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Specialized Treatment for Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal

Each of us who struggles with addiction to alcohol or other drugs is an individual with unique differences, genetics, lifestyles, and needs. These differences can determine the motivation for substance use, the types of drugs used, the intensity of use, and the progression from abuse to addiction. By tailoring their treatment to the person, addiction treatment professionals can design their treatment plans to improve the chances of success.

As each person’s situation is unique, treatment may benefit from being specialized or tailored to that particular situation. An individual’s treatment needs will be shaped by their substance history. As this story can be quite complex, the need for specialized treatment can be especially important during the detox/withdrawal period. Specialized treatment refers to treatment that meets the unique needs of the recovering individual. Getting the right kind of care is extremely important both during the acute withdrawal period—that time when you’re just quitting and suffering the most severe physical and psychological symptoms—and also later when you’re moving forward into the therapeutic part of your recovery journey.

Why Is Treatment Important?

When it comes to recovery from substance abuse, your focus should be on getting the right treatment (not just any treatment). You need to seek out the care that best matches your addiction type, the severity of your addiction, your symptoms, and your goals for recovery.

One of the central principles of successful addiction treatment is that there is not one single treatment approach appropriate for every person.1 This not only applies to the therapeutic treatment of addiction but also to the management of withdrawal, as a detoxing person’s symptoms, health history, and personal risk factors may vary significantly from that of another person in withdrawal.

Doctor and patient having a conversation about treatmentWithdrawal is a condition that arises from the physical dependence that commonly develops with substance use disorders. When a person is physically dependent on a substance like alcohol, opioids, or sedatives, the body adapts to the drug in the body and requires it to feel normal.1

When someone reduces or cuts off their use of these substances, withdrawal symptoms may arise. In some cases, symptoms will be only mildly uncomfortable and last for a short amount of time.2 In other cases, symptoms will be extremely distressing and potentially debilitating. The worst cases of substance withdrawal can end in death if left unmanaged.Individualized care is so important because it helps offset the potential dangers of withdrawal. If all withdrawal symptoms were treated the same, many people would receive services that did not match the intensity of their specific needs, resulting in dangerous outcomes.

Professional detox programs utilize a set of strategies designed to safely and effectively manage substance dependence and withdrawal.2 The best detox treatment will be specialized and vary based on the distinctive needs of the person.If you’ve decided to quit drugs, you need to know that withdrawal isn’t the same for everyone and that your best chances for staying safe and moving in the healthiest way possible toward your recovery are through specialized treatment.

Once you have made it through the withdrawal process, you still need specialized treatment in the form of inpatient rehab or outpatient therapy. There are many specialized treatment programs offering behavioral therapy, medications, counseling, and aftercare planning. Many of these programs cater to special populations to ensure that you are recovering in the right place in a community of people sharing your struggles.

Detox and continuing treatment that is tailored to you can help to improve your treatment outcomes, allowing you to boost your wellness, live a happier life, and reach your full potential while remaining sober.3

Why Specialized Treatment?

Specialized detox and addiction treatment programs will take into consideration and seek to enhance the patient’s:3

  • Health, including all current mental and physical health conditions affecting the person’s overall well-being as well as impacting or influenced by their addiction.
  • Home, mainly focusing on the ability to have a safe, secure, and consistent place to live.
  • Purpose, emphasizing engagement with activities that fill the day and bring joy to the patient including employment, education, volunteering, creative efforts, or caring for others.
  • Community, helping to seek out or improve relationships with friends and family members who offer love and support.

Doctor comforting patientTo efficiently address the uniqueness of their clientele, many addiction treatment centers will cater to special populations. A special population is a group of people with shared characteristics that unify its members.3 This aspect of treatment specifically targets the “community” aspect of individualized care.

Depending on the special population, different types of specialized care can offer:

  • Privacy.
  • Security.
  • Anonymity.
  • Luxury.
  • Carefully planned medical care.
  • Peer support from likeminded people on a similar journey.

Who Benefits?

Doctor with patientEveryone benefits from specialized care. Some special populations who are likely to achieve higher levels of success in specialized care include:1,3

Each group may have issues specific to their condition, age, or status. For example, women are more likely than men to begin abusing drugs or alcohol after physical or sexual trauma, so women who have experienced this kind of trauma may find better care in a program designed to address these issues.1

Specialized centers offer safe, individualized care and the possibility of improved outcomes because the treatment is tailored to you.

Another group, adolescents, have unique needs stemming from their cognitive and social growth.1 With their developing brains, adolescents are highly influenced by social groups and may benefit from specialized care that integrates the child’s parents, schools, and the community.1

High-powered business executives and celebrities are other groups that thrive with specialized care because the demands of their public image and careers could make general treatment programs problematic by cutting them off from their work or jeopardizing their privacy. With these groups, treatment centers may provide luxury accommodations, private locations, and accessible work centers so that they may remain connected to work.

