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Professional Detox or Cold Turkey?

When it comes to drug addiction or alcoholism, many people are unaware of the fact that detox can be a dangerous process. Detox refers to the symptoms and physiological changes that take place in the brain and central nervous system when a person abstains from drugs or alcohol after becoming physically dependent. Movies, television and other media have either glamorized or demonized detox to the point where the reality of this process is blurred or even completely fabricated. However, the general perception that many people have about addiction adds to the confusion surrounding detox: because some people believe that addiction is simply an issue of self-control, they see detox as completely unnecessary. And while some drugs are less dangerous to detox from than others, most addiction professionals agree that detox should always occur in a professional medical setting.

Addiction is a clinical, progressive and neurological disease that can have serious implications for people who stop using certain drugs. But while some drugs are more dangerous than others, the detox process is usually the same – the primary differences lie in how severe Acute Withdrawal and Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms are. For people who are addicted to drugs like marijuana, nicotine, caffeine, and even some prescription medications, detox can be very mild and only last for a few days. But for people who are addicted to harder substances like opiates and benzodiazepines, the symptoms of detox can be extremely unpleasant and in some cases life threatening.

After consistent use of any substance, a person naturally develops tolerance, followed by dependence, followed by active addiction. This process leads to the development of neurological pathways in the brain that respond to drugs and alcohol by releasing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for the “high” or euphoric feeling that people experience when they use drugs or drink. Because the drug use experience is catalogued by the brain’s pleasure and reward center, environmental and situational associations are made that cause intense cravings to replicate the same feeling. These urges are at the heart of addiction and detox.

When a person suddenly stops using chemicals the body has become dependent upon, changes in the central nervous system can result in unpleasant and even frightening side effects like delirium tremors, grand mal seizures, heavy sweating, insomnia, respiratory depression and even cardiac arrest. This is especially true of detox from alcohol and benzodiazepines like Valium and Klonopin. In fact, the Association of American Family Physicians stated the following in a 2004 publication:

“Alcohol inhibits NMDA neuroreceptors, and chronic alcohol exposure results in up-regulation of these receptors. Abrupt cessation of alcohol exposure results in brain hyperexcitability, because receptors previously inhibited by alcohol are no longer inhibited. Brain hyperexcitability manifests clinically as anxiety, irritability, agitation, and tremors. Severe manifestations include alcohol withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens.” (1)

Based on this information it’s logical to conclude that the severity of withdrawal symptoms will be proportionate to the severity and duration of active alcohol addiction. And because these processes work the same for benzodiazepines, both should be detoxed from in a medical setting so that symptoms can be managed with therapy and medication.

Quitting a drug cold-turkey is possible and people do it all the time. However, if you are addicted to drugs detox is only the beginning of your journey. While Acute Withdrawal – the focal point of detox – lasts for 3 to 7 days, Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can last for up to 2 years. For this reason, most people who are successful in an addiction or alcohol recovery program first go through detox and then follow this up with professional addiction treatment like inpatient treatment or alcohol rehab.

Whatever your situation is, you don’t have to think about it alone. Call us now for a no-obligation consultation with one of the country’s best addiction and alcohol rehab centers. We’re ready when you are to help you stop the cycle of addiction.

(1) Association of American Family Physicians Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome March 2004
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0315/p1443.html#afp20040315p1443-t2
Accessed 06/18/2011

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