Detox: In the past, patients who found themselves addicted to drugs or alcohol were doomed to unspeakable suffering as they tried to achieve abstinence.
A few fortunate patients underwent drug detox at clinics and hospitals, where doctors could prescribe a handful of medications that eased the misery of withdrawal. But even these medications were only partially successful.
Most patients were left to their own devices and the agony of a “cold turkey” detox (so named because of the symptoms of chills and gooseflesh that accompanied opioid and alcohol withdrawal). Those addicted patients who were unable to endure withdrawal often returned to drugs to obtain relief.
Few made it through the detox process. Some even died.
An important fact to keep in mind when thinking about detoxification is that sudden withdrawal – especially from the sedative/hypnotic drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepines – can kill.
- Patients who experience delirium tremens (the constellation of symptoms – shaking, chills, hallucinations and seizures – known as the “D.T.s”) and are not immediately treated can have up to a twenty percent mortality rate.
- Sedative/hypnotic withdrawal is a life-threatening emergency that must be treated in a hospital.
- And while withdrawal from opioids (drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Demerol and heroin) is often believed to be less malignant, the likelihood of the patient completing
- treatment is significantly diminished.
Safe Detox Practices
Today, doctors who treat addiction no longer inflict cold turkey detox on patients. It’s ineffective, and it’s inhumane. Now doctors have new medications such as the newly approved opioid detox medication buprenorphine (Suboxone) to help patients through the detoxification process safely and comfortably.
Proper detox makes it much more likely that addicts will seek treatment at an earlier stage of their illness, and will transition from treatment to long-term sobriety with greater confidence.
After Detox, Addicts Experience Hope
Addicts, like all patients, deserve treatment that best serves their needs and not ill-informed and tired ideologies about moral failings and bad choices. Combined with the traditional wisdom of twelve-step recovery, the medications available today to doctors who treat addicts paint a bright future for the treatment addiction.
Patients who repeatedly failed treatment in the past are now reporting that for the first time in their lives they feel hope.