Going “cold turkey” at home often seems like a smart and essentially foolproof choice. After all, most people start using drugs and alcohol without professional help and thus, they should be able to abstain without it. Unfortunately, this isn’t how detox works. Like most addicts, your brain and body are likely working far differently than they did before you started using. The road to addiction is fraught with change.
Heavy and prolonged substance abuse alters the brain’s chemistry, reprograms the central nervous system’s reward center, and disrupts the normal production and distribution of important chemicals call neurotransmitters. Together, these changes make the withdrawal process both uncomfortable and downright dangerous.
With certain substances, it can even prove fatal. Although there’s a very limited range of instances in which people can detox without medical supervision and without sustaining potentially permanent or fatal injuries, all addicts are advised to consult with a licensed medical professional before attempting to do so. Sometimes the challenges of detoxing aren’t just physical in nature. Many people deal with intense psychological withdrawal symptoms including:
- Severe depression
- Severe anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- Suicidal ideation
Professional detox services include both medical interventions and mental health support. Patients in medically assisted detox also receive sleep support, nutritional support, and ongoing encouragement. These services gently ease the body back to its former manner of functioning even as they help in building a stable foundation for ongoing sobriety.
Surprising Dangers of Detoxing Without Medical Support
Before you attempt to go “cold turkey”, it’s important to understand why detoxing is so dangerous. Neurotransmitters or “feel good” chemicals like gamma Amino-butyric acid (GABA) and dopamine are responsible for the feelings of euphoria that people experience when getting high. Drinking alcohol or taking copious amounts of benzodiazepine (benzo) drugs on a regular basis wear these and other neurotransmitters out.
This is why people with fast-building benzodiazepine or alcohol addictions have a hard time feeling relaxed and happy when they aren’t actively using or when they aren’t actively high. When neurotransmitters are worn out, they often misfire or get released in abundance. At times, certain neurotransmitters may no longer be released at all.
When this is the case, the production and release of these vitally important chemicals is dependent upon continued substance use. Suddenly abstaining by going “cold turkey” forces the body to function without them. In these instances, withdrawal symptoms are the manifestation of problems that occur when key neurotransmitters aren’t present. This is because neurotransmitters do more than simply make people feel euphoric, relaxed, motivated, confident, or happy. They also play important roles in temperature regulation, nausea control, coordination, balance, smooth muscle functioning, and more.
Their absence is what causes people to suffer from alternating bouts of chills and sweating, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea and withdrawal symptoms. Similar effects can be seen with the sudden cessation of opioids and opiates. With these drugs, the neurotransmitters affected largely impact nausea and temperature regulation. One of the primary dangers of detoxing from opioids or opiates without medical intervention is a dehydration-related condition known as hypernatremia.
When fluid loss caused by diarrhea, sweating, runny nose, and other emissions is excessive, a recovering addict’s blood sodium levels can skyrocket causing heart failure and ultimately death. The risk of hypernatremia in unmanaged opioid/opiate detox is so high that it is commonly referred to as opioid withdrawal syndrome.
The Risk of Relapsing
Even when the risk of severe physical injury are nominal, the risk of relapsing while going “cold turkey” is always high. Relapse rates among recovering addicts gradually decline as people progress in their recoveries. However, during the first three weeks of recovery, these rates are at their highest.
The best way to limit your likelihood of returning to full-blown addiction is to complete your detox on a secure, closed campus and with access to around-the-clock monitoring and support. With most substances, the first few days or even weeks of detox can include intense cravings for drugs, uncontrollable urges to use, and aggressive, drug-seeking behaviors. Dealing with these challenges and the challenges of physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms on your own is virtually guaranteed to be overwhelming.
How Medically Assisted Detox Can Help
Medically assisted detox programs are streamlined to meet the needs of the individual. Some people are given carefully tailored weaning programs while others use evidence-based withdrawal medications. When total abstinence is considered to be the best course of action, it is often paired with sleep support, nutrition support, and medications for ensuring mood balance among other things.
If you’re getting ready to start the detox process, we can help you find the support you need. Detoxing with medical supervision is always safer, easier, and more comfortable than going “cold turkey”. In some instances, medically supervised detox can be shorter as well. Call us today at 833-497-3812 to get started. Our counselors are always standing by.