What Happens to the Physical Body During Detoxification?
When a person decides to stop drinking or taking drugs, often they will need to undergo detoxification or detox. Detox occurs before one enters treatment. The purpose of detox is to get the alcohol or drugs out the person’s body and to stabilize them physically. Toxins are flushed out of the body and there can be corresponding symptoms known as withdrawals.
During use of drugs or alcohol the body develops a dependence on the substance. The brain adapts to recurring exposure to the drug or alcohol and over time cannot function normally without the drug or alcohol. The thalamus and brainstem are involved in this dependence and reward pathways are stimulated during an addiction. These changes in brain function cause the compulsive behaviors and continued use of the substance.
If a person stops drinking or taking drugs, the brain must suddenly adapt to these changes and alter the way chemicals in the brain are processed. These alterations of chemicals affect how the person will feel physically. Cravings and emotions are experienced as the body and brain attempt to adjust to the absence of drugs or alcohol. This is known as withdrawal and the type of withdrawal experienced will depend on the substance used and for how long.
Symptoms of withdrawal are unique to the individual; however, there are similarities to what one experiences physically. Such symptoms include nausea, vomiting, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Some of the symptoms can be mild, moderate, or even life threatening.
It is very important that anyone wishing to stop using drugs or alcohol to consult with a physician. There is a process to medically-supervised detox and there are benefits to detox versus quitting on your own. With medical detox, the symptoms associated with withdrawal can be minimized. In addition, the detox process is closely monitored by medical staff to ensure one’s safety and level of comfort during withdrawal.
If an individual decides to quit on their own, they may feel physically uncomfortable and use again to simply relieve the symptoms of withdrawal. The individual who detoxes on their own also runs the risk of harming themselves further. Doctors can also provide medication that can help with making the detox process easier and can monitor progress, which can be useful in formulating a treatment plan following detox.