Detox is short for the word, “detoxification.” Detoxification is when a user’s body takes out the toxins of a drug in its system.1 The term “detox” is used for more things than just drugs and alcohol, because it simply means when your body is getting all unwanted material out of its system, whether it is drugs and alcohol, or fat and other unhealthy chemicals.
For a drug or alcohol user, detox is when he/she stops taking the substance of addiction for a long enough period of time that his/her body can get out the drug’s chemicals. This withdrawal from the drug has physical symptoms like vomiting, sweating, or shaking. It is also an emotional process.
Detoxification is only the first step toward rehabilitation. Doing only a drug or alcohol detox is not enough for a full recovery because there are many psychological, social, and behavioral problems also involved with addiction that are not addressed by detoxification.2
There are two types of detoxification. Non-medical and medical detox.
Non-medical detoxification is when the body rids itself of drugs and alcohol without using other medication to help facilitate the detox. This is sometimes referred to as going “cold turkey."3
Medical (or “medically managed”) detoxification is when a medical professional supervises and administers a detox where the user uses other medicines that reduce the symptoms caused by withdrawal from the addictive drug.
For example, the use of methadone is a common drug prescribed for addicts of heroin or prescription drugs to help make the detoxification process and withdrawal symptoms not as severe and intense as going cold turkey. Medical detox is used depending on the drug that is being detoxified and for how long it has been used.3
The detoxification process can be very difficult, painful, and emotionally straining. For both non-medical and medical detox processes, it is best if there is a medical professional observing and making sure you are okay. If you don’t have a medical professional with you, then it is important to notify another person, such as a friend or family member, who can be there for support or supervision in case of an emergency.
Detox is a necessary and vital first step toward rehabilitation and recovery. Why?
In order to function on the normal level of chemicals that your brain and body need, you first have to get the unnatural and abnormal amount of drugs and alcohol out of your system. That is why detox is important. It is the first step towards healing, rehabilitation, and recovery.
When a person takes drugs or drinks alcohol, there are chemicals that alter how his/her brain functions. These substances give the brain a hugely unnatural dose of chemicals. When a person has abused drugs and/or alcohol and has become dependent on that unnatural amount of chemicals going to his/her brain, it can have devastating consequences. You know this. This is why you are seeking treatment for yourself or your loved one.
To begin rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction, you need to get your brain to a level where it can work on the amount of chemicals naturally produced by your brain and body. Detox helps you get to this level by flushing out the excess chemicals from drugs and alcohol that your body doesn’t need or shouldn’t have.
Beginning with the detoxification of your body and then rehabilitating and treating the mental, social, and physiological issues connected with your addiction, you are teaching your body, mind, and spirit to not need a constant hit of an unnatural amount of chemicals to function. When you do this, you can begin to heal and have a drug-free life.
In general, when you go through detox, it may seem as if your body is going through the exact opposite effects of what it does when you take drugs or drink alcohol. This is because your body is physically craving the chemicals in drugs or alcohol. Because it is not getting those chemicals, it intensely reacts by having withdrawals and using whatever is in your body, which is relatively little because you are not taking the drug and replenishing it in your body.
The level of severity of withdrawals during meth detox is dependent on the amount of meth used and the length of time meth has been used. Because of the euphoric and pleasurable nature of a methamphetamine high, detoxification from meth is often a period of the opposite effects, including:4
- Increased need for sleep, fatigue
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Increased appetite
Within this period of meth detox, the body will first go through withdrawals. Symptoms of meth withdrawal include:4
- Bad mood
- Vivid and unpleasant dreaming
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Increased appetite
- Anhedonia – loss of interest and joy in life
- Drug craving
- “Crashing” – intense and unpleasant feelings of lassitude and depression
1) “Detoxification.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Ed. 2000. Date downloaded: June 23, 2010.
2) “Detoxification and Medically Managed Withdrawal.” Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Date Downloaded: June 24, 2010.
3) “Detox.” SoberRovery.com. Date downloaded: June 24. 2010.
4) Doster, M. RN, CARN, “Methamphetamine: Intoxification, Detoxification, Withdrawal and Treatment.” Methamphetamine Summit. October 2005. Date downloaded: June 18, 2010.