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What Happens to the Brain and Body During Detox
The first step in the recovery process involves ridding the body of the all remnants and toxins from the substance. Sometimes just thinking about going through detox can cause so much stress and fear that it might even deter treatment. By learning about what happens to the brain and body during detox it can help prepare you for what’s ahead.
Detox is a complex process. During detox the body and brain will react as they attempt to adjust to the sudden absence of the substance. Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol causes a certain amount of pain. There is no way around that fact. So, the best way to enter treatment is with a fighting spirit, that detox is something to gut out and overcome. The prize? You get to begin the journey to a new healthy life.
What Happens to the Brain and Body During Detox?
Using any substance for a prolonged time span will have a profound effect on the body and the brain. The substance will change the way the brain functions and can cause serious damage to your health. When preparing to begin the detox phase of treatment, it helps to know what happens during the process.
What Happens to the Brain?
When engaged in active substance abuse, the brain makes changes as it adjusts to the presence of the substance. As the brain adapts it begins to depend on the substance to produce dopamine. After a while, the brain simply stops making it.
When the substance is withheld, there will be a sharp drop in the levels of serotonin and dopamine. During detox, the brain will produce a surplus of glutamate. All of these chemical changes create the withdrawal symptoms, this as the brain attempts to become stable. Brain-related symptoms include:
- Feeling anxious.
- Sleep issues.
- Mental confusion.
- Feeling restless.
- Feeling depressed.
- Mood swings.
What Happens to the Body?
As the body purges the substance from its system it, too, will begin to show signs of distress. Body systems will be in chaos during the detox process as the body attempts to adjust. Physical withdrawal symptoms might include:
- Excessive shaking.
- Hand tremors.
- Tearing of the eyes.
- Runny nose.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Muscle and joint pain.
- Increased heart rate.
- High blood pressure.
What is a Medical Detox?
During the detox process your vital signs will be closely watched for any health events. The unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will be controlled somewhat through meds that are offered by the detox team. These include meds to help control such symptoms as nausea and vomiting, headache, and fever. Drugs such as Valium and Librium are used during detox. They can reduce the symptoms of anxiety, help prevent seizures, and assist with sleep.
For some, MAT can be started late in the detox window. These drugs can help relieve detox symptoms and block substance cravings, which can reduce the risk of relapse.
Mental health support is also offered during detox. This is essential, as some may give up on detox when the symptoms get really rough. The detox support team can help inspire the person to keep looking forward. This support can truly help keep the person engaged in detox all the way to the end.
What to Expect During Detox
The detox experience varies quite a bit based on these factors:
- Which substance of abuse is involved, as each has unique symptoms.
- The length of history of the substance abuse and how much was consumed daily.
- General health status and age.
- If there is a mental health disorder present.
During detox, you will experience three distinct stages. Symptoms commence within hours of the last dose or drink, and usually peak on days 2-3 before they subside. In most cases, detox is completed within one week. In the case of a benzo detox, the drug will be tapered off over a period of two weeks.
Alcohol detox can be high risk (as is benzo detox). This is due to the fairly rare event called the delirium tremens, which can be fatal. Detox symptoms and timeline will vary based on how severe the alcohol use disorder (AUD) is:
For milder AUD the detox process follows this timeline:
- Symptoms begin about 6 hours after you stop drinking.
- Symptoms likely to occur include sweating, upset stomach and possible vomiting, shaking, anxiety, increased heart rate, and headache.
- Symptoms peak between 12-24 hours.
- Detox lasts 24-72 hours total.
For moderate to severe AUD the detox process follows this timeline:
- Symptoms begin 2-8 hours after stopping alcohol use.
- Symptoms likely to occur include all the above plus high blood pressure, mental confusion, fever, insomnia, irritability, disorientation, anxiety, hallucinations, memory problems, tremors, paranoid thinking.
- The DTs may develop on days 3-4 and would be a medical emergency. The symptoms include severe disorientation, agitation, hallucinations, and seizures.
- Detox will last about one week. If the DTs happen, symptoms can persist for two weeks.
Opiate detox begins with the first withdrawal symptoms starting between 6-12 hours after the last dose of the drug. Symptoms peak between 24-48 hours and then slowly subside. In most cases an opiate detox is completed in 5-7 days. Sometimes, though, long-lasting effects can linger on. These are known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Detox symptoms can include:
- Upset stomach
- Teary eyes
- Muscle and joint pain
- Intense drug cravings
Shifting Over to Treatment After Detox
Detox alone will not change the addict’s thought patterns and actions. Some may complete detox and feel great. They might think they can safely manage things on their own. In nearly all cases this quickly results in a relapse.
In fact, overdose after a period of being clean occurs all too often. This happens after the brain adjusts to being sober, and then the person has a relapse. The body cannot handle that level of dosing and the outcome can be toxic. Sadly, this can result in a death.
Only through a treatment program rooted in proven methods can someone make these needed changes. This is because the patterns have become so entrenched that the person can’t break out of them. Only with formal treatment and support can someone overcome a severe substance use problem. With some time, patience, and effort you can indeed break free.
LifeSync Malibu Provides Medically Supervised Detox Services
LifeSync Malibu Healing Center is an upscale drug rehab serving the greater Los Angeles region. For any questions about what happens to the brain and body during detox, please reach out to the team today at (866) 491-4426.