There are many factors that come into play when deciding when it comes to detoxing from alcohol, drugs, or addictive behaviors. Not every person is going to be the same either. At Live Rehab we take a holistic approach to addiction and recovery and that starts well before the behavior, alcohol, or drug detox process which is what I want to talk about here.
Behavior, Alcohol and Drug Withdrawal
I think we all have this perception that drug and alcohol detoxification is this incredibly uncomfortable situation you are put in when struggling with alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder or any other addictive behavior but that’s not always the case. When you make the decision to quit something you are addicted to, you will go through a period of time where you will be detoxing but the process will be unique to you. The goal of detox is to rid your body from drugs, alcohol or toxic behaviors so that you can have a clear mind for long term treatment.
No matter what types of substances or behaviors you are addicted to; meth, heroin, alcohol, cocaine, prescription medications, porn, sex, your phone, you should make sure you are fully prepared for how you will handle those first days once you stop cold turkey.
Medical Detoxes vs Natural Detox
When it comes to alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction or substance abuse with certain medications like benzodiazepines or barbiturates medical detox may be necessary. Pregnant women or those who have any medical condition do need to talk to medical professionals as a cold turkey detox can be lethal. Do not attempt to detox on your own without consulting your doctor. If you think you are experiencing an overdose, please call 911 right away.
Acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe and could lead to life threatening alcohol withdrawal seizures and will require medical supervision at a detox facility. These symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from moderate to severe. Some severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: increase in body temperature, seizures, racing heart rate, hallucinations, muscle spasms and extreme confusion. If you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal syndrome you will need to go to seek medical treatment right away.
If mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome or benzo medication withdrawal, talk to your treatment provider about options and whether or not medical supervision is necessary. The effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome or if you are experiencing a benzodiazepine withdrawal, this can be life threatening. A healthcare professional may be able to offer prescription drugs to ease the symptoms. Patients generally report inpatient detox programs or medically monitored drug and alcohol detox to be helpful and can then start their recovery plan when they are done.
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Detoxification services do not offer a “cure” for substance use disorders. They often are a first step toward recovery and the “first door” through which patients pass to treatment.”
Finding a time to detox
You can have a natural detox at home if it is safe to do so. Detox from drugs that are not benzos or barbiturates or from alcohol is generally safe from home and would not require an in-patient or outpatient detox program unless it is advised by your doctor. The drug detoxification process may be uncomfortable with unpleasant symptoms but is typically safe.
The first thing you will need to do is find a date that works for you. Again, those first few days are going to be difficult no matter what your drug of choice or behavior is but the entire withdrawal period will vary from person to person. Of course, physiological alcohol dependence or illicit drug abuse withdrawal may be more severe than a behavior addiction withdrawal but whatever it is you are struggling with, you’ll need to make sure you are prepared for the symptoms and the effects of withdrawal. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, behavioral addictions can still produce symptoms of withdrawal.
There have been quite a few studies on this topic. According to an article that was published by the National Center for Biotechnology information:
Behavioral addiction such as internet addiction is similar to drug addiction except that in the former, the individual is not addicted to a substance but the behavior or the feeling brought about by the relevant action. In addition, the physical signs of drug addiction, are absent in behavioral addiction. Others have stated that behaviorally addicted individuals have certain symptoms and will undergo the same consequences brought about by addiction to alcohol and drugs as well as other obsessive behaviors.
You don’t want to be going through the withdrawal process, detox period, or be experiencing major physical or emotional symptoms if you have something important going on in your life. For example, if you have a wedding, a birthday party, a work trip, a big presentation or whatever coming up, you will want to make sure you are not starting your detox right then. You will need to be sure to give your body and mind plenty of time to heal before those things and if necessary, you may need to wait until it’s over to begin. I don’t recommend waiting too long, you don’t want to wait longer than 30 days so if you have something coming up in 3 weeks, it’s best to plan to detox before whereas if you have something coming up in 3 days you may need to wait until after.
How to Prepare your body for Detox
Before detoxing I want you to be fully prepared for all of your responsibilities as this reduces the risk of relapse. This process at first can seem quite daunting but it’s essential in increasing your chances of success. Do you have children, pets, or elder parents you need to care for? If so, is it possible to get help during your detox? If not, how can you minimize the risk to ensure they are safe?
For example, I had a client, a single dad, who worked full time. He was able to take time off work to detox but did not have anyone available to take his 5 year old daughter to and from school. He knew that waiting too long was not an option as things were deteriorating and his performance at work was decreasing so together we made a plan. His detox started Friday night. Before, he fully prepared himself, and we’ll talk about that in a moment, but also fully prepared his daughter. This was years ago, so he rented DVDs, stocked up on coloring books, playdough, easy to make food for his daughter and he child proofed the entire house, made sure everything was locked up, He made sure that she knew if daddy was unwell how she could call 911 and then they hung out in the living room and watched movies. Daddy had the flu. By Monday the worst was over but he was still rather weak so he kept her home from school on Monday to give himself another day to recover. By Tuesday he was safely able to take her to school and then by Wednesday he was over the worst and back to work on Thursday. Was this the ideal situation? No. It would have been better for him to have someone take care of her while detoxing but to expect everyone to have every option at their fingertips is unrealistic so you need to figure out a way to do this with the options that you have. Because at the end of the day quitting your addiction as soon as possible is better than dragging it out over months or even years because you are uncomfortable with the idea of having to detox. I’m here to help you figure out a way to get it done.
