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Medically Reviewed By: Benjamin Caleb Williams RN, BA, CEN

Written By: Phillippe Greenough

Article Updated: 04/08/2021

Going through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can be a horrible experience. The intensity and risks of withdrawal can be managed by finding help, either at a detox center, outpatient detox program, or doctor’s office. Here we will take a look at the experience of withdrawal, what someone may do to minimize the risks and discomfort, and provide some tools for beginning the detox process.

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How Bad is Detox?

Withdrawal can range from simply uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening. The severity depends on the drug(s) used, the amounts used, and the length of time that someone used. Preexisting health conditions may increase certain risks during withdrawal, but may not affect the overall intensity of symptoms a great deal.

The particular drug(s) used can be one of the greatest predictors of withdrawal symptoms and intensity. Take a look at our periodic table of drug detox for a more comprehensive look at when a detox center is recommended for each type of drug. We also have a section devoted to finding alcohol detox centers.

View Drug Withdrawal Timelines & Symptoms

How To Find Help

Different people will face different challenges when going through detox, and this can be more so for certain demographics. Here, we have articles detailing the unique challenges of different groups of people, as well as some resources specific to those groups which may aid their recovery and treatment.

  • Going Through Drug Detox While Pregnant – Detoxing while pregnant can introduce a whole host of unique risks for both the mother and child. There are some unique risks associated with certain drugs, along with specific steps a woman may take to minimize the dangers of detoxing while pregnant.
  • Domestic Violence Survivors – A look at the co-occurrence of addiction and violence in relationships and an examination of the contributing factors. We also provide resources for someone experiencing domestic violence to find help and safety at specialized drug detox centers.
  • Veterans – Veterans have a higher rate of addiction than the general population and often struggle with conditions specific to the stresses involved in military service. The added stress of combat-induced mental health issues can make recovery more challenging, but luckily there are resources and help available.
  • Seniors – Senior citizens may be especially susceptible to drug and alcohol detox, as the process is extremely hard on both the mind and body. Please take a look at our guide to elderly specific risks and resources.
  • LGBTQ – The LGBTQ community appears to be harder hit by certain drugs than others and the health concerns that come with these certain drugs. Here are some specific resources which may help LGBTQ men and women find treatment for addiction and co-occurring health issues.
  • Eating Disorders – Substance abuse and eating disorders are frequently co-occurring and having the right help to deal with both of these issues at the same time is critical if someone wants the best possible chances of recovery.
  • Teens – Young people are not exempt from the struggle of addiction, and identifying the problem and finding help can be difficult. We have some resources which may help teens identify if they have a problem and some recommendations and resources on what to do from there.
  • College Students – Drug use is common in college students and this is often the age when someone may begin experimenting with drugs. Likewise, certain drugs may be seen as “helpful” during school, and we examine the patterns and use habits of college students while providing resources for treatment and recovery.

Additional Reading:

Recovery During COVID-19

Life in recovery can be challenging even in the best of times, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many new challenges. Isolation, quarantine, and social distancing can have a negative impact on anyone’s mental health, especially those who have struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. We have compiled a guide including over 100 resources for maintaining mental health and wellness, finding help and connections with others, and staying active in recovery during this strange time.

100+ Helpful COVID Addiction & Mental Health Resources

What is Post-Acute Withdrawal?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a prolonged period of withdrawal symptoms that, while not as dangerous as acute withdrawal symptoms, are very unpleasant. This is a remnant of the damage done through prolonged drug or alcohol use and includes the neurological, psychological, and rarely the physical effects of addiction. This can result in a variety of symptoms depending on the particular drug that was abused.

What Is PAWS?

What’s The Best Method of Going Through Withdrawal?

The absolute best way to go through withdrawal is to enter a detox center. These facilities can help minimize the risks and the discomfort of withdrawal and also provide resources for furthering someone’s recovery. Regardless of the drug type, these centers can provide medications, supervision, and therapies to make the withdrawal and detox process a comfortable as possible while also providing the highest chances of success.

