Detox: What’s It All About?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

“Detox is great because it doesn’t wear you out; you can do it over and over and nothing bad happens to you; nothing, really, happens.”

Let’s Re-examine Detox

We are in the midst of a heroin addiction and prescription opioid overdose epidemic, and so I was not surprised to see on a major TV network the story of a young couple hooked on heroin, apparently started by using prescription opioids, trying to get into rehab.

What did surprise me was the way the young man prepared himself to get ready – by getting his dealer to give him enough heroin for one last shot before he gave up his habit and entered into treatment. His family accordingly prepared themselves to say goodbye and let him know this is his “last chance.” It was portrayed as if this is the way to do it. The young man lasted three or four days, left treatment and died from an overdose a few weeks later.

That story was meant to highlight the huge heroin epidemic, but is that what rehab is really about? Is that the way to face a serious brain disease? Who is telling these young people the way they are doing is the way to go? Is robbing the bank one last time before you get baptized the way salvation works?

It is perhaps time to give detox and rehab a more thorough examination.

Detox Explained

To understand detox, a good place to begin is with what detox is not. Detox is not going back to where you were before you became addicted; it is a redemptive process, not a creative one. Detox is, strictly speaking, like birth control. It will keep you from becoming pregnant, but it will not make you a virgin again.

Detoxification may be good for a lot of things, but staying off drugs isn’t one of them.-Walter LingThis may sound like bad news, but in reality, it is good news if you remember that it was your old self that got you into the addiction mess to begin with. There is no point in getting back your old self. What you need is a new non-addict self. So if you don’t want to get addicted again, stay off drugs after detox and get a new life.

Detox is the most frequently offered treatment for addiction in this country. Unfortunately, it is also where most treatment ends and where patients got off track in their recovery. It is worth repeating that detox is getting off drugs, not staying off drugs. The real hurdle in recovery is not getting off drugs, but staying off, which is what we call relapse prevention; it is step 2 in a 3-step process of recovery.

The addicted brain comes with three characteristics:

  • A drug habit
  • A drug memory that underlies a drug belief system and determines a life style of drug-use behavior
  • The loss of a non-drug life

To overcome addiction, we have to deal with all three of these things.

It’s More Than Just Getting Off Drugs

Getting rid of the drug using habit and freeing the brain from constant bombardment of drug effects is only a portion, and not the complete package, of detox. Many people believe that when your drug use gets down to zero, it means you have completed detox. This is wrong. Detox is not complete until you stop thinking and acting like an addict.

Addiction is not taking a lot of drugs, it’s taking drugs and acting like an addict. Successful detox must include detoxing from what makes you act like an addict – remembering drugs and thinking like an addict. You have not finished detox until you stop thinking and behaving like an addict.

Detox shouldn’t just get you off drugs; it should stop you from remembering and thinking about drugs like an addict and prepare you for the next steps: Staying off drugs and getting a life without drugs.

Detox is rightly called step one in the long journey of recovery. The description is a take-off from the old saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Yes, detox is step one in the long and hard journey of recovery. And yes, a journey of a thousand miles does begin with one step, but as my mother would say, a thousand steps in the same spot is not a journey and it does not get you anywhere. A real journey has to go somewhere; repeated detox without taking steps to stay off drugs is like marching in place – and it is not a journey.

The Withdrawal Experience

Getting off drugs is not easy or pleasant; it is actually very hard, especially when we talk about getting off opioids like prescription pain pills. It makes you feel like dying, but doesn’t (for the most part) really kill you. Just thinking about it could make you sick and drive you back to using.

The whole experience of withdrawal from opioids, without medical intervention, is known as going “cold turkey.” It is something known to virtually every established opioid addict; it is described in books and depicted in movies. The classic example is in Frank Sinatra’s “The Man With the Golden Arm.”  (Everyone interested should watch it at least once; it is well worth the time.)

Now you know how tough it is to get over the first detox hurdle while also getting used to not having the constant drug bombardment on your brain. It is wrong to think going to detox is a relief; it’s not. It is stress on a stressed out brain. You need to get ready for it. And you don’t prepare by occupying yourself with thoughts and acts that you don’t want to do, can’t do and shouldn’t do when you get into detox.

Salvation doesn’t come by sinning one last time before you get baptized.

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