“Within days I was convinced that I was totally and utterly losing my mind,” says Felicity Jones, who was thrown into Valium withdrawals after ordering fake pills online. “I was free-falling through a range of physical and mental symptoms that, despite popping (fake) pill after fake pill, wouldn’t abate.”
Nobody hears the word “withdrawal” and thinks of a pleasant experience—whether you’ve experienced them firsthand or you’ve been inundated with a plethora of movie and television depictions, you’re well aware that getting through the detoxification period of drug use is a struggle. But what you may not be aware of is, with the right treatment program, the pain and discomfort of this period can be minimized using a proper tapering plan.
Your first instinct may be to dismiss this as a costly choice that can simply be sidestepped by sucking it up and facing the discomfort of withdrawal. While it is true that sometimes, withdrawals can be overcome by going cold-turkey and toughing it out, this road is not only difficult, it can be life-threatening. Drugs that act on the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter system, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, are known to be particularly dangerous during the period of withdrawal, and opiates can also pose significant dangers. If you’re in the midst of struggling with an addiction to any of these substances, it’s important that you are aware of the support available to help you recover and their necessity to ensure safe detox.
The Importance of Guided Tapering and Treatment
Everybody reacts to drugs differently, and withdrawals are no different. What one person might find a comfortable reduction in dosage can be extremely painful for another. In the case of drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepines, getting these reductions right can be the difference between mere run-of-the-mill discomfort and life-threatening withdrawals.
“Valium can be even harder to come off than the more ‘spectacular’ drugs like heroin and cocaine,” says psychotherapist Tim Leighton. “Withdrawal is entirely dependent on how much you’ve been taking and for how long, but it is potentially life-threatening.”
Although opiate withdrawals are less commonly life-threatening, they still can be dangerous, and research suggests that we have underestimated their potential risk, leading to inadequate monitoring in clinical settings. Two of the common symptoms of late-stage opiate withdrawal are vomiting and diarrhea, both of which can lead to dehydration and an increase in sodium levels in the blood, ultimately increasing the risk of heart failure.
In all cases, a closely monitored detoxification plan in a residential treatment setting is crucial. Your body and brain have grown used to being flooded with a certain chemical, and when that chemical is removed, they need time to rebalance. Knowing how to gauge your reaction to this decline and take appropriate action in the form of medications or behavioral therapy is something that should only be done under medical supervision by someone with experience treating people in similar circumstances.
For example, many detoxification programs will replace shorter-acting drugs with longer-acting ones. If you’re struggling with fentanyl abuse, you might have it substituted with the longer-acting OxyContin and tapered off of this; if you’ve been using Xanax for a long period of time, you might be switched to Valium and gradually tapered off in a similar manner. These aren’t substitutions that can be done alone—they require intensive monitoring to be done safely and pave the way for success in the treatment that follows.
Post-detoxification treatment programs will provide you with tools such as psychotherapies, exercise and diet regimens, and a number of holistic therapies to help you remain drug-free. Cleansing your body of the drug is just one part of the treatment process—the other pieces of the puzzle involve unearthing the causes of your addiction and equipping yourself with the tools to take control of yourself and your future.
Restoring Balance and Stability
No matter what kind of addiction you’re struggling with, proper detoxification in a comprehensive treatment program is essential to restore your body’s health and regain stability in your life that will last in the long-term. But for those dependent on alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opiates, the importance of this process cannot be overstressed, as trying to take on withdrawals alone can be life-threatening. With the right program, you can ease the pain of this process and realize the potential for recovery that lies ahead of you, taking the right steps forward to live a life defined by a healthy balance.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation for people living with a number of addictions and co-occurring disorders. Contact us today to learn how you can take control of your withdrawals and restore stability in your body and mind.
Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Mario Trunz