Understanding Detoxification

Lasting Recovery’s San Diego Outpatient Treatment Center is available to help you to begin to overcome your dependency on alcohol and drugs. While we don’t provide detoxification services, we will refer you to a reputable detox and coordinate your transition for care in one of our programs.

Group support and education through our Intensive Outpatient Treatment or our Partial Hospitalization Program  for alcohol and drugs can help equip you to stay on your path of recovery.

Our integrative services help you to achieve a safe and supportive recovery from Alcohol, Marijuana, Opiates/Pain Medication, Benzodiazepines, Tranquillizers, and Stimulants.

Withdrawal Syndrome 

Addiction is usually recognized when the substance is abruptly stopped. A cluster of symptoms known as a withdrawal syndrome occur, and it is often the only warning that a physical dependence has developed. If you experience withdrawal symptoms, you may benefit from a medical detoxification. Our staff can refer you an appropriate medical facility or physician.

Cross Addiction:
  • A return to one substance will lead you back to the other drugs.
  • The use of one drug or more is due to what the brain recognizes as ‘intoxication”
  • Becoming chemically dependent on one drug leaves us susceptible to dependency on another drug through what is known as cross addiction.
  • People often only see one drug as causing problems in their lives and not the others.
  • Each drug takes a different amount of time to become a problem.
  • People come in for detoxification when their problem with the drug is more than what they are willing to exchange for using the substance.
  • Uncomplicated withdrawal detoxification is usually 3-5 days.
  • Medications are given to reduce discomfort of severe anxiety and tremors which can lead to seizure (can be fatal).


  • Marijuana withdrawal can be very uncomfortable and can lead a person back to using.
  • Healthy diet, vitamins, exercise and acupuncture can reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Opiates/Pain Medication

  • Uncomplicated detoxification from opiates used to manage pain is best accomplished using suboxone® medication for a short period of time, generally 6-14 days.
  • Alternate forms of pain medication are introduced and integrated during this time with effective forms of complementary medicine, e.g. acupuncture, meditation, yoga, music and guided meditations.
  • Detoxification from heroin is assessed by a physician.
  • Medication and vitamins are given to ease discomfort caused by opiate withdrawal symptoms.

Opiates and Benzodiazepines:

  • Using opiates or suboxone and tranquillizer medications together is dangerous and can be lethal.
  • If you are taking opiates and tranquillizer prescription drug medications, (benzodiazepines such as xanax, ambian, Ativan, klonipin, valium, etc,) your detoxification should include both types of drugs.

Tranquillizers, benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants and sedatives:

  • Detox time depends upon the quantity and length of time drugs have been used. This type of detoxification must to be slower to reduce risk of seizure, which can be fatal.
  • Natural, non-addictive alternatives will be recommended for anxiety, muscle spasms and insomnia.

Stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine):

  • Detoxification can reduce symptoms of anxiety, irritability and relapse
  • Natural, non-addictive alternatives will be recommended for anxiety and depression

The length of time and severity of detoxification depends upon the severity of use, characteristics of the substance used, your current physical health, current level of functioning (work, family, friends) and availability of your support system.

Recognizing Moderate and Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
Signs of Need for Medical Intervention

A majority of alcohol and drug users, who decide to stop using chemicals for periods of time, are able to do so without much trouble. Some people experience mild symptoms and others experience severe symptoms including seizures. There is a withdrawal syndrome which consists of a predictable group of signs and symptoms resulting from abrupt removal of, or a rapid decrease in the regular dosage of, a psychoactive substance.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal becomes difficult when problem drinkers attempt to quit.  Very often, alcoholics (10% of our population) will need professional help to detoxify if they have been unable to stop drinking for more than a day without physical withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is frequently described as a hangover that ranges from mild to severe and lasts for several days.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Upset stomach (nausea)
  • Headaches
  • Shaking (tremors in hands and body)
  • Anxiety (panic attack)
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia, nightmares)
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased breathing and heart rate

A small percentage of people may experience more severe symptoms such as hallucinations, delirium tremens (DTs) or a generalized seizure. Call a physician if you or a loved one is having any of the more severe symptoms or go to a local emergency room. If you are diabetic and insulin dependent, call your physician immediately.