Setting a Date for Detox
Okay, so back to setting that date. Once you’ve set that date, which is less than 30 days from now, immediately work on reducing your use even if it’s just a little bit each day. This will make a huge difference in how hard your detox will be. So tapering down will look different for everyone. If you struggle with drinking alcohol, make that appointment with your doctor and have 1 less drink today than you did yesterday. If you struggle with marijuana, smoke half a joint less than you did yesterday, if you struggle with porn addiction, watch 10 minutes less today than yesterday. But whatever you do, and this a very common mistake that a lot of people have, is do not give yourself permission to go out with a bang. Your detox will be excruciatingly difficult and you will regret it. You need to accept this for what it is and start making those small changes now.
As the time gets closer to your first day of detox, you will want to do what you can to reduce your responsibilities at home and at work if possible. If you can take time off that would be the best case scenario. If you can’t then your first two days should be on your regular day off, whether it’s saturday, or another day in the week that you have off. If you can get child care, someone to care for your pet, or best would be to have someone there to help you with the hard stuff like cleaning and cooking. If you don’t have those options, just remember, you still need to move forward and find a way to get it done.
So what you do to prepare will entirely depend on what substance or behavior you are detoxing from. Opioid withdrawal symptoms include gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea so stocking up on liquids to drink that have electrolytes is best as well as ensuring you have clean sheets and towels.
And remember, if you are going through alcohol detox, depending your dependence on alcohol, you may need professional medical care. Even light drinkers can experience body tremors, rapid heart rate, and muscle cramps during withdrawal.
If you are detoxing from something like marijuana you may not have such harsh physical symptoms but you still may experience things like racing heart, anxiety, low mood, body aches, etc. so making sure you know how to handle those by having things to keep you busy and take your mind off stuff.
If you are detoxing from something like porn or sex, maybe making sure you schedule to do things outside or in public to keep you away from the space you normally use for those behaviors.
How long will detox last?
Regardless of what it is you are detoxing from, you should expect the duration of withdrawal to last anywhere from 2-10 days (possibly longer and of course, every person is different.) If you have a behavior addiction you will experience more psychological withdrawal symptoms. So before the detox starts make sure you have plenty of entertainment (TV, books, puzzles, etc. – things to keep your mind busy.) Make sure you have plenty of healthy food options as the last thing you’ll be wanting to do is make a trip to the store to buy food, and make sure your space is cleaned up. Having to detox in a cluttered or dirty space can feel suffocating and you’ll just be annoyed that you’ll have household chores to do later so do as much as you can beforehand to set yourself up for success.
What to focus on during detox
While you are detoxing there are very specific things you should be working on which may be a difficult process. First, taking care of your physical health so eating healthy meals and snacks and drinking plenty of water. If you gorge on junk food, it’s not going to help your detox.
The severity of withdrawals will entirely depend o n the type of substance or behavior you are addicted to. Some people who are detoxing will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as muscle aches, fatigue, nausea or a runny nose. Others may experience severe withdrawal symptoms so it will be important to make sure you are looking out for signs of dehydration especially if you are vomiting or have diarrhea. One thing you can do is something called the skin test. Take the back of your hand and pinch the skin. If you are not dehydrated your skin will go back to normal once you let go. If you are dehydrated your skin will stay in a pinched position. If you are becoming dehydrated start drinking more but if you can’t keep anything down you will need to go to the emergency room as you will likely need an IV for fluids.
If you do have an upset stomach stick to the BRAT diet which consists of bananas, rice applesauce and plain toast. Those are foods that are generally pretty natural for an upset stomach. If you are not experiencing gastrointestinal issues then when it comes to eating try to make sure you are eating good portions, not too much and not too little – 3 meals and a snack per day and make sure you stock up beforehand on healthy options like premade salads, soups, some frozen meals can be okay but limit the junk food and especially foods that are high in sugar like donuts or soda. Water should be the only thing you drink unless you are dehydrated then you’ll want to try something with electrolytes.
You will also want to make sure you are trying your best to move your body. If you are in the middle of a hard physical detox, it’s okay to relax until that passes but once you are able to, try to get up and stretch, take a walk outside and so on. Nobody is expecting you to go to the gym and have a hard core work out or run 5 miles each day but light moderate exercise is very important. Try doing things like yoga or a like I said a walk outside can really make a difference. If you are having a hard time getting out of bed or off the couch, which is completely normal when detoxing, then start by just forcing yourself to stand up and touch your toes at least every hour.
