When a person takes drugs of any sort, or partakes of alcohol, there are physical changes that occur in the body. Over time and repeated use these changes can develop into a perceived ‘need’ to continue taking the substance. That need can be in the form of either physical dependency, a state where the body has adapted to a drug and needs more and more of it to get the same desired results, or addiction, the condition in which a person seeks the substance compulsively even though the results of use are now actually undesirable and dangerous. Physical dependency, substance abuse and addiction are all considered part of substance use disorders, a treatable and manageable diagnosis. Both of these conditions come as a result of physical changes in the brain.
It is possible to become physically dependent on a drug or on alcohol without actually becoming addicted to it. However, dependence, like addiction, may bring some withdrawal symptoms. Addiction will most certainly bring withdrawal symptoms in the case of alcohol and most drugs. Withdrawal occurs when the use of the drug or alcohol suddenly stops. Symptoms often include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Anxiety, sweating, heart palpitations
- Depression and an accompanied temporary loss of interest in daily activity
- Irritability and heightened level of emotional sensitivity
- Nausea and loss of desire to eat
For alcohol, withdrawal symptoms may come within eight hours after having finished a drink, in the case of severe addiction. This means that many people with alcohol use disorder wake up in the morning with a severe physical craving to have more alcohol. Sometimes, however, the symptoms do not appear for a few days. When alcohol is not given to the system, these symptoms can persist off and on for weeks.1
Detoxification is a process in which withdrawal symptoms are handled in a controlled manner. In this process, the addict or physically dependent person is safely distanced from the substance. Although these withdrawal symptoms mentioned above may be quite intense, going through the detoxification process with medical supervision and assistance can bring comfort and relief to the extent possible.
Some drugs are dangerous to quit alone. In some instances, stopping the use of a drug immediately results in a shock to the body that can actually send an individual to the emergency room. Anyone with an addiction or physical dependency that they want to get rid of is encouraged to see a doctor who can give suggestions about coming off the substance in a balanced and controlled way.
Detoxification is a necessary step in treating addiction and overcoming physical dependency. Those who are afraid to take this step of detoxification rob themselves of the ability to move forward to freedom from the slavery to the substance to which they have become dependent. Dual diagnosis means that addiction is compounded with other mental health or physical health conditions, and these usually begin to experience improvements when the detoxification process is started.
With addiction disorders, detoxification is only one of the steps necessary to become healthy again. Even though one has gone through the detoxification process, addiction is still a neurocognitive diagnosis that actually compels that person to seek the drug again. It takes a very strong mental re-structuring process in order to fortify convictions against this addictive thinking. Most people will need therapy to learn how to live an addiction free life. This therapy is offered at many detoxification facilities.2
Some are able to detox from their drugs with the help of an outpatient treatment program, while others find it necessary to check into a closed-off facility where they have basically a guarantee that they will go through the detox program without giving in to addictive compulsions. Either of these methods can be very successful, it just depends on the individual and the circumstances and addiction habits to which they are unique. However, the benefit of inpatient treatment is a higher success rate, a bigger support network, and, with the assistance of a medically supervised detox, a more comfortable detoxification time period.
1 Medline Plus. Alcohol Withdrawal. Found online 1/26/16 at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000764.htm.
2 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol Series, No. 45. (2006) Found online 1/26/16 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64115/.