With an estimated 40.3 million Americans addicted to drugs and alcohol, substance use disorders are at an all-time high in the USA. Now, more than ever, people need treatment in the form of behavioral therapy and counseling. Yet, at the same time, many of us never seek out that care. In fact, just 4 million people received substance abuse treatment in 2020 – or less than 10% of total number of people needing it.
Instead, many of us attempt to quit at home – either going cold turkey or by using “at home detox products” to try to quit that way. Unfortunately, neither approach offers the structural support and evidence-based approach to support long-term recovery, and some are even dangerous, unregulated, and poorly understood products.
Over the counter detox products are very often made up of nothing more than nutritional supplements. These supplements are harmless and normally don’t add or detract from withdrawal and recovery. In other cases, detox products are laxatives and diuretics. These can be extremely dangerous for someone going through withdrawal because you’re already dehydrating. Adding a laxative can cause medically significant and therefore potentially lethal dehydration – unless you drink significant quantities of water at the same time.
Natural products can also be extremely dangerous. For example, supplements with burdock root or Saint John’s Wort should be taken with care. Both herbal supplements cause stress to the liver, which can be problematic for people already struggling with liver problems following substance abuse. Therefore, it’s important to understand what’s in something you plan to take and how it will interact with your body. Because most over the counter detox products are completely unregulated, they might not even tell you what’s in them.
Often, at-home drug detox products are little more than repackaged and rebranded paracetamol. You’re taking a painkiller and nothing else. Detoxification is the process of medically monitoring and supporting withdrawal, with medical staff on hand to offer treatment and support in case of severe side effects, dehydration, seizures, etc.
An “at home detox product” doesn’t offer that. You’re not detoxing, you’re going through withdrawal. And, that means that anything that happens is at your own risk. Because withdrawal can be dangerous, that’s often not a good idea, especially if you use alcohol or benzodiazepines. For example, benzodiazepines can cause seizures, cardiac stress, and even heart attacks if left untreated. Even alcohol can have significant side-effects. An estimated 5% of all people withdrawing from heavy alcohol use experience Delirium Tremens, a serious side-effect that results in grand mal seizures and which can be fatal in as many as 10% of all cases if not medically treated. At best, Delirium Tremens results in weeks of ongoing symptoms, which should be treated.
Other drugs are less dangerous to withdraw from. However, no at home product constitutes a detox. You’ll always be taking on risks. Even if those risks are dehydration or choking on vomit. You are still taking on risks.
Many people choose to use off-label prescription drugs to ease withdrawal symptoms. These drugs might include benzodiazepines like valium. They might also include Klonopin or Ativan. In any case, they add new dangers, because replacing one drug with another can be dangerous as most are addictive. At best, you’ll be alleviating physical symptoms of withdrawal while taking on risks from new drugs – which is also dangerous.
More importantly, those repurposed prescription drugs do nothing to help with the emotional and psychological stress of withdrawal. In some cases, benzodiazepines can help by helping you to relax and reducing stress – however, you can experience significant rebound syndrome, stress, anxiety, psychosis, and paranoia. Most over the counter detox products won’t do anything to help with that. Getting actual mental health support during withdrawal can be crucial to avoiding significant psychotic episodes and trauma and no self-medication will help with that.
While millions of people try to quit drugs and alcohol on their own every year, most don’t succeed. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests that just 6% of home quitters were still sober after a year. That data is similar to cigarette smokers, who quit an average of 35 times before succeeding. That’s because quitting drugs is more than just going through physical detox symptoms. The mental reliance, behavioral patterns, and underlying problems that caused the substance abuse in the first place are still there. If you don’t work to resolve those issues first, you’re setting yourself up for relapse. And, if you do relapse after having quit for some time, you’re more at risk of overdose.
While quitting on your own works for a small number of people, nothing replaces getting medical support, counseling, and behavioral therapy to help you make it through. Substance use disorders are disorders, they need medical treatment, and you have to work to build new patterns, new behaviors, and new coping mechanisms – not another quick fix.
Detoxification is the first step in the process of substance abuse treatment. It normally means going to a clinic, having medical monitoring, and sometimes having prescription medication to reduce side effects and improve your response to withdrawal. Those prescription drugs might be a light and carefully monitored benzodiazepine schedule, they might include something like methadone, and they might include something like Naltrexone. It might also offer nothing but social and emotional support with a medical team on hand to intervene in case things get bad. The most important thing is that you have people on hand to check up, to take steps to prevent severe side effects, and to offer psychological and emotional support throughout.
Once you finish detox, you normally move into a behavioral health focused program, designed around CBT or EMDR, and in combination with counseling, group therapy, and complementary therapies to help you build the skills, behaviors, and life that will move you safely into long-term recovery.
Asana Recovery provides a full continuum of highly effective drug rehab and alcohol rehab programs. If you have questions for yourself, or your loved one, contact us today to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced and caring addiction treatment team.