Specialized centers offer safe, individualized care and the possibility of improved outcomes because the treatment is tailored to you. They also offer a more welcoming environment where patients can feel comfortable and connected to people with similar struggles and circumstances.

Who's Medically At-Risk?

Withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs often takes a powerful toll on the physical health of the individual. Depending on the specific substance, the severity of the abuse/addiction, and the individual’s overall physical and mental health, risks may arise that require medical management and/or might be intense enough to lead to a quick relapse. These might include:2,4

  • Alcohol withdrawal:
    • Nausea and vomiting.
    • Generalized seizures.
  • Cannabis/marijuana withdrawal:
    • Abdominal pain.
    • Fever and chills.
  • Opioid withdrawal:
    • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
    • High blood pressure and fast pulse.
    • Increased sensitivity to pain.
    • Intense cravings.
  • Sedative withdrawal:
  • Stimulant withdrawal.
    • Abnormally slow heart rate.
    • Depressed mood.

Person struggling with substance abuseThe risks of withdrawal complications are compounded when the person has preexisting physical health conditions.2 For example, if a person currently has high blood pressure or other cardiac issues, withdrawal from opioids or sedatives could amplify and worsen the preexisting condition leading to severe cardiac events.2 This is also true for people with preexisting, chronic pain conditions. As opioid withdrawal progresses, their pain could markedly increase due to mounting pain intolerance, and without the aid of opioid medications for pain, these symptoms may feel unbearable.2

Withdrawing from one substance is dangerous enough, but withdrawing from multiple drugs could complicate the entire process. Someone with a history of polysubstance abuse is more likely to require the intense attention specialized care affords.2

What About Dual Diagnosis?

Just as withdrawal negatively impacts your physical health, it impacts your mental health as well. In the days and weeks after the last time you used drugs or alcohol, you can experience a wide range of psychological effects from:2,4

  • Alcohol withdrawal:
    • Profound delirium with hallucinations.
    • Anxiety, worry, and panic.
  • Cannabis/marijuana withdrawal:
    • Irritability.
    • Anger and aggression.
    • Anxiety.
    • Depressed mood.
  • Opioid withdrawal:
    • Low mood.
    • Anxiety.
  • Sedative withdrawal:
    • Severe anxiety.
    • Confusion.
    • Hallucinations.
    • Restlessness.
  • Stimulant withdrawal:
    • Unpleasant dreams.
    • Depression.
    • Irritability.
    • Anxiety.
    • Paranoia.

Addict going through the stages of withdrawalIn some cases, the mental health impact of withdrawal could potentially increase one’s risk of violence and suicide.2 Suicide risk may increase during drug withdrawal, especially withdrawal from multiple substances like opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines.2 Anger and aggression may also emerge during intoxication and detoxification, which could result in violence towards others.2

These mental health symptoms will be concerning for every person experiencing them, but for a person with a dual diagnosis—having a substance use disorder and at least one other mental health condition like depression—the risk is increased. Having a dual diagnosis may increase the likelihood of experiencing more intense mental health withdrawal symptoms (and, subsequently, could raise the possibility of dangerous outcomes).2

If a person with an anxiety disorder goes into opioid withdrawal, their already existing anxiety may be increased to debilitating levels during the withdrawal period.2 The problem becomes more complex for people withdrawing from prescription sedatives because these drugs may have been prescribed to treat anxiety in the first place. During withdrawal, their anxiety may rebound and worsen, causing extreme distress.5

Providers in specialized facilities equipped for and experienced in managing dual diagnosis cases will expect these risks and will offer comprehensive care to address the full spectrum of their patients’ mental and medical needs.

How Long Does It Take to Recover?

Group therapy sessionSpecialized treatment for alcohol and drug withdrawal does not follow a specific timeframe. Like other aspects of the treatment, the duration of care is decided by the treatment team based on your unique needs.

Better outcomes are associated with longer durations of care, so treatments shorter than 90 days might offer only limited benefit.1 Some treatment types, like methadone maintenance for opioid dependence, can last for last least one year and even extend well beyond, depending upon how long it is needed.1

Treatment for withdrawal represents only a small part of your overall care. Be sure to discuss your withdrawal and aftercare options with your treatment team including:1

  • Medication. Starting at detox, medications are frequently prescribed throughout addiction treatment. Medications can limit withdrawal symptoms, lower cravings, and help treat co-occurring conditions that could increase the risk of relapse.
  • Behavioral therapy. Like medications, counseling and therapy sessions are offered in inpatient, residential, and outpatient settings. Behavioral therapy can help you to address your motivation and triggers for use while building coping skills and relapse prevention plans to extend recovery.

Not every treatment is right for every person but finding the best specialized treatments for your situation will help you combat addiction and find the life you deserve.

References:

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Recovery Services Provided by Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities in the United States.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Protracted Withdrawal.
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