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Drug 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
One 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.