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Certain addictions cause something known as physical dependence. This can be confusing because all psychoactive drugs have a physical impact on the brain. However, with addictions to substances such as heroin or alcohol, your health is at risk when you stop taking the substance after prolonged use. That’s why we provide a medically assisted detox when necessary. To avoid the risks associated with going cold turkey, you’re given medication to ease the discomfort associated with detox.
What Are Detox Medications Used For?
One of the major benefits of seeking treatment at a residential rehab is the option for medical detox. A team of medical professionals oversees the entire process and is on hand for support and guidance 24 hours a day. With medical detox, the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that may have prevented you from being able to quit are eased significantly.
Detox medications usually mimic certain features of the substance you’ve been taking. Detoxification is the crucial first step in the recovery process, and we aim to make it as pain-free and anxiety-free as possible. (1)
Types of Medications Used During Detox
Each individual experiences withdrawal differently, and we always take your unique circumstances into account. Different drugs also require different detox medication, and our consultant psychiatrist prescribes the best one for you after carrying out a thorough medical assessment.
Not many people are aware of the profound effects alcohol has on the brain. If you’re addicted to the substance. it’s by no means a sign of weakness. This powerful drug interacts with various chemicals in your brain, and the more you take it, the more your body relies on its presence.
Long-acting benzodiazepines such as Valium, Librium and Ativan are regularly used in the treatment of alcohol dependence. This type of medication has a similar effect on the brain to alcohol, without producing a tangible high. Benzodiazepines also have anti-anxiety properties, which can really help you when you go through alcohol withdrawal. If you’ve tried to stop before, you’ll be aware of the physical and mental turmoil that’s involved. Medical detox can make this much easier.
You’ll be given an initial dose that is gradually reduced over the course of your seven to 10-day detox until your body is ready to cope alone. (2)
Opioid and non-opioid agonists
All opioids, such as heroin and methadone, are called opioid agonists. This means that they stimulate opioid receptors, which produce deep relaxation and sedative effects. However, after prolonged use, your body becomes dependent on these external sources for your brain to carry out certain functions. That’s why withdrawal symptoms occur when you stop using opiates.
To prevent your body from going into the shock that’s associated with quitting cold turkey, we offer doses of opioid agonists such as methadone during opioid detox. We gradually lower the dose until your body is able to cope on its own. There are also partial agonists, such as buprenorphine, that halt the effects of opioids while partially stimulating the receptors in your brain.
In some cases, a non-opioid agonist is prescribed, such as clonidine. This type of medication is called an antihypertensive. It blocks certain chemicals in the brain that trigger the unpleasant sensations associated with withdrawal. In turn, symptoms such as sweating, runny nose, watery eyes and restlessness are eased. It also lowers anxiety and, as a non-opioid, gets your body properly accustomed to being without opiates. (3)
An antagonist has the opposite action in the brain to an agonist. So, this type of medication actively halts the action of opioids in the brain. Naloxone, Nalmefene and naltrexone bind to opioid receptors, but they don’t stimulate them. Naloxone and Nalmefene are used in emergency situations to halt the effects of an overdose. The slower, longer-acting naltrexone is used to prevent relapse. In some cases, Naloxone is used with buprenorphine to offer relief without a high. (3)
Other medications for the treatment of substance dependence
There are other methods for treating alcohol use disorder. These are usually tried when treatment using benzodiazepines has been ineffective or isn’t recommended. Disulfiram is a medication that prevents alcohol from being broken down by your body. This causes a build-up of poisonous toxins and makes the client extremely ill. Taking the pills is a type of aversion therapy that has been effective in chronic cases of alcoholism. (4)
The exact actions of acamprosate are not yet understood, but they are thought to stimulate and inhibit certain chemicals in the brain associated with chronic alcohol abuse. It can help to reduce your symptoms and your cravings. (5)
In other types of treatment, such as outpatient programmes, you may still receive medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. You won’t have 24-hour access to medical professionals, however. That means if you wake up in the night with pronounced symptoms, you’ll need to wait to be treated and potentially suffer through the pain. Or worse, be tempted to relapse.
If the same thing happens at Sanctuary Lodge, a team of addiction nurses and support staff is on hand to help you. In some cases, they may be able to offer medication to ease your symptoms and anxiety. Withdrawal symptoms are the first hurdle to recovery, and we do everything in our power to make them as painless as possible. An experienced medical professional always carries out the administration of the medication you’re given and oversees the dosage.