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

Many of the controlled studies of marijuana smokers, in treatment for addiction indicate that marijuana addiction is similar to tobacco addiction and the intensity of the cravings for the drug are strong.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are reported to include:

  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • anger outbursts
  • depression and mood swings
  • headaches
  • lack of appetite
  • cravings for marijuana or other drugs
  • loss of sensual experience
  • loss of psychological associations

Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal for those who use daily appear within the first 8 hours and are the most noticeable during the first 10 days.  Withdrawal symptoms have been known to last up to 45 days. Withdrawal from marijuana is identifiable by behavioral and emotional distress. Many people believe marijuana is a harmless drug and don’t expect to suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Using marijuana with other substances can increase the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms that we think are being tamed by the marijuana, such as anger, depression, anxiety, or symptoms of bi-polar disorder, can increase during times of cravings or withdrawal.  People can develop a dependency on marijuana and forget they are under the influence of a highly intoxicating substance.

Tranquillizers (Valium, Xanax, Klonipin, Ativan, Soma, etc.) Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of anxiety (shaking, tense body, racing thoughts, sweaty palms, feeling and thoughts of fear and desperation to get the next pill, can be experienced by someone who has become dependent on these medications.

If not managed  properly, detoxification from tranquillizers can produce including a life threatening seizure, and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, for up to 6 months after long-term use.  Detoxification needs to be done under the watchful eye of a physician or in a hospital detox facility.

Symptoms may include:

  • shakiness
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • blurred vision
  • muscle twitching
  • dryness of mouth
  • nervous like state of mind
  • decreased appetite
  • lack of concentration
  • sensitive to light and noise

Opiate (pain medications, heroin) Withdrawal Symptoms

Within 6-24 hours after the last use, the body tries to tell the brain that it needs more of the addictive substance by sending pain and other unpleasant signals to the brain.

Symptoms of opiate withdrawal can include:

  • sweating
  • vomiting
  • depression
  • hypersensitivity to any pain
  • muscle cramps
  • chills
  • stomach cramps
  • dysphoria  (restlessness, anxiety)

Due to the highly addictive nature of opiates, many people will not be able to remain abstinent from these types of drugs, and benefit from being placed on an opioid maintenance drug such as methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone). Medically supervised withdrawal from alcohol and psychotropic medications is the first step to addiction treatment, but it does not constitute treatment alone. Detoxification is the first step in the recovery process.  Learning to live free of opiates, is next.

Stimulant (cocaine, speed, meth) Withdrawal Symptoms

  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • insomnia
  • depression

Detoxification for stimulant use generally consists of discomfort and flu-like symptoms and the need for rests and sleeps. Specific medications can be given to help reduce these symptoms.

Medications are sometimes prescribed to help prevent relapses: 

  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone) is prescribed by physicians who specialize in addiction and are certified by a federal agency. This is a synthetic opioid, and a recent addition to the arsenal of medications for treating addiction to heroin and other opiates. Buprenorphine blocks the effects of heroin and other opioids, eliminates withdrawal symptoms and relieves craving.
  • Naltrexone (Revia) is an opioid antagonist that decreases alcohol cravings. Research has shown Naltrexone to be very effective in reducing alcohol cravings. Client report a sense of well-being and few side effects.  Naltrexone is only one of many factors aiding the success of the treatment of alcoholism. Factors associated with a good outcome in the clinical trials with naltrexone were the type, intensity, and duration of treatment; appropriate management of co-morbid conditions; use of community-based support groups; and consistent medication compliance.
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse) produces very unpleasant side effects when combined with even a very small alcohol ingestion, even as long as two weeks after taking it. It is recommended for clients who have a history of relapse. Taking it daily affirms the intent to stay sober for the day.
  • Acamprosate (Campral) is a newer drug that has been shown to reduce cravings for alcohol and lower relapse rates in those who are alcohol dependent.

The above  non-addicting drugs, in combination with counseling and treatment greatly enhance one’s chances of maintaining abstinence. Long-term recovery depends on your desire to be sober and your willingness to grow emotionally, improve your relationship with yourself and others, and maintain a sober network.

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