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Drugs and alcohol are notoriously hard on the body, exacting a mental, physical and psychological toll that requires detox as a first priority in order to get clean. Although the desire to get clean is extremely common, the courage and follow-through necessary to successfully do so are challenging and, in many cases, daunting. Fortunately, contemporary detox includes a wide variety of natural and medically managed options. Unlike decades past, where detox almost exclusively revolved around a 12-step program and limited selection of pharmaceutical interventions—21st century modalities are more comprehensive and flexible than ever.
NATURAL DETOX METHODS
Natural detox methods represent a rapidly expanding science and industry focused on removing toxins from the body without traditional medical intervention. The US and many other industrialized nations throughout the world are increasingly health-conscious, with entire subcultures and trends emerging that emphasize yoga, acupuncture, an organic, nutrient-rich and toxin-free diet, massage, herbal remedies, vitamin supplements, and exercise. With regard to natural drug detox, all of these modalities can play a helpful and life-changing role, however, empirical evidence favors diet and exercise—especially when combined with a spiritually based program.
A body and mind undergoing the rigorous journey of detox cannot afford dietary toxins. Many popular choices including fried, sugary, highly processed and fat-laden foods should be removed from the diet. In short, this means no more junk food. A multitude of studies, including those conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center, reveal the following nutrient-rich, low-fat diet is beneficial to those undergoing detox from alcohol as well as certain drugs:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables—fiber-rich and nutrient-packed, most fresh fruits and vegetables—especially organic varieties—help boost immunity and protect the liver (usually the first organ damaged by excessive drinking). They also help stabilize blood sugar levels, which in turn, diminishes cravings.
- Bananas and sunflower seeds—chronic alcohol and drug abuse lead to reduced dopamine (a key neurotransmitter) levels throughout the brain and central nervous system (CNS). Both banana and sunflower are clinically proven to elevate dopamine levels and counterbalance some of the damaging effects of drug and alcohol abuse when eaten regularly.
- Raw spinach and parsley—both of these dark green superfoods are loaded with L-glutamine, an inhibitory amino acid. When eaten raw, they help diminish cravings for sugar—a common feature of the drug or alcohol-damaged body and mind.
- Whole grain breads and cereals—all healthy varieties of whole grains and cereals are fiber-rich and aid in slower carbohydrate digestion. This, in turn, helps normalize blood sugar levels and reduce cravings.
Exercise is an integral part of a healthy, balanced life for everyone—especially those recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Many physiological and psychological processes depend upon a delicate balance of brain chemicals, neurotransmitters and endorphins, all of which are disrupted by chronic substance abuse. Regular exercise is proven to release endorphins, regulate a healthy flow of vital neurochemicals to the brain and CNS, and optimize cognitive function. It also stabilizes mood, reduces cravings, and balances the ratio between sugars and fats. Even more importantly, regular exercise improves sleep quality, curbs anxiety, and releases galanin and endocannabinoids—both of which significantly reduce stress. Although most government health authorities recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, people in various stages of detox and recovery may benefit from more.
Developing a greater sense of spirituality is a critical aspect of many 12-step programs and traditions including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). With a wealth of evidence-based studies proving that addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease characterized by isolation and disconnection, connection to a higher power and purpose for living are essential to turning the corner.
Fortunately, spirituality in recovery is no longer limited to ongoing 12-step meetings and a weekly trip to church, although those certainly provide a strong, time-tested foundation. Many clients currently undergoing detox from drug or alcohol addiction enjoy an expanded, holistic version of spirituality which includes yoga, meditation, creative and expressive arts, music therapy, acupuncture, and other alternative healing practices. In fact, many state-of-the-art facilities incorporate multiple spiritual modalities into a comprehensive curriculum geared toward re-integrating the mind, body and soul.
