Blog - Beach House Rehab Center
A close up of a local man making a bowl of kava.
February 9, 2019

Kava Detox Guide

Kava (a.k.a. “kava kava”) is an herb derived from a plant found in the Western and South Pacific. For centuries, kava has been used both ceremonially and recreationally on account of its euphoric and intoxicating effects, which reportedly cause users to feel more relaxed, less anxious, drowsy, and, simultaneously, more alert mentally.

Today, kava is still widely used and easy to procure in health and nutrition stores and online, via Amazon and other vendors. Users tout the drug’s many health benefits— for anxiety disorders, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome and stress. And the fact that its euphoric effects have been compared to those of alcohol, only without the loss of mental clarity that alcohol intoxication involves, may only amplify kava’s attraction. The drug has even reportedly been used as an at-home remedy for symptoms of opiate withdrawal, and has been studied as a potential treatment for generalized anxiety disorder.

But there are also serious dangers to using kava regularly or religiously. What many users don’t know or fail to consider is that kava has abuse potential, according to a report by the National Institutes of Health. This is because kava stimulates the brain’s dopamine (or “pleasure”) receptors. Scientists also believe the drug’s chemical compounds (which relieve pain and anxiety and act as a muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant) are mediated by the brain’s limbic system, a region of the brain that governs emotions and memories and is often implicated in the onset of addiction.

Equally alarming: kava has been associated with liver injury— a fact that led to its banning and stricter regulation in Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and Great Britain. While some reports of kava-related liver damage have been disputed on the basis of other herbal ingredients that may have caused hepatoxicity, there remain a number of cases that indisputably point to kava as the culprit.

Anyone using kava to treat anxiety, insomnia or another health issue should therefore know about these health dangers— and, about how to detox safely from the herb. After all, their liver may end up thanking them.

Kava Withdrawal Symptoms

Anyone who has been taking kava recreationally, and in moderate to big amounts in order to achieve a “legal high,” may experience certain withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing use. “Withdrawal” is what happens when your body, having become dependent on a particular substance and its side effects—in the case of kava, the sedating, anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects—must readjust itself to life without the drug. Depending on your circumstances and the severity of your dependence on kava, you may experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms during withdrawal. These may include:

  • Abdominal and muscle pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Restless leg syndrome

Kava Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal from any addictive substance is a process that occurs in phases. The same is true of withdrawal from kava. Here is what to expect in the form of a withdrawal timeline:

  • The first phase of withdrawal from kava may last for a few days: it may begin as early as within a few hours of last intake— or, it may begin later, within a few days of last use. In this stage of the withdrawal process, it is not uncommon to see a rebound of the symptoms you were trying to treat with kava, such as anxiety, insomnia, and/or depression.
  • The second phase of withdrawal can be the most acute: during this phase, you may experience the most severe manifestations of the above symptoms.
  • The third phase of withdrawal is usually reserved for those who have had a longstanding kava dependency or were taking the herb alongside other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol or stimulants. 

Inpatient Treatment for Kava

Inpatient treatment is for anyone who has tried unsuccessfully to detox from kava, or whose health issues, history of addiction or co-occurring mental disorders predispose them to an especially risky and/or difficult withdrawal from kava. The ultimate goal, after all, is to ensure a safe and complete detox, one that in addition to being as comfortable as possible, will help you break free from a potentially dangerous dependency on kava.

Inpatient treatment is a residential experience: while living on campus you’ll receive an in-depth physical assessment, followed by 24/7 medical monitoring by medical and clinical professionals. They are there to administer medications that can ease the symptoms of withdrawal, such as insomnia, and to address potential medical complications (should they occur).

Medical monitoring and medication assistance are an important element of inpatient treatment, which is the most intensive level of substance abuse care for those needing treatment for a kava addiction.

Behavioral therapies that address the roots of your addiction are the other critical element of inpatient treatment. Through individual counseling and group therapies, you’ll learn coping skills for dealing with the issues that may have driven you to use kava in the first place: anxiety, depression, sleep problems, etc.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Many people who abuse substances like kava have a co-occurring mental condition (or “dual diagnosis”) such as a mood or anxiety disorder, which is driving their substance abuse. Dual diagnosis treatment treats the substance use disorder and the co-occurring disorder simultaneously, via a combination of medications and evidence-based behavioral therapies.

Outpatient Treatment for Kava

Outpatient treatment for kava is a less intensive level of care than inpatient treatment, and is well-suited for those who, because of work or family responsibilities, are not able to enter residential inpatient treatment. The same structure of support is there in the way of medical and clinical assistance: clients take part in behavioral therapies while being monitored by a psychiatrist and medical team. The difference is that clients live at home and commute to the program.

Can Kava Detox Be Done at Home?

Kava detox should not be attempted at home. Unforeseen complications can occur, and another person’s experience of withdrawal may very well not be your own (contrary to online forums that may lead you to think otherwise).

Here are some other reasons why detoxing at home should be avoided:

  • You won’t have immediate medical help if something goes wrong.
  • You won’t be adequately prepared for all or any of the withdrawal symptoms that could occur.
  • You’ll be less assured of a successful completion of detox (given that kava will likely be close within reach).

Inpatient treatment, in contrast, provides total peace of mind with respect to the above factors.

Tapered vs. Cold Turkey?

When detoxing from kava, “tapering” is the preferred approach. A tapering program involves gradually decreasing your kava dose over a period of time, rather than suddenly and completely stopping use (as in going “cold turkey”). Tapering will spare you from the more severe withdrawal symptoms that accompany an abrupt cessation of kava.

Considerations/How to Decide What Is Right for You

Choosing to enter treatment for a kava problem inevitably involves multiple considerations. Financial considerations—concerns about the cost of a treatment program and/or what insurance will cover—are naturally in the forefront of most people’s minds. So are factors like whether to go to treatment out of state or nearer to home. The reputation of a prospective treatment program and to what degree they can be trusted is another concern. A good treatment facility will be more than happy to answer your questions related to these concerns over the phone or in an in-person visit.

Recovery Success and Aftercare Services for Kava

What happens after completion of an inpatient or outpatient program is also critical to the success of your recovery. Research has shown that involvement in aftercare services raises your chances of achieving long-term sobriety. For that reason, be sure to ask any prospective rehab provider what aftercare services they offer. These might include:

  • Peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous
  • One-on-one and group therapies
  • Medication management
  • Random drug testing
  • Life and job skills coaching
  • An alumni program that offers recreational and community involvement opportunities

Who Needs Kava Detox?

If you once found kava to be a fun and relatively harmless recreational escape, but are now experiencing problems as the result of regular use, you may need a detox from kava. No drug, however good it may make you feel, is worth the sacrifice of your health, relationships, or quality of life. With professional detox and treatment, you can reclaim the people and things you value and find lasting freedom from kava.