Getting a family member to admit that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol and agree to seek out professional addiction treatment can feel like a major victory on its own. And while it is undoubtedly a major first step in the right direction, it’s also just that: a first step in the long battle against addiction.
And that battle begins with detox treatment, where your loved one or family member will have to deal with the process of withdrawal. While it can be difficult to have to see them struggle with the symptoms of withdrawal, it’s far more difficult to be the one struggling, which is part of why your support at this stage is so essential.
Fortunately, there are many ways in which you can support your family member as they go through the process of detox and withdrawal, especially if they are doing an outpatient detox.
However, even if they are going to detox at an inpatient treatment center, you can still show your support by gaining a better understanding of both withdrawal and detox, and knowing what to expect.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease, which means that when someone has been abusing drugs or alcohol, especially for an extended period of time, the act of substance abuse will have caused significant, fundamental changes to their brain chemistry. The way that addiction rewires a person’s brain can often be permanent if professional treatment is not sought soon enough.
The longer someone engages in substance abuse, the more accustomed their system becomes them and the chemicals they produce. Whether it is the pain-masking effects of opioids or the rush of euphoria and energy stimulants cause by raising dopamine levels, their brain will often stop making these chemicals naturally and become dependent on the excess amounts created by alcohol or drugs.
This also means that as their system gets used to whatever substance is being abused, the user will start to become tolerant to its effects. Their brain’s receptors become less sensitive and start requiring more drugs or alcohol at a time to achieve the same high as before.
When they try to stop using it they will experience withdrawal symptoms as their body and brain struggle to function and regulate themselves in the absence whatever chemicals they had come to rely on.
Withdrawal is the brain and body’s way of trying to readjust itself to how everything worked prior to becoming dependent on alcohol or drugs. During this process, someone can expect to experience uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes even dangerous psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms.
Typical withdrawal symptoms can range anywhere from flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea to more severe ones like hallucinations, suicidal behavior, and seizures. Mood-based withdrawal symptoms such as depression and anxiety are also extremely common.
Detoxification is the process of flushing the drugs or alcohol from someone’s system to achieve sobriety as well as stemming the physical and mental damage caused by these substances. Detox is how the majority of addiction recovery programs start, either onsite at a treatment facility or on an outpatient basis.
Whether it is done at an inpatient center or outpatient clinic, your family member’s experience in medical detox will involve three main stages:
During this stage, doctors will measure drug levels in the bloodstream as well as conduct physical and mental health exams, screen clients for any other co-occurring disorders, and more. They will use this data to help determine how best to meet your loved one’s needs.
As you might expect, this stage of detox involves keeping your family member stable and safe and minimizing any discomfort caused by pain, cravings, or complications resulting from more extreme withdrawal symptoms like seizures or Delirium tremens.
The final phase of the detox process is mostly centered around preparing your family member or loved one for post-detox recovery treatment. If they are not going straight into ongoing care, then the detox center will provide resources and information on how best to go about moving on to long-term inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment.
The symptoms of drug withdrawal can make the prospect of detoxification seem quite unpleasant, and, in truth, it usually is. However, that’s part of why it is so important to give your family member as much support as possible during this period, as they will be at their most vulnerable.
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If your family member is going through withdrawal from an inpatient medical detox treatment center, then you will not see much of them until the process is over, as they will be under careful medical monitoring throughout the course of their withdrawal.
If they are going through withdrawal while detoxing at an outpatient clinic, however, your support during this time is crucial, as they will be physically and mentally drained and in need of a healthy, comfortable, and safe home environment that is conducive to their recovery.
One of the biggest ways in which you can support your family member during detox as they go through withdrawal is to make sure that the environment that they come home to after a day of treatment is stable, peaceful, and positive.
Keep toxic people and anything potentially triggering away from your home. It could be a friend or even another family member that you know is a bad influence on them.
It can be hard telling people to stay away, especially if they are also family, but your family member or loved one has more than enough to deal with during withdrawal without also having to deal with negative outside influences.
The first few days of detox are generally the most intense, as well as when your family member will be most vulnerable to relapse. If it is possible for you to do so, taking a few days off from work to focus on spending time with your loved one and helping keep them comfortable can make a world of difference.
As your family member deals with the symptoms of withdrawal, even ones on the more mild end of the spectrum, they are most likely going to be too caught up in them to stay properly hydrated or get enough nutrition. Helping make sure they get enough fluids as well as making them light, easily digested meals gives them one less thing to have to worry about.
If your family member is suffering from insomnia, a common experience during withdrawal, try to stay up with them if you are able. It can help pass the long hours, let them know that they are not alone in their fight, and also minimize any temptation they might have to try and sneak off to relieve their cravings for drugs or alcohol.
When a family member has been dealing with addiction, it can create feelings of tension, toxicity, and hurt. Family therapy during the addiction recovery treatment process can help to address these feelings and facilitate healing and recovery not just for your family member but for you and everyone who has been affected by their addiction.
But withdrawal is not the time for those discussions.
Trying to deal with those complicated feelings while your family member is at their most vulnerable point in the early stages of the recovery process can potentially derail the whole thing. Instead, be patient with them, let them know they are loved and remember that there will be time to have these conversations in the future.
Withdrawal and the detox process can last between a few days and a few weeks, and when a family member is dealing with withdrawal, it is difficult for everyone involved. So when we say to be patient and kind, we mean to yourself as well.
You cannot provide your family member with adequate support if you are running yourself into the ground trying to do so. Reach out to other friends or family members for help in supporting and caring for your loved one so that you are also able to care for yourself.
If a family member, someone you care about or even you are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the road to recovery starts at medical detoxification, and Delphi Behavioral Health Group can help you or your loved one take those critical first steps toward a sober future. Our admissions specialists are available 24/7 to help you through the process of exploring different treatment options, verifying your insurance, finding the treatment program that’s right for or your loved one, and providing answers to any questions or concerns you might have on getting started with addiction recovery treatment.
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SAMHSA. (2006) Treatment Improvement Protocols. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.1 Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64119/
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