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People abuse mind-altering substances for any number of reasons. For most people, substance abuse grows out of curiosity; after becoming curious about substance abuse and giving it a try, a person escalates his or her intake of alcohol or drugs, but it quickly spirals out of his or her control. It’s not intentional, but once they enjoy the experience of intoxication these individuals find themselves escalating their alcohol and drug intake. In most instances, they maintain the misguided assumption that they’ll be able to remain in control of their substance use. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. What was a passing phase for many becomes an entirely new way of life alcohol or drugs being at the very center.
There are other reasons people turn to chemical intoxicants as well. In fact, there are many addicts for whom becoming dependent on the substance of their abuse was unintentional and even circumstantial such as when people with chronic health problems become dependent on their prescription medications; it’s only when they attempt to go off their medications that they realize they’ve become addicted. On the other end of the spectrum, some people turn to substance abuse as a means of self-medicating, whether due to the stress of day-to-day life, the experience of some trauma during childhood, or even because of some type of trauma they’re currently experiencing. In short, there are many different reasons why a person might resort to substance abuse, but the desired effects that one wants to experience is what determines the substance that a person chooses to abuse.
Each mind-altering, chemical substance exists on a sort of spectrum. The spectrum itself is comprised of several different types of substances, but almost all of them can be broken down into one of two groups: stimulants and depressants. These two types of substances are essentially opposites in terms of their effects on the central nervous system; stimulants increase a person’s energy level and speeds up bodily functions while depressants cause drowsiness and a strong sense of relaxation. Some of the substances that are considered depressants include opiate painkillers, heroin, benzodiazepines, alcohol, hypnotic pharmaceuticals, and sedatives. Noticeably, many of these substances are prescription drugs or opium-like substance because they essentially depress the central nervous system.
Abusing a depressant involves taking a higher-than-necessary dose of a depressant, which causes some very specific changes in the body. The most notorious effects of depressants are their ability to inhibit or dramatic slow down the brain’s ability to function. The precise means by which this is achieved varies from one substance to the next, but in most cases the effects depend on the drug’s ability to alter the levels of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Some of the most common neurotransmitters include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. According to the simplest definition, neurotransmitters are often referred to as the “chemical messengers” of the brain, and their job is to relay communications such as modulations, boosts, and other messages from one part of the brain to another and from neurons to other cells located throughout the body.
More often than not, depressants cause a dramatic surge in the levels of neurochemicals that are associated with feelings of relaxation and calm such as one called GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA—and other, similar neurotransmitters—cause drowsiness, relaxation, reduce motor coordination, and inhibit cognition. It’s this surge of neurochemicals that causes the euphoria and other enjoyable feelings that substance abusers seek. However, the body eventually adapts to this constant bombardment of depressants, which typically entails the brain significantly reducing its own, natural production of those neurochemicals; instead of producing these neurochemicals on its own, it relies on the individual’s frequent consumption of depressants to trigger a flood of neurochemicals that are now merely restoring the brain’s neurochemical balance.
But in the absence of depressants, the individual experiences a deficit of neurochemicals, which triggers a number of unpleasant or even painful symptoms that are collectively known as withdrawal. Withdrawal is a sign of physical dependence, and physical dependence is the component of addiction that’s addressed in a depressant detox program.
When in the throes of addiction to depressants, the majority of addicts will have experienced withdrawal symptoms during the times when they were unable to obtain their drugs of choice. During these instances, the withdrawal symptoms are at maximum intensity due to their not receiving any level of treatment to mitigate the symptoms or their severity. Therefore, people who are addicted to mind-altering, chemical substances often see recovery as being tantamount to inviting the withdrawal symptoms willingly. In fact, fear of withdrawal symptoms is one of the most common reasons why addicts either resist or outright reject the recovery process; unfortunately, they’re not aware that there is a form of treatment specifically for helping addicts to break their dependence on depressants or other types of drugs.
The process of depressant detoxification treatment begins with a consultation with an intake specialists. It’s during this time that the individual’s addiction is assessed in terms of its severity, which helps with determining a rough estimate of how long a person’s detoxification treatment will last and what specific types of treatment the addict needs to overcome his or her addiction. It’s also important for the incoming patient to be introduced to a lot of the staff with whom he or she will be interacting during detox treatment. After the intake process, the patient is shown to his or her accommodations, which is where he or she will be able to relax and focus on the recovery process during detoxification.
There are a number of benefits to depressant detox programs. For one thing, detoxing in an actual detox facility provides those suffering from addiction with an environment that’s completely removed from where they became addicted in the first place. In many cases, it’s a person’s home environment—particularly the people, places, things, and situations—that directly contribute to a person’s becoming addicted, and it would be extremely difficult to regain one’s sobriety while continuously confronted with the things that caused one’s addicted in the first place.
Moreover, there are no distractions; a person can focus on his or her recovery with little to no risk of relapse or distraction. But it’s the actual treatment that a person in a depressant detox program receives that is likely the most valuable feature of this type of program. Through a combination of treatments and therapies, detox programs offer people addicted to depressants or other substances a great degree of relief from the symptoms of depressant withdrawal; in turn, this treatment significantly increases a person’s potential for success in breaking free of the chains of physical addiction.
The continuous or habitual abuse of any chemical intoxicant—whether alcohol or one of the numerous drugs that exist—is going to result in the body becoming dependent on the substance. Whether the drug is a stimulant, a depressant, or otherwise, it will cause some level of change in the brain or elsewhere in the body. With the continuous consumption of such substances and, therefore, the continued unnatural trigger of abnormal bodily functions and process, the body reaches a point where these changes aren’t an isolated incident. This forces the body to adapt.
