Long term drink and drug users often need to go through a detox (short for detoxification) to remove the harmful chemicals from their systems. Detoxing is a natural process that occurs in the body all the time, where organs such as the liver and kidneys break down harmful chemicals into less dangerous substances which are then excreted safely. Heavy drinking or drug use leads to a build up of chemicals that the body can’t deal with properly. In many cases this can cause serious damage, such as Cirrhosis: a hardening of the liver tissue and decreased liver function.
A medical detox is an opportunity for an addict’s body to remove the build up of harmful chemicals caused by excessive drinking or drug use. You will be prescribed a class of medication called Benzodiazepines, which affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. They help to prevent the withdrawal symptoms you will experience through an alcohol or drug detox. Initially the dose will be high, as the symptoms will be most severe to begin with. As your detox progresses, the dosage will be decreased. Throughout your detox, you will be constantly monitored to ensure your body is coping with the withdrawal.
Should I self-detox?
A lot of people try to self-detox, also known as going ‘cold turkey’, on their own. This not only has low chances of success, but also can have serious consequences for your health. Heavy drinkers run the risk of Delerium Tremens (DT) – incredibly severe withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal. Without medical attention, addicts can experience:
- Intense hallucinations
- A state of confusion
- High blood pressure and heart rate
In an alcohol detox that is being monitored by health care professional, the symptoms of DT can be identified and treated. An alcohol detox assisted by medical professionals will take place in a calm and supportive environment, reducing stress, and making you feel more comfortable. If you’re struggling from severe withdrawal symptoms, your doctors may sedate you until the worst of the effects have passed off. They will also be on hand should you experience complications such as with your breathing, which could require you to be intubated.
Even if you are not at risk of Delirium Tremens, there are many other alcohol withdrawal symptoms that you are likely to experience. These can start as soon as a few hours after you had your last drink, and often include:
- Shaky hands
These symptoms can last for more than a week. Some patients may even experience hallucinations, although these will be different to those experienced as a symptom of DT as the patient is often aware that the sights, sounds, or feelings they are experiencing are not real. Should you make it through the withdrawal process successfully, you will still have a long battle on your hands to ensure that you don’t lapse back into alcoholic behaviors at some point in the future.
What is a detox diet?
People all over the world to use detox diets as a way of keeping their bodies healthy and working correctly. These people often have no problem with alcohol or drugs, and simply want to promote a healthy equilibrium and healthy organs. However the idea behind a detox diet is exactly the same as an alcohol detox. The idea is to allow your body to remove anything harmful. People may even go on a detox for caffeine.
A detox diet consists of foods that will minimize your chemical intake, such as organic produce, as well as a good balance of vitamins and minerals. This is particularly important for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, who will often have major deficiencies in vital nutrients thanks to poor dietary habits associated with their dependency. A detox diet also includes plenty of fluids and high-fiber foods, to increase the frequency of urination and assist bowel movements.
Vitamins and minerals
The body needs many different vitamins and minerals in order to function properly. Heavy drinkers who consume more than 30% of their daily calorie intake in alcohol are the most at risk of developing a mineral deficiency that can seriously affect their health. The most common minerals for addicts to be deficient in a vitamin A and vitamin B1. Alcoholics may also be deficient in calcium, iron, and zinc.
Retinol, or vitamin A, has several important roles in the body. It assists the function of your immune system, allowing you to better fight off infections. It also helps with your vision, and to keep skin and the linings of your body healthy.
Vitamin B1 – Thiamine – is involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the body for the purpose of being converted into energy. It also helps muscles to function properly. Too little Thiamine can cause atrophy of the legs, muscle weakness, and loss of appetite.
Vitamin A can be found in dairy foods such as cheese, milk, yogurt and eggs, as well as oily fish. Spinach, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, apricots, and papaya are also beneficial, as they contain beta-carotene which the body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin B1 is found in cereals, pasta, brown and wholegrain bread, pork, fish, peas and soybeans. Thiamine is soluble, so a portion of the vitamin may be lost from foods during cooking. If possible, retain and reuse the juices to ensure you get the full portion of vitamin B1
Organic food refers to any crops or animals that have been farmed using natural processes. Organic farmers do not use chemical fertilizers, most pesticides, or drug treatments on their livestock. Instead they use more natural methods of maintaining healthy crops and livestock, such as rotating animals and crops to ensure balanced and fertilized soil and preventative measures to avoid livestock diseases.
