Detoxification

Definition

Detoxification is a process in which the body is allowed to free itself of a drug. During this period, the symptoms of withdrawal are also treated. Detoxification is the primary step in any drug treatment program, and is used as the initial phase in treating alcohol, heroin, inhalant, sedative, and hypnotic addictions.

Purpose

The goal of detoxification is to clear the toxins out of the body so that the body can adjust and heal itself after being dependent on a substance. In order for the recovering person to stay abstinent on a long-term basis, detoxification needs to lead into long-term community residential program treatment or outpatient drug treatment lasting three to six months.

Precautions

When individuals are physically dependent on a substance, they experience withdrawal symptoms when they abstain from the drug. Withdrawal symptoms vary with each drug of abuse, but can be severe, and even dangerous. Patients who want to overcome their dependence need help managing the withdrawal symptoms. The patient's medical team strives to get the patient off a substance on which he or she is physically dependent, while treating the withdrawal symptoms.

c o Agonist—A chemical that reproduces the mecha-¡¡3 nism of action of a neurotransmitter.

Antagonist—A substance whose actions counteract the effects of or work in the opposite way from another chemical or drug.

Buprenorphine—A medication that blocks some of the withdrawal effects during heroin detoxification.

Detoxification—A process in which the body is allowed to free itself of a drug while the symptoms of withdrawal are treated. It is the primary step in any treatment program for drug or alcohol abuse.

Disulfiram—A medication that helps reinforce abstinence in people who are recovering from alcohol abuse. If a person taking disulfiram drinks even a small amount of alcohol, he or she experiences facial flushing, headache, nausea and vomiting.

Lofexidine—A medication approved for use in England to aid the opioid detoxification process.

Methadone—A drug often prescribed legally as a replacement for heroin. It induces a slight high but blocks heroin from producing a more powerful euphoric effect. It may be used in heroin detoxification to ease the process, or it may be used daily after detoxification as maintenance therapy. Methadone maintenance therapy is controversial.

Withdrawal—Symptoms experienced by a person who has become physically dependent on a drug, experienced when the drug use is discontinued.

Pregnant women cannot be detoxified from opiates (also called narcotics, including morphine, heroin, and similar drugs) because strict detoxification can increase the risk of spontaneous abortion or premature birth. These women are treated with methadone as an alternative. (Methadone acts as a replacement for the heroin in the woman's body, but the methadone does not provide the "high" that the heroin provides. In addition, methadone is safer for the fetus than heroin.)

In order to be an effective first step of treatment, detoxification must be an individualized process because patients have varying needs.

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