DANGERS OF AT-HOME DETOX
Self-guided, at-home detox can be a dangerous and potentially deadly practice. For this reason, it is strongly discouraged. Quitting “cold turkey” subjects the body to extreme shock after chronic substance abuse—a phenomenon known as precipitated withdrawal—and increases the likelihood of relapse. If you are or a loved one are suffering from addiction, always plan ahead and have adequate social and nutritional support in the event that you choose at-home detox against professional medical advice.
MEDICALLY MANAGED DETOX
Although many people erroneously assume that medically managed detox is strictly based on pharmacological interventions, it can also be done naturally (without medicine), or at least partly naturally, even in traditional rehab settings. Medically managed detox usually takes place in an inpatient or outpatient setting under the close supervision of a licensed medical professionals and qualified clinicians. In the vast field of addiction and recovery, it is generally considered the safest, most reliable method of treatment. The following describes three popular medically managed detox options:
- Intensive inpatient treatment—long-considered the industry gold standard—this popular treatment option involves clients living at a designated residential facility for a period of one month (and sometimes as many as three). The 24/7 staff monitoring provided by inpatient facilities offers a safe, supportive environment that is optimal for promoting long-term outcomes while minimizing risks.
- Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP)—involves clients attending a designated treatment facility on a non-residential basis, usually for morning or evening sessions. IOP programs boast many benefits for those with demanding personal or professional schedules, but are not considered optimal for those suffering from longer-term substance dependence.
- Outpatient treatment (OP)—involves clients attending a casual, once or twice a week schedule of individual and/or group therapy in addition to occasional medical follow-up and consultation. Outpatient treatment is an excellent option for clients successfully transitioning from more intensive levels of care, or those whose substance dependence had not reached excessive proportions.
Pharmacological interventions are frequently used at all levels of care, depending upon the exact duration and specific type of addiction a client is suffering from. For example, when treating opiate addiction—one of the most pervasive and debilitating—the following Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications may be prescribed to help facilitate a safe, effective detox process:
- Suboxone—a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone—an opiate antagonist. Suboxone is used early in symptom onset and helps prevent intravenous buprenorphine abuse. This clinically-proven medication significantly lowers the risk of precipitated withdrawal by activating the same neurological receptors as many opiates. It is also generally well-tolerated by a diversity of clients.
- Clonodine—this increasingly popular “anti-hypersensitive” medication helps reduce symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal. Clonidine works by blocking brain chemicals responsible for activating the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This, in turn, reduces cravings and helps achieve stabilization.
- Vivitrol—an injectable prescription variety of naltrexone designed to help control cravings and stabilize psychological and physiological processes. Vivitrol is available in both pill and once-per-month injectable form and works by blocking opiate receptors in the brain and CNS.
For those clients suffering from alcohol addiction, the following medications are considered to be among the most reliable and effective:
- Disulfiram—this medication deactivates an enzyme the body uses to metabolize alcohol. In many clients, this makes drinking uncomfortable.
- Acamprosate—helps significantly reduce withdrawal symptoms.
- Naltrexone—this opiate medication works similarly when applied to alcohol by blocking opiate receptors in the brain and CNS.
TAKING THE FIRST STEP
Drug and alcohol addiction are universally problematic conditions that cause terrible suffering to those affected. If you or someone you love is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, call a substance abuse professional today. Never delay seeking treatment—especially when a multitude of flexible, effective detox options are available to treat even the most stubborn, long-lasting addiction.
For more information about addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- “Are All Detox Programs the Same?”
- “Using Algae and Seaweed to Restore the Body from Alcohol Abuse”
- “Dangers of Drug Detox at Home and Quitting Cold Turkey”
- “How Spirituality Improves Rates of Recovery”
British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP). Pharmacological strategies for drug detoxification. Feb, 2014.
The New England Journal of Medicine. Management of Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal. May, 2003.
Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options. Dec, 2007.
U.S. Pharmacist. Acute Opioid Withdrawal: Identification and Treatment Strategies. Nov, 2016.