Find A Local Detox Center

Go To Medical Detox

Detox centers specialize in treating the painful and possibly dangerous symptoms of withdrawal. There are several different kinds of detox centers that may be more or less appropriate for someone depending on their unique circumstances. Some of the major types of drug detox centers include:

  • Outpatient Detox: This style of detox program offers care and the flexibility to fit into almost any lifestyle. Outpatient programs allow someone to come to the facility during the day for treatment and still return home each night. Due to this, it may not be appropriate for everyone, as the freedom this style of program offers may enable relapse if someone is not fully committed to their recovery.
  • Inpatient Detox: Inpatient is a more comprehensive level of care in which someone will live at the facility while undergoing treatment. This may be more appropriate for those who have a history of relapse, or those with co-occurring mental health issues, as the level of medical supervision is much higher. These programs offer less freedom as well as being more expensive than outpatient, so they may not be right for everyone.
  • Rapid Detox: This is a fairly new type of inpatient detox and is intended for those who may be experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. This is essentially a more intense form of inpatient which offers close medical monitoring and oftentimes requires the use of anesthesia. This level of detox will interfere greatly with the rest of someone’s life since it requires 24-hour care for several days on end, although it usually only lasts a few days. This style is also significantly more expensive than standard inpatient.
Types of Drug Detox Centers

At Home Detox

It is possible to detox at home, although this is not normally recommended. The unique complications which may arise during withdrawal and detox may require medical attention, and detoxing at home can be very dangerous. That being said, if someone will not experience severe or life-threatening symptoms, then this may be a possibility. At-home detox is also the cheapest option by far, as there can be little to no cost involved. Someone must carefully weigh the benefits and the risks before taking this route, and consulting a doctor before beginning is essential.

Dangers of At Home Alcohol Detox

Tapering Off Alcohol or Drugs

Detoxing by a taper method is another possibility, although this requires the supervision or oversight of a doctor if it is to be done safely. Tapering is the process of slowly reducing the levels of a drug, alcohol, or cross-tolerant medication to minimize the symptoms while going through the detox process. This can be an effective although time-consuming process as it will, by definition, extend the withdrawal timeline. This may be slightly more expensive than a complete at-home detox method, but offers great flexibility while also including consultation with medical professionals to minimize the risks.

Tapering Off Alcohol

What About Quitting Cold Turkey?

This is by far the cheapest method as there is essentially no cost, although it is also the most dangerous. Some drugs can produce fatal consequences if they are discontinued abruptly, so this method is not possible for certain drugs. This is also the most uncomfortable route to take, as suddenly ceasing drug use once someone is dependent produces severe withdrawal symptoms regardless of the specific drug. This route may be the shortest method, however, as the body will be forced to adapt quickly upon abrupt cessation of drug use.

I’m Not Ready To Go Through Withdrawal

Even if someone is not ready to quit using, there are steps they can take to reduce the risks of continued drug use. This includes safer use habits, especially for IV drug users, and some precautions that may be taken to prevent overdose and deaths. Additionally, STDs and diseases are rampant in communities of those who use drugs, and there may be ways to minimize these risks as well.

Harm Reduction Resources

Needle Exchanges

IV drug use is extremely dangerous, not only due to the fact that someone can inject a lethal amount of drugs in a second but also due to the risks presented by using dirty needles and needle sharing. Diseases can flourish in communities of drug users, and even if someone isn’t ready to quit, this doesn’t mean that they should expose themselves or others to potentially fatal diseases.

Needle exchanges are programs which will safely dispose of used needles and trade them out for clean ones. This not only reduces the risk of disease from people sharing needles but also the risk of infection due to old needles which are commonly reused for weeks by a single user.

Needle Exchange Locator

MAT

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a treatment approach that uses a combination of withdrawal medications or substitution medication and behavioral therapies to treat drug addiction. These programs have been successful regarding addiction treatment and relapse prevention, and are widely available.

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