine withdrawal involves anxiety and muscle pain, plus restlessness, irritability, agitation, and concentration or memory problems. With alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, dehydration, perspiration, and changes in heart rate and blood pressure can be severe. Because the discomfort associated with withdrawal can be alleviated by ingesting the drug in question, relapse is likely if professional support isn’t available to prevent it.
  • Mental health issues compound the problem. Depression, bipolar disorder, and other conditions add to the difficulty of addiction and detox. Mental health issues tend be amplified during detox. States such as agitation, anxiety, paranoia, and insomnia may heighten. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), anxiety and depression represent the most common mental health disorders that can accompany addiction. In medical detox, the client will receive medical support to manage these issues.
  • Serious medical complications are possible. Chronic medical issues, such as liver problems, can emerge during drug or alcohol use, and they may be undiagnosed. As a result, complications during detox are possible. Potential complications may include shock, respiratory deficiency, cardiac emergencies, seizures, and other medical situations that cannot be handled or resolved outside of a medical setting.

It’s therefore important for medical and psychiatric professionals to be on hand during detox to continuously monitor the individual. These professionals can provide medication and therapy to stabilize the person and guide them toward the next phase of recovery.

Additional Concern for Home Detox Remedies

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) published Principles of Effective Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) that details how to treat an individual suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. These principles outline various practical approaches to treating the disease, and one of the principles is that treatment should be readily available at all times; otherwise, withdrawal complications could prove fatal in some instances.

For example, if Amy’s friend is helping her detox from alcohol at home, Amy might be willing to push through this difficult withdrawal stage. Her body, however, might not be as strong as her desire to quit. A friend may not be able to convince Amy to drink enough fluids because she feels so ill. If dehydrated, she may need intravenous fluids, which cannot be provided at home. Amy can become agitated and erratic. A bigger concern, however, is the potential for hidden medical issues, such as liver damage or dangerous fluctuations in blood pressure. The risk of permanent impairment or worse can only be mitigated in a controlled environment, such as a detox facility or hospital. It’s likely that Amy will simply relapse to alcohol abuse and not complete the withdrawal process; in the worst-case scenario, Amy may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, and professional help may not get there in time.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), alcohol abuse accounts for $25 billion in healthcare costs and $224 billion overall in terms of costs related to medical treatment, lost productivity, and crime. Illicit drugs account for $11 billion in healthcare costs and $193 billion overall.

While it can be tempting to utilize home remedies in an effort to help an addict detox, these at-home attempts are not the answer.

The principles outlined in the NIDA publication mentioned above indicate this. Treatment for an individual struggling with substance addiction should be handled professionally for a variety of important reasons.

  • Addiction is a complex disease, and some drugs can alter the structure and function of the brain. Proper treatment is required over the long-term because the risk of relapse exists long after one stops using the substance.
  • Addiction treatment must be matched with the drug of abuse and the physical and psychological traits of the person. Outpatient or inpatient treatment settings, intervention strategies, and treatment services vary based on the person’s condition and recovery needs.
  • The treatment must focus on drug abuse, withdrawal, and recovery, and all associated mental, legal, vocational, and other problems must be addressed for it to have any positive results. Treatment staff members must also factor in the age, culture, and gender of the individual.
  • The time period one is in treatment is a major consideration. Three months of treatment is the minimum needed by most individuals struggling with addiction, according to NIDA. Any relapses will require more treatment or adjustments to the care protocol.
  • Many individuals require medication, such as naltrexone or buprenorphine, especially when recovering from addiction to heroin or other opioids. Disulfiram is often prescribed to those struggling with chronic alcohol dependence.
  • Family, group, or individual counseling, plus other options like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), focus on the individual’s motivation and ability to resist additional drug use. They also instill problem-solving, interpersonal, and life skills in clients.
  • A treatment plan should be continuously assessed and modified based on the person’s needs throughout the course of treatment. Different medical services, medications, therapies, and social or legal services may be required over time.

Effective Detox Is the Gateway to Recovery

Survival Analysis of Drug Abuse Relapse in Addiction Treatment Centers, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, reveals that even with professional treatment, relapse is a concern. In 2012, it found a relapse rate of 30.42 percent among 140 individuals in four addiction treatment centers in Iran, with a median of time to relapse of 25 ± 2.25 months. A monitored and supervised treatment process involving facility staff and families seemed to be effective in lowering the relapse rate.

Detox and addiction treatment should therefore involve families of affected individuals and medical professionals. The study identifies drug abuse as a chronic condition and a lifestyle disease. Over the course of the research, 43.6 percent of subjects relapsed, and just 56.4 percent remained abstinent of substance use.

Medical Detox Determines the Level of Care Needed

protocols for helping an individual detoxOne should avoid complacency when helping a friend or loved one detox because there are specific medical criteria for determining the level of care needed. The criteria are outlined in SAMHSA’s Quick Guide for Clinicians. These include ambulatory detox with or without onsite monitoring, clinically managed residential detox, medically monitored inpatient detox, and intensive inpatient treatment. In the guide, evaluation domains involving biomedical and psychosocial factors are identified as well. It also outlines the unique approaches to treating specific populations, such as adolescents, parents with dependent children, victims of domestic violence, and others. Withdrawal symptoms and potential complications associated with specific drugs are listed too.

If one is not familiar with the established protocols for helping an individual detox, they should avoid providing care that might be ineffective or harmful. There are many different types of drug abuse. These are explained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The characteristics, symptoms, and treatments for addiction to alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and other drugs vary from one substance to another. A December 2016 article from HealthDay News reveals that drug overdose deaths are continuing to climb. Overdoses of synthetic opiates are complicating matters and demanding more frequent extreme medical actions, such as resuscitation.

Avoiding home detox remedies can set an individual struggling with addiction on a better path. The serious consequences of drug use should be managed in a professional setting. Physicians, nurses, and psychologists are equipped to address challenging symptoms and complications during the detox stage.