Toxins & Alcohol Detoxification

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Detoxification is the elimination of toxins from the body. Detoxification occurs during withdrawal from an addictive substance such as alcohol or heroin. The detoxification process may be implemented in a systematic fashion, as a component of treatment for addiction.

Withdrawal from alcohol and some other drugs can be dangerous, possibly fatal. The alcohol withdrawal syndromeOpens in new window may involve any of a variety of symptoms, including sleep disturbances, anxietyOpens in new window, tremors, sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinationsOpens in new window, and seizures; seizuresOpens in new window may result in death.

Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the client’s age, genetics, extent of drug use, length of addiction, number of prior withdrawals (withdrawal symptoms increase in severity with each withdrawal), and other factors.

The detoxification process may occur on an outpatient basis or in a clinic or other treatment center, typically over a period of days or weeks. It may be drug-free, or medications may be administered to treat symptoms of withdrawal.

For instance, in the case of alcohol withdrawal, drugs that bear some chemical similarity to alcohol, particularly the benzodiazepinesOpens in new window, a class of drugs that includes Valium and Librium, may be administered during detoxification.

Administration of these drugs and tapering them gradually eases the withdrawal symptoms. In many cases, after a detoxification, the body can return to normal or near-normal functioning.

Detoxification is much more likely to be effective if it is followed by other treatment, such as psychotherapy, and if social support and stable living circumstances are available to the patient (e.g., van den Brink & Haasen, 2006).

Detoxification is a treatment that involves a goal of abstinenceOpens in new window or complete withdrawal from the drug, with the expectation that the individual will not use the drug in the future.

Drug dependenceOpens in new window can be treated through management or maintenance, however, particularly in cases where the individual is severely dependent. There are various approaches to treating drug dependence. Harm reduction approaches seek to minimize risky behaviors while improving functioning, while other treatment approaches see abstinence as the goal. According to some experts (e.g., van den Brick & Haasen, 2006), nonabstinence treatment goals may be most appropriate in some cases.

  1. Washton, A. M., & Zweben, J. E. (2008). Treating alcohol and drug problems in psychotherapy practice: Doing what works. New York: Guilford.
  2. van den Brink, W., & Haasen, C. (2006). Evidenced-based treatment of opioid-dependent patients. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 51, 635 – 646.