The word detox, short for detoxification, is used in a number of different senses in the modern day. However, the medical sense of the word typically refers to removing drugs or alcohol from the systems of people that have been abusing these substances. Detox is different for every case, as the details of that person’s health and the substance in question change, but it is one of the most important parts of changing that person’s behavior of substance use and abuse.
How Detox Works
When a substance is introduced into a person’s body, the body begins trying to filter it out almost immediately. Depending on what substance a person is using, how long they’ve been using it and how much of it is in his or her system, that can take varying amounts of time. The blood is cleaned by the liver, the kidneys and other organs, which all work together to eliminate the toxin from the body.
Some people require nothing more than time and abstinence from a substance in order to complete a natural detox. However, there are times when just sitting back and waiting for your body to eliminate a substance can be dangerous. This is particularly true for long term substance abusers who decide to finally try and get clean.
The longer you abuse a substance, the more your body gets used to that substance being present in your body. This can lead to serious complications and bodily problems if the abuser decides to suddenly just stop taking the substance. For instance, if a man regularly takes steroids that inject testosterone into his system, that can lead to a decreased functioning of the testicles. If the user suddenly stops using that substance, then the body is left scrambling and has to try and adjust once again to a different situation. In some circumstances this can be deadly.
Suddenly ceasing the dosage of a drug can be a system shock. If the body and organs are already weakened by long term use then a further shock could send them over the edge into a non-functioning state. Long term drug and alcohol abusers often find themselves in such a state of chemical dependence that once they decide to try and stop their bodies still need their substance of choice to keep functioning.
In these situations it is imperative that abusers receive medical attention before they try to quit using their substance. Detox professionals can provide the kind of care that long term substance abusers need to make sure that their bodies don’t shut down. Often this requires a slow let down, weaning the substance abuser off of their substances at a rate slow enough for their body to handle it.
Physical Detox and Mental Addiction
Addiction is more than just a physical problem. Addiction is also a mental habit, and detoxifying the body doesn’t eliminate either the mental desire or the social situations that drove the user to seek out and take the substance in the first place. You can get an alcoholic to stop drinking for instance, but that won’t make him stop wanting to drink, it won’t eliminate the stress from his life that made him drink, and it won’t cut him out of the social circles he was in where drinking was an acceptable activity. Until these problems are taken care of, the deeper problems that paved the way for the substance abuse and addiction in the first place, there can be no permanent behavioral change.
Detox is Not a Cure
Labeling detox as a cure for addiction is a misnomer at best, and a dangerous mistake at worst. Detoxification only means that the substance abuser’s body can once again function without the substance it has grown so used to over time. However, the damage has been done. There is nothing except for that person’s behavioral patterns to stop him or her from picking the substance right back up and going back to their old, abusive habits. That’s why therapy and support is so necessary. Detox is temporary, but habits and lifestyle changes have to be permanent in order to keep the person from going back to abusing substances.
If no permanent changes are made then all detox does is create a temporary erasure of the physical dependence that abuser has for a substance. That temporary respite creates an opportunity for that person to try and move forward and make the other, necessary changes. Detox is a first step, but not a last.