Detox is Just an Ultra-Thin Slice of a Huge Recovery-Therapy Pie
Rehabilitation from chemical dependency is a lot like rehabilitation from a serious trauma such as a spinal cord injury or the loss of a leg.
Both chemical dependency and serious trauma rehabilitation can be painful, and definitely involves a lot of therapy type work.
The initial pain associated with detoxification from chemical dependency often is accompanied by detox medicines.
The initial pain associated with serious trauma often is accompanied by prescription pain pills.
In both predominantly non-therapy rehabilitation programs, detox and pain pills make up only a very small percentage of a much large therapy oriented program.
This is because detox without rehabilitation is a known fast-track to lifelong horror, and pain pills without rehabilitation is a known expressway to lifelong horror.
Let’s first briefly review rehabilitation from serious trauma.
Rehabilitation from Serious Trauma
The patient of a physical trauma has to go through many therapy sessions of exercise, retraining wasted muscles, stretching and learning to move again, slowly and painfully learning to stand upright, to walk with the support of parallel bars, and then crutches, perhaps even a prosthetic limb.
There are difficult moments, and sometimes the process seems never-ending; to keep going requires regular reminders of the tremendous benefits to be achieved.
The same is true of the person trying to recover from the trauma of chemical dependence, with the added complication of having to deal with the self-inflicted waste of life, damage to family, job and money problems, guilt and longing.
There will be difficult moments, even days, times when you feel defeated. The therapy side of rehabilitation is attentive to these times, the side of recovery that no pill can help for life.
I remember a conversation with a patient named David during his initial detox and rehabilitation treatment.
David had been a “model” patient, one who started detox and therapy at the same time.
I didn’t need a PhD or a MD to see his pain and anger:
I don’t get it. I really don’t. Everything in my life seems so hopeless. I’m a failure at everything. At least when I was drinking I knew I was good at something: ‘There goes Dave, boy, he sure can drink like a fish.’ Now I don’t even do that! I never thought that recovery meant feeling so lousy. I still hate my job. I like to think—I used to think—that I was a creative person, but any idiot could do my job. My ex-wife barely talks to me and my kids still don’t trust me—they still instinctively pull away when I try to hug them—they still hate me. What good am I? Now you tell me that I’m suffering from depression. No kidding. You told me that it was going to be tough, but not like this. I mean, what’s the point?
I asked him if he had had a drink. He said, “No, but—”
“That is the point,” I interrupted.
“In my eyes that makes you pretty successful. Before, well, I don’t have to tell you what you would have done.”
I’d like to say that my conversation with David changed his life and inspired him to achieve new heights—but that’s not how it works.
A few months of sobriety allowed David’s depression to be seen as a clinical condition apart from his alcoholism.
In addition, David faced many other challenges: a career crisis, seeing his children only every other weekend, while trying to make new relationships—the best advice in the world couldn’t change his situation.
But David has faced these charges without drinking.
Recovery therapy does not guarantee a successful life, only the opportunity to succeed.
Therapy teaches countless other person-specific takeaways. For example, David’s depression is not as baffling or as troubling as it seems.
Addiction is a physical and emotional disorder, and recovery has both physical and emotional components.
Even months after David began recovery, his body was still adjusting to its new life.
Depression, unfortunately, is often part of the package. But fortunately, David—like many others—suffered from a biological addiction.
His condition is fortunate because David’s responded well to a combination of a non-addictive antidepressant and a not-too-demanding exercise program.
Given time and a good treatment plan David found his road to sustained recovery.
David’s case illustrates why it is crucial to have time in treatment. With time, you have a chance to work out the kinks.
The foundation begun with abstinence can take hold, allowing you to place your life in perspective and to systematically build up your personal defenses to fight any threat against recovery.
And to give your body a chance to heal.
Therapy Also Teaches What Detox Meds Don’t: Part 1
It’s during the initial period of recovery that one of the greatest ironies of addiction became clear: most addicts don’t take drugs to get high, they take drugs to feel normal again.
Repeated alcohol and drug use cause the body to alter its production of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain that help to regulate our mood and make us feel normal.
It’s almost as if our brain was lazy, as if it was saying, “Well, why should I bother to produce these neurotransmitters if you’re going to give me these drugs?”
The greater the drug use, the less neurotransmitters produced by the brain.
In essence, the brain “forgets” how to make these chemical messengers.
Eventually most addicts (if they live long enough) reach the point where even massive amounts of drugs won’t make them feel normal.
Then, when the addict first abstains from using drugs, the brain still does not produce enough neurotransmitters.
With time, good electro-chemically balanced nutrition, rest, and exercise the supply of neurotransmitters will be replenished naturally, easing withdrawal and renewing health in a way that no detox medicine can.
But while the neurotransmitters are depleted, the brain and the body often combine to create powerful cravings that make the addict believe that the only way to feel normal ahgain is to drink or to take a drug.
Result: Powerful and painful withdrawal symptoms, which may include mental conditions (such as anxiety, extreme panic attacks, and depression) and physical discomfort (nausea, vomiting, excessive perspiration, etc.), each in turn telling you: Can I begin therapy tomorrow?
Try not to let “I’ll begin therapy tomorrow” replace “I’ll stop using tomorrow.”
Therapy Also Teaches What Detox Meds Don’t: Part 2
Even the most modern detoxification and withdrawal-management techniques cannot eliminate the physical symptoms and emotional upheaval that may accompany abstinence.
In most cases, the severity of the withdrawal symptoms depends on how you have been using and on what chemical had been abused.
Certain medications can ease withdrawal, but in most cases it is wiser to be reluctant to use them: there is often danger of substituting a new dependency for the old.
When it’s appropriate and safe, however, medications can be subscribed during detox that can relieve or prevent withdrawal symptoms and are not habituating.
In either case, be sure you are getting the corresponding therapy.
For example, almost all recovering addicts will experience insomnia during withdrawal.
For most people the insomnia rarely lasts for more than a few days or weeks.
Usually an electro-chemically stable diet combined with a few commonsense strategies, such as reduced caffeine and oxidized-food consumption and not caffeine and oxidized-food consumption after six P.M.
See how it’s best to begin with basic sleep talk-therapy rather than fostering pill popping behaviors that we are trying to eliminate.
However, for some individuals, most notably opiate addicts or people suffering from major depression, the insomnia may last for months.
For these patients we usually recommend evening caffeine abstinence and specific supplements that access tryptophan from foods (i.e., warm milk, turkey) rich in the amino acid.
Mildly sedating and nonaddicting antidepressants are prescribed in more severe cases of drug-induced insomnia.
This has been a mere small sample of why therapy is important in the detox program.
The main thing to remember is that detox without therapy is a known fast-track to lifelong horror.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse problem, please reach out to our addiction specialists for guidance and support, at (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837. Our addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.