Taking naps is okay but it’s much better to focus on getting a good night’s sleep so if you are sleeping all day and not able to sleep at night try to limit your napping to 1-2 times during the day, no longer than 20 minutes. During the day, make sure you open windows to get sunlight so that you can ensure you are keeping your body on it’s natural biorhythm. Getting good sleep during detox is really difficult for some people so just do your best to not sleep during the day and aim for a decent bedtime. Limit caffeine so that your body can sleep well at night and try to stay away from screen at bedtime if possible.
During detox it’s important to nurture your mental health. So give yourself permission to relax and binge watch your favorite shows. Be proud of what you are doing and try not to think about the past but rather focusing on the future. What are your hopes and dreams for after detox? What are some of your life goals? If you have a journal, try to write in it every day and be as descriptive as possible. For some people, they like to go back to their detox journal if they feel triggered in the future so that they can remember how hard it was. Journaling can be a very powerful tool. If you struggle with mental health issues or have a co-occurring disorder (substance use disorder plus a mental health disorder) be sure to contact your therapist if you are in therapy especially if you are experiencing severe mental health symptoms such delusional thinking, thoughts of suicide or self harm. Continue to take any medications that are prescribed by your doctor or therapist. There may be severe health risks associated with stopping medications.
If you are religious or spiritual, now is the time to really embrace that. If you go to church or pray maybe watch some services online. Meditation can also be helpful during detox. Really getting to know yourself on a deeper level, a sobering level, can be impactful. Remember, you are going to start to feel all sorts of changes and some people fear that. I urge you to lean into that and take this time to discover who you are. The pain of detox is your body’s reaction of getting rid of old substances or habits. It’s a good sign and you are strong enough to make it through.
Be Prepared for Triggers
Triggers are going to hit hard especially in the first few days. So if you have a chance to remove things from your home before detoxing that could potentially trigger you, make sure you do it and make sure you are getting rid of all paraphernalia. Drugs need to be flushed, alcohol needs to be poured even if other people in your home are drinking, and even going as far as locking up your computer for a few days might be something you will need to do to prevent a relapse. Just make sure you put as many barriers as possible between you and the thing you are addicted to. A behavior, drug or alcohol craving can vary from person to person.
Your Social Health
If you are experiencing a severe behavior, alcohol or drug withdrawal you may need to have someone there to help. If you have supportive family and friends don’t be afraid to ask them. If your family and friends are not supportive, you may need to distance yourself from them so that they don’t drag you down. After detox you can start to work on repairing relationships or learning how to distance yourself from toxic people. For now, you need to do what you need to do to survive detox so whatever it takes. In your journal you can start to explore different ideas about how you may need to deal with family, friends and your professional relationships. A lot of people find out who their true friends are during a detox – those who support you no matter what and don’t belittle or pressure you to return to old habits.
You can do this.
Your Road to Recovery
This is just the beginning but sometimes the hardest part. Of course long term recovery requires you to take full control of your situation and may include things like medication, counseling or therapy. Having a physical dependence on an addictive substance or behavior can be a challenge but just being here shows that you have what it takes and you are here because you want a healthier life. Life without alcohol, drugs, or addictive behaviors is possible and in turn you will have a much higher quality of life.
When it comes to options, there are many, but just remember, depending on your alcohol consumption or alcohol intake, you may need to seek professional care even if you think it’s just heavy drinking and you’re not physically addicted. Treatment for substance use or behaviors should be tailored around your specific needs.
Dr. Mark Publicker, a specialist in addiction medicine says, “To this day there is little to no formal education of medical personnel on addiction. It’s rare to find any real coursework in medical school. Residencies have very little, and medical schools have been resistant to introducing significant curriculum to address the deficits. If you think about what are the major causes of preventable morbidity and mortality, they’re addictions. It’s anything from nicotine to alcohol to opiates and benzos”
Rehab Treatment and Life after Detox
It can be a struggle to rid your body from drugs, alcohol, or certain behaviors and entering an addiction treatment program isn’t always an easy choice. inpatient and outpatient treatment requires people to leave their work, family, friends, and responsibilities which can sometimes make things worse. Our treatment program helps people like you achieve a full recovery without having to go to an expensive, professional rehab program, treatment center, in-person facility and having to leave their family, pets, or work. A traditional rehab center, outpatient program, or treatment for consumption of alcohol, drugs, or addictive behavior isn’t always an option for every person.
Our Sobriety Success platform offers online addiction and recovery courses, relapse prevention strategies, meditations, and instructor support via the Q&A form. Your treatment for alcohol dependence, drugs and/or addictive behaviors should be unique to you. At Live Rehab we aim to provide the highest standard for your recovery process and offer packages that range from self sufficient to more in depth coaching with regular check-ins.
Questions about Treatment
Check out Live Rehab if you have questions about behavior, drug, or alcohol addiction treatment options. We’re always here to help so that you have a successful road to recovery so if you have any questions about treatment please feel free to reach out.