What Is Alcohol or Drug Detox? Detoxification is the process of flushing substances from the body and managing any resulting withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol detox and withdrawal produce a set of physical and mental symptoms that result from alcohol's departure from the body, commonly referred to as alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms often vary in severity: they can be confused for a mild cold or they can prove deadly. This unpredictability makes medical involvement and supervision incredibly important. Drug detox and withdrawal can arise from both illegal drugs and prescription pain killers, and are rather similar to alcohol detoxification but the symptoms and medical solutions will vary based on several factors: The drug or drugs taken The duration and extent of drug use Any family history of addiction General health concerns or absence thereof The presence of co-occurring mental health disorders (the coexistence of mental health diagnoses and addiction) Alcohol and drug detox are the first stages to recovery from substance use disorders. Medical professionals and treatment centers can provide a safe environment for detoxing from alcohol, opioids and other drugs and transition patients into a more engaging treatment experience. What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome? The extended use of alcohol will force the body to adjust to the presence of alcohol's ingredients. The brain adapts to the depressant effects of alcohol and creates a new normal for the nerves and neurological pathways. Your body is now calibrated to function with alcohol. Then you remove alcohol during the detox stage and the body is forced to respond to its absence. The result: alcohol withdrawal. What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome? There is a spectrum of possible alcohol withdrawal symptoms, ranging from those that are mild and almost imperceptible to ones that are very serious and possibly fatal. Ultimately, it's hard to know what will happen during anyone's alcohol withdrawal process. It varies from person to person. Complicating medical conditions, like heart disease or a history of seizures, can increase the severity of withdrawal. These are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal: Anxiety Headache Sleeplessness Nausea Vomiting Tremors Delirium tremens Some people might not even realize that they're experiencing withdrawal or confuse it with a hangover. But withdrawals will become progressively worse, both the symptoms and severity. And for severe cases, conditions like delirium tremens can prove life-threatening. What Is Delirium Tremens? Delirium tremens (DTs) is a life-threatening symptom of very severe alcohol withdrawal. About five percent of alcohol withdrawal cases will experience delirium tremens, and those most at risk are people who have experienced the condition before or have dealt with seizures in the past. This condition is what makes alcohol withdrawal deadly. Its symptoms include: Agitation Confusion Vomiting High blood pressure Tachycardia (a rapid heartbeat) It's absolutely vital that anyone who suspects the onset of DTs consults medical professionals immediately and seeks emergency care. What are the symptoms of Drug Withdrawal? Drug withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug or drugs used. Going through withdrawal can feel like having a terrible case of the flu, especially when withdrawing from pain killers or other opioids. While not all drugs have life-threatening withdrawal periods, some drugs like benzos and opiates can prove fatal. Symptoms include: Nausea Body aches and muscle cramps Fever/Chills Sleeplessness Fatigue Runny nose Anxiety Depression Restlessness Irritability How Can I Safely Detox and Manage Withdrawal Symptoms? A detox program or addiction treatment center are forms of supervised medical detox, and both will provide a safer environment for your detoxification and withdrawal processes. Medical care providers will evaluate a patient's risk factors. For example, someone with heart disease or diabetes would be at a higher risk for complications during alcohol withdrawal. In an inpatient setting, doctors can safely monitor, manage and ease any existing conditions alongside the rise of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and provide a safer, more comfortable withdrawal process. It's also possible for a doctor to manage your withdrawal symptoms while you remain at home. Physicians can prescribe medications that will relieve your symptoms or cravings and give you a better chance at fully quitting and engaging in a safe and healthy recovery thereafter. Which Should I Use: A Detox Center or a Treatment Facility? The choice depends on the individual and her goals. Basically, detox centers are for short-term management of symptoms. But detox alone isn't considered treatment. Their patients have a high rate of relapse and their programming may lack in any long-term treatment planning. For a short-term management of alcohol withdrawal and drug withdrawal, it's always better to have medical supervision and a detox center can certainly provide that. At treatment facilities like Hazelden Betty Ford, patients receive a comprehensive physical and mental evaluation upon entering the program. Treatment facilities supervise the withdrawal process and prescribe medications to manage any concurrent health concerns. Once the drug or alcohol detox process is complete, the patient continues a treatment plan at the facility and receives a long-term road map for rehabilitation and recovery. Regardless of choice, if someone is seeking ongoing abstinence from drugs or alcohol, a plan for continued care is vital for success. If you enter into a treatment facility, counselors and other clinicians can craft that with you. Are These Places Effective for Drug Addiction and Drug Detox? Treatment programs can absolutely attend to all SUDs all together. The same methods of medical intervention and long-term treatment planning are effective for managing any drug abuse issues or drug withdrawal. If co-occurring addictions are involved—where a patient is dependent on alcohol and other drugs—treatment programs will account for those circumstances during their medical supervision and treatment planning. The Takeaway for Withdrawal and Detox Alcohol and other drug withdrawal can be serious. Although many people experience mild symptoms and may confuse withdrawal with something harmless, the outcome of withdrawal is unpredictable and potentially life-threatening—especially if you have any existing health complications. Involving your doctor or a medical facility will ensure you are safe and protected. If you have tried to quit on your own before, medical involvement to manage withdrawal is even more important. Addiction is not your fault. Don't blame yourself. But keep in mind that, had you been able to quit alone, you likely would have already. The medical community is here to help. We will provide you with medication-assisted treatment to manage your withdrawals, a safe environment to focus entirely on quitting, and a long-term treatment plan that increases the likelihood of sustained recovery. You are not alone in this. Together, we will overcome addiction. Update: The Pandemic's Effect on Substance Use Disorders The pandemic is a considerable source of anxiety, uncertainty and isolation for many. Unfortunately, it's creating an environment that promotes heavy or atypical alcohol or other drug use. For those who had effectively managed their drinking or other drug use prior to the pandemic, any uptick in use may bring about unforeseen consequences: the convergence of stress and increased alcohol or other drug use may trigger addiction. And for those who are already in a program of recovery for a substance use disorder (SUD), the current circumstances can be quite difficult to manage. If you or a loved one is experiencing alcohol abuse or substance abuse of any kind, speak out. Loop in your support systems and medical professionals. A doctor might be able to manage your addiction remotely, prescribing medications for cravings or withdrawal symptoms. In cases of heavy use and severe withdrawal, your doctor can provide a medical environment to help oversee a safe detoxification process and serve as an advocate for long-term treatment planning. Addiction is not your fault. Don't blame yourself. Hope and recovery persist despite the pandemic. You can still safely detox through a supervised medical detox program or through an addiction treatment center. You don't have to manage your substance use alone.