There are basically three methods for stopping drug abuse or drug addiction: cold turkey, tapering off, and entering a drug detox center.
Which method you should use to break your pattern of drug abuse depends on several factors, including:
- what type of drug you have been using
- how long you have been using it
- how much you use each day
- your ability to control your own addictive behavior
Going Cold Turkey
Going cold turkey, or stopping drug use suddenly and completely, is only recommended when you:
- have been using a relatively less addictive drug (such as marijuana)
- have been using for only a short time
- have not been using heavily each day
In all other situations, going cold turkey to stop drug use (or alcohol use) will likely have negative results, ranging from very uncomfortable symptoms and side-effects to those that are very dangerous for you and, possibly, fatal.
Negative Effects of Going Cold Turkey
When we become addicted to a substance, our brain and body becomes accustomed to being flooded by the chemicals we are putting in our body. A sudden cessation of those chemicals when we stop using a drug typically causes strong physiological and, sometimes, psychological and emotional reactions.
For example, heroin suppresses the part of the brain called the locus coeruleus, which processes information from the nervous system, including sensory perception and the “flight or fight” response. As a result, a heroin addict typically experiences a feeling of safety and comfort when using the drug. When that person suddenly stops using heroin, the chemical that produced the sensation of safety and comfort is no longer flowing through the body to the brain, and the user can experience paranoia, fear, rage, and other “flight or fight” emotions. Because of these challenging withdrawal symptoms, it is best for heroin addicts and others who are using highly addictive drugs to seek treatment in a drug detox center.
Tapering off: Not Always a Successful Choice
Cutting back on drug use over time, or tapering off your use of drugs, can help moderate withdrawal symptoms. However, for many people, especially those who use highly addictive drugs, it simply isn’t possible to do that. The addiction is too strong and the urge to use is too ingrained.
Tapering off as a method of stopping drug use will generally work only with relatively less addictive drugs, and also perhaps only in cases where drug use was less frequent or at lower doses. Otherwise, for most cases of drug abuse and drug addiction, drug detox centers are the safest route to recovery.
How Drug Detox Centers Can Help
Drug detox centers are designed as a first step to helping addicts clear the chemicals and toxins of a drug or other substance from their body. The drug detox center is usually the first step toward stopping drug abuse or drug addiction, with the second step being enrollment in a drug rehabilitation program.
A drug detoxification center generally addresses the immediate, physical issues involved in clearing the drug from someone’s system. It is usually staffed by healthcare professionals who have specific training and experience in drug withdrawal and the associated side effects. A drug detox center is intended to offer a safe, controlled environment for acute drug withdrawal. Sometimes detox medications are used to reduce the side effects of drug detoxification.
Many