Every day, people all across the United States make the powerful decision to stop using and abusing drugs and alcohol. In fact, according to a poll highlighted by TIME in 2012, some 10 percent of the American population has overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
For all of these people, recovery began with withdrawal. During this process, the body can digest and eliminate any remaining molecules of drugs, allowing the person to find that clear head that’s needed for the rehab process.
Withdrawal is a natural process, but it can be a little overwhelming. These are steps to follow in order to cope with the challenges withdrawal can bring.
Step 1: Prepare for Withdrawal
Leaving an addiction behind can be a challenge. For example, in a poll done by Gallup, researchers found that 85 percent of smokers tried to quit at least once during their lifetimes, and nearly half have tried to quit at least three times. Stopping that cycle requires preparation. You can:
- Tell your dealers you will no longer buy drugs.
- Tell your friends and family members not to visit you if they are under the influence.
- Remove all drugs from your home, purse, jacket pockets, and all other hiding places.
- Destroy all pipes, needles, clips, lighters, and other drug tools you have used to keep your addiction alive.
- Write down the reasons that drive your need for rehab.
- Pack loose and comfortable clothing for your stay in a detox facility.
- Gather any medical records your detox team might need.
- Make arrangements for childcare and/or pet sitting, as needed.
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Step 2: Get Expert Help
Not all withdrawal processes are life-threatening, but some are. Alcohol withdrawal, for example, can develop into delirium tremens, and Medscape says about 5-15 percent of people with that condition die because of it. Since addictions can be life-threatening, you will need help to recover. You can get that help through:
- A private-pay detox program
- A detox program authorized by your insurance company
- A county detox program
- Your doctor
You can find these programs by:
- Contacting your insurance company
- Asking your doctor
- Polling your friends and family members who might be in recovery
- Conducting online searches
- Scanning online forums about recovery programs
- Scheduling interviews with facilities and programs in your area
- Asking friends and family members to find programs for you
Step 3: Follow Detox Directions
Once you have chosen your detox provider, you will need to follow that source’s instructions to the letter. In some instances, that means you must be in mild withdrawal when you arrive for care. If opiates were your drugs of choice, Healthline says you may experience:
- Muscle aches
- Tear-filled eyes
- Running nose
- Sweaty body
- Digestive discomfort
Mention these symptoms to your provider, and follow the instructions that provider gives very carefully.
If you are suffering from addictions to benzodiazepines or alcohol, do not suddenly stop taking the substances. Medical detox is required, and you must be under medical supervision before you stop intake of the substances of abuse.
Remember not to bring these things with you to the detox program:
- Over-the-counter drugs
- Prescription drugs for which you have no prescription
- Gang memorabilia
- Valuable jewelry
- Drug memorabilia
Step 4: Find Ways to Self-Soothe
Addictions are often tied to stressful situations, per research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. If your life has been filled with violence, stress, and worry, you may be accustomed to using drugs as a method of relief and release. During withdrawal, you will need to find new ways to deal with distress. You might use:
- Meditation: Focusing on your breathing while you shut out external stimulus and internal pain could help you to move past the discomfort and find inner strength and peace.
- Exercise: Walking and other gentle forms of movement may help to soothe sore muscles, while stretching and bending could help to ease bone pain.
- Talking: A peer who is going through the same process might have insights you have never thought about. A conversation with another person can be deeply distracting. Talks can be a great option to ease repeating, harmful thoughts.
- Warm or cool baths: Your body’s internal thermometer may be askew as you recover. Soaking in a warm bath could help if you feel chilled, while a cool tub could help if you feel hot and sweaty.
- Water: Dehydration can make you feel upset and irritable. Cool water, taken in frequently, could help.
- Your notes: The reasons you enter detox will not change with impending sobriety. Referring to that list when your mood starts to dip could help you to stay on the right track, even when you feel discomfort.
- Sleep: Addictions can be exhausting, and you might be facing a deep sleep deficit when you arrive for detox. Take the time to sleep, even when it isn’t the middle of the night. Rest when you feel weary. This is an important way to reconnect with the body’s signals, and it might make you feel a whole lot better.
Step 5: Knowing You Are Improving
Detox timelines can vary, depending on the drugs you have taken and the length of time you have been under the influence. You may know you are ready to move on to the next stage of recovery when:
- You no longer need medications to help you deal with physical discomfort.
- You can hold a conversation with a clear head.
- You are not vomiting or dealing with diarrhea.
- You are sleeping, at least somewhat consistently.
- Your cravings for drugs are not overwhelming.
- Your team feels you are ready to progress.
What Happens Next?
When your withdrawal is complete, you will:
- Pack up your belongings and prepare to leave the facility, or transfer to a different area of the facility if rehab is in the same center.
- Meet with your team for a final physical.
- Go through a discharge interview, in which you discuss the mental health symptoms you are feeling now.
- Select a provider for rehab.
- Enroll in that rehab program.
- Go through an assessment with your rehab team.
- Begin rehab.
It is vital that the end of withdrawal and the beginning of rehab overlap. You will be at risk of relapse during any moments in which you delay. Your detox team can assist you with that.
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