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When you make the choice to stop using drugs or alcohol, a complete detox is the first step toward recovery. The extensive physical and mental effects of addiction require time and care to overcome, and without an initial detox, you won’t be able to move beyond your drug or alcohol use.

What Is Detox?

Every time you use drugs or alcohol, your body grows more accustomed to the presence of that substance. The chemistry of your brain adapts to the repeated influx of chemicals, creating an addiction. Many addictive substances interact with the brain in different ways by altering brain chemistry or causing the machinery of the brain to misfire.

Heroin is structurally similar to neurotransmitters, the chemical signals sent by the brain, and repeated use allows the drug to interfere with the neurotransmitters’ job of sending messages throughout the body. Cocaine and methamphetamine increase the production and release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, creating a euphoric sensation often associated with a drug high. Similarly, alcohol can affect the exchange of neurotransmitters in your brain.

In order to stop using drugs or alcohol and begin recovery, you need to purge the drug from your system and deal with the physical symptoms resulting from that sudden absence. When the body is deprived of those substances for more than a few hours, a variety of withdrawal symptoms begin.

Common symptoms include:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps

Common mental symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Detox involves enduring the physical and mental effects of the body going through withdrawal and adjusting to a lack of drugs or alcohol in your system. Because it can be painful, there are options that may help ease your symptoms.

Options for Detox

Once you’ve made the decision to detox, there are two options available to you: inpatient or outpatient treatment. There are pros and cons to both types of treatment, so it is important for you to weigh the options.

Outpatient detox involves visiting a hospital or other facility on a regular schedule to receive treatment. The treatment sessions may be as short as 15 to 30 minutes, and may be required for 3 to 14 days.

This type of treatment doesn’t place as many restrictions on the client. Access to drugs and alcohol is not strictly monitored or restricted, so much of the responsibility for remaining clean depends on you. Despite this, outpatient treatment also affords you with opportunities for support from your friends, family or even a support group.

Severe addiction may require inpatient treatment at a specialized facility that offers medically supervised detoxification, which is a more highly structured environment where you are monitored closely to ensure you don’t relapse. After detox, residential treatment centers transition you into education and therapy to understand the effects of your addiction. Residential treatment may be more costly than outpatient treatment, but your insurance may cover the increased cost.

Taking the Next Steps

Accepting your addiction and choosing to make a change is an important start. A complete detox is part of that decision and is the first step of the journey to sobriety. Once you have completed your detox, you can begin learning to live without drugs or alcohol.