Farmed using artificial-free methods, organic food has not been exposed to the chemicals that large-scale agricultural goods have been. Many people claim that organic foods are more nutritious, although there has been no solid scientific evidence to back up this claim. However, when on a detox, your main aim is to remove harmful chemicals from your system. For this reason it makes sense to eat organic food as this will reduce the amount of chemicals and other harmful substances you are taking into your system. When you already have a build-up of chemicals from alcohol or drug use, making small changes to your diet can help the process be faster and more effective.
Fiber and fluids
Fiber is important for digestive health, as well as helping to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. fiber comes in two forms, soluble and insoluble, both of which should be included in a healthy balanced diet. Insoluble fiber helps keep your bowels healthy, while soluble fiber can lower blood cholesterol levels and make it easier to go to the toilet. This is important during the detox as the harmful chemicals need a way to leave your body.
For the same reason it is important that you drink a lot of water during the detox. This results in frequent urination, which allows harmful poisons that have been removed from the liver and kidneys to leave the body. People withdrawing from alcohol and drugs often get severely dehydrated, so making sure you drink plenty of fluids can help to keep these symptoms at bay.
- Fruit, especially apples and bananas
- Carrots, potatoes, and other root vegetables
- Grains such as oats, rye, and barley
You can find insoluble fiber in:
- Nuts and seeds
- Wholemeal bread
Note that you can only find fiber in foods that come from plants.
Additional detox activities
As well as following a careful detox diet, you can assist your recovery process in a number of other ways. Your alcohol or drug treatment specialist may recommend some of these to you, and you should always check with a medical professional for taking any aspects of your detox into your own hands.
Exercise on a detox
Exercise has many benefits for the body, and just half an hour of activity a day can help keep your system running efficiently. If you are overweight exercise can greatly aid your detox, as toxins will often be stored in fat deposits. Gradually burning off fat allows your body to process and remove these trapped toxins.
Higher levels of activity will cause you to perspire. When you sweat, toxins are drawn out of your body and expelled. A higher level of activity will also increase your heart rate. This helps to wash away toxin build-ups, and provides a better supply of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. A better blood flow means that toxins are more quickly and efficiently transported out of the body.
Exercise pushes lymphatic fluid around your lymph nodes, which are located all over the body and work to filter out foreign particles and toxins. The lymph nodes do not deal with toxins, however, so a steady flow of lymphatic fluid is required to carry them to the kidneys and liver where they can be processed.
Exercise can also help you to deal with alcohol or drug withdrawal in other ways. Exercising releases endorphins in the brain which can make you feel good, and also raise your mood. This can be useful for combating the anxiety and depression that is often caused by alcohol withdrawal or drug withdrawal.
Herbal remedies have been around for thousands of years and are used in both alternative and traditional medicine. Many different herbs promote healthy organs and strong body functions, making them very useful in a detox to help your body work to get rid of any built up toxins. There are a huge range of herbs that can be used for various purposes during a detox, including:
- Dandelion – as an ingredient or used in tea, dandelion promotes regular bowel movements, assists with bile production, and helps maintain hydration levels in the body. It is also good for joint pain and believed by some to support the immune system.
- Wormwood – once banned in the USA because of its role in absinthe production, wormwood has been used for hundreds of years to aid in digestion.
- Stinging nettle – stinging nettle promotes normal blood pressure, and with its antioxidant properties, can play a role in preventing chronic conditions such as heart disease or stroke. Coming down off alcohol or drugs is likely to lead to higher blood pressure which could in turn lead to cardiovascular disease, so stinging nettle can help to counteract this.
- Green tea – the catechins in green tea have been found in studies to convert harmful toxins and chemicals into nonthreatening by-products. They are believed to help protect against cancerous cells, and by stimulating the production of enzymes to fight toxins, they can help you to cleanse your body of harmful substances.
- Turmeric – this spice is well known for being beneficial to the liver. Turmeric helps to increase the flow of bile, transporting toxins safely out of the body.
How to detox safely
Detoxing is only the first part of alcohol treatment or drug treatment. There are many other things that need to be done in order to help you battle your addiction and stay free of harmful substances in the future. Because detoxing has its own safety risks, and because there is much more to giving up drugs and alcohol than just stopping drinking or drug taking, it is best to seek alcohol or drug treatment from a specialist treatment center. Steps to Recovery can provide you with all the support you need when going through a detox to ensure that the process is safe and effective, and that you have the tools to be able to stay sober.