With depressants in particular, the body essentially accommodates the substance abuse by reducing its own, natural production of neurotransmitters associated with calm and relaxation.
Producing significantly less GABA and other calm-inducing neurochemicals, a person addicted to depressants must continue to abuse the depressants or the body’s neurochemical level will plummet. When this occurs, the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, there’s the potential for a person’s depressant withdrawal symptoms to become so severe as to put his or her life and well-being at risk. Much like alcohol, the strong physical dependence a person develops with most depressants—which, again, consist of substances like barbiturates, benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants, opioids, and so on—results in the brain’s neurochemical level being dramatically thrown off as the addict abruptly ceases intake of the substance at the start of detox. Therefore, it’s essential that people addicted to depressants seek inpatient, medical depressant detoxification treatment as the first part of his or her recovery journey.
The allure of depressants are their specific effects, which is why they’re often called “downers”. These drugs amplify the body’s natural ability to relax and overcome stress, but once the body becomes dependent on depressants, it’s almost as if the body can no longer calm itself without the depressants. Some of the most common depressant withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, and agitation. In effect, without the drugs to help the person achieve a state of calmness he or she feels on edge while the body is unable to produce enough GABA and other neurochemicals to produce drowsiness. Many people exhibit an elevated body temperature and increased blood pressure when experiencing depressant withdrawal symptoms, but there have even been instances of people reaching the point of suicidal ideations. The body becomes tense and it often becomes difficult to urinate as well. Overall, depressant withdrawals exceedingly unpleasant and the fact that the body can’t stabilize its own processes makes it a dangerous experience when facing withdrawal symptoms without medical detox treatment.
The purpose of detox treatment for depressant addiction is to prepare the addict for upcoming phases of the recovery process by cleansing his or her body, allowing the individual to break physical, chemical dependence on the depressant drug to which he or she has been addicted. This involves a number of different treatments and features, but the overall idea is that the addict is given a time during which to simply focus on his or her own recovery and relax, free from distraction and temptation. With a team of physicians, detox technicians, and other staff members, a person undergoing a depressant detox treatment regimen can be assured of his or her continuous safety and comfort.
While in active addiction to depressants, many addicts fail to address their more basic and essential human needs, particularly when it comes to diet and nutrition. Therefore, a depressant detox program often entails an emphasis on restoration of physical health via establishing a well-rounded, nutritional diet. The purpose of this focus on diet and nutrition is to ensure that the individual has all the vitamins and nutrients necessary to heal and achieve a state of optimal physical health. Similarly, hydration is extremely important during a depressant detoxification, especially since it’s by drinking water that the majority of toxins are released or expelled from the body; in other words, hydration is a significant part of the cleansing aspect of detoxification.
In terms of the withdrawal symptoms that most addicts associate with the absence of their substances of choice, there are a number of ways that depressant detox programs address and alleviate those symptoms, but those offerings tend to vary from one facility to the next. Some of the more holistic and luxurious detox programs offer such things as massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and biofeedback. If withdrawal symptoms were to become too uncomfortable or dangerous, many programs will offer medication-assisted detox that alleviates the severity of the symptoms and allows the person to essentially taper off the substance to which he or she is addicted rather than ceasing substance abuse abruptly. This is most often a consideration if the depressant to which the addict is addicted is a benzodiazepine or alcohol, which are the substances known to be the most potentially dangerous during detoxification; but, again, the danger is completely mitigated by detoxing in a depressant detox program.
As mentioned previously, one of the most common fears that addicts have with regard to the recovery process is detoxification, and that’s because of a deeper-rooted fear of depressant withdrawal symptoms. Having experienced untreated depressant withdrawal symptoms during times when they’re unable to obtain their desired substances, addicts end up trapping themselves in a state of continued addiction due to their aversion of detoxification since that would mean having to conquer withdrawal. For this reason—and because of the potential for a depressant detoxification to be dangerous and require medical, inpatient detox treatment—it’s not recommended for addicts to detox from depressants from home.
If someone addicted to depressants attempts to detox at home, there’s a much greater chance that he or she would return to substance abuse before completing the detoxification. Due to still being in his or her home environment—which, incidentally, is likely the place where he or she became addicted to depressants in the first place—the individual will be experiencing untreated withdrawal symptoms while also being confronted with the temptation to continue using in the form of people, places, things, and situations that he or she associates with substance abuse. In short, where a depressant detox program would separate a person from the environment that would interfere with progress on his or her sobriety.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how long a person’s depressant detox will take because there are many factors that are considered. During the intake process, the severity of a person’s addicted is assessed in order to provide a rough estimate of the length of time that would be required for his or her detox, but even this estimate is subject to some level of change. There could be unforeseen factors that change the timeline of detoxification, making the process either longer or shorter, so it’s important to be aware of some of the things that can affect the length of time that’s required for a depressant detoxification.
The length of time and “severity” of one’s addiction is a major factor in how long of a detox program is required to break one’s physical dependence on depressants. Additionally, the specific depressant to which the person is addicted is another important consideration since certain depressants—especially alcohol and benzodiazepines—are more addictive and known to be much more difficult to overcome in terms of physical dependence than many other types of depressants. It’s also important to know whether a person has had previous attempts at recovery since failed attempts at recovery in the past will indicate the need for a more intensive addiction treatment plan, which may start with a somewhat longer period of depressant detoxification treatment. However, the general amount of time that depressant detox treatment will require can range from one and two weeks.