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Little Known Facts about Drug Detox—and Why They Matter

Detoxing from substances can be difficult and in some instances extremely dangerous.  Before embarking on the detoxification process, understanding the physiological and emotional effects that occur as drugs leave the body is important.  Receiving medical treatment during the detoxification is often necessary to safely stop using substances.

For help finding a detox program near you, call 800-405-2627 (Who Answers?).

Withdrawal Symptoms

Different types of drugs affect the brain and body in unique ways.  Whether abusing alcohol, opioids or stimulants, once physical dependence is set, some of the withdrawal symptoms are the same.  Expect some of these symptoms when stopping drug abuse.

  • Sweats
  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Flu-like symptoms

Brain Changes during Detox

With long term substance abuse comes changes in the receptors in the brain.  Some of these changes cause drug liking, tolerance, dependence and eventual addiction.  Removing a substance will cause the brain to rebel, increasing the firing of neurons in an attempt to achieve the chemical balance created with gradual dependence.

Pharmacological intervention can be helpful in regulating the brain’s neurological responses to the withdrawal process.

Fact:  Opioids Affect the Locus Ceruleus (LC) in the Brain

about Drug Detox

Headaches and nausea are common withdrawal symptoms.

The locus ceruleus is where the chemical noradrenaline is produced in the brain.  Noradrenaline is responsible for wakefulness, alertness, blood pressure and breathing.  Withdrawing from opioids can affect these systems as the body reestablishes a new normal.

Fact:  Stimulants Affect the Production of Serotonin and Norepinephrine in the Brain

Serotonin and norepinephrine affect mood, wakefulness and motivation.  Removal of these chemicals can impact an individual’s ability to perform at optimal levels.  Depression and mood swings can result during detoxification from stimulants.

Fact:  Alcohol Affects How the Neurotransmitters Communicate with One Another

Because the brain regulates itself gradually to the level of daily alcohol intake, withdrawal from alcohol can be deadly.  The GABA receptors in the brain regulate excitatory and inhibitory responses.  A person’s system adapts to the level of alcohol.  For alcoholics, removing the substance can affect how the brain regulates heart rate, blood pressure and other vital responses.

Fact:  Pharmacological Help Can Aid the Detoxification Process

For individuals attempting to stop using substances, it is important to treat this process as an illness.  For severely addicted patients, it is critical to seek medical care.  Remembering all systems of the body are affected is important, and treating symptoms medically can be necessary.  Some of the following medications can be prescribed to help with detoxification.

  • Clonidine:  an antihypertensive medication
  • Benzodiazepines: prevent seizures
  • Methadone, Buprenorphine, Naloxone:  stabilizes brain chemistry and reduces cravings
  • SSRIs:  antidepressants to regulate serotonin
  • MAOIs: antidepressants to regulate several chemicals including serotonin and dopamine
  • Zofran: treats nausea and vomiting

Natural Alternatives for Drug Detoxification

Some individuals prefer stopping without the aid of medical intervention.  While this is not advised in severe cases, there are some things that can help.

  • Keep a thermometer, blood pressure monitor and heart rate monitor handy in the event of life threatening difficulties.
  • Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen can help ease discomfort.
  • Anti-nausea/diarrhea medications can also be purchased over-the-counter.
  • Keep blankets and fans available for fluctuations in body temperature.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Have juice and light foods available for spikes and drops in blood sugar.
  • Enlist the help of friends and family who can call for help if symptoms become severe.

The most important thing is to stop using drugs, and stay stopped.  Keep trying various treatments and methods until successful recovery is the outcome.  Seek help.  Life can be beautiful drug-free. Call 800-405-2627 (Who Answers?) toll-free to start your recovery journey today. 

Resources

Allen, J., Montalto, M., Lovejoy, J., & Weber, W. (2011, December). Detoxification in Naturopathic Medicine: A Survey. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3239317/

Ciccarone, D. (2011, March). Stimulant Abuse: Pharmacology, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Treatment, Attempts at Pharmacotherapy. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3056348/

Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. (2002, July). The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/

Saitz, R. (1998). Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal.  Alcohol Health and Research World.

22(1). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/05-12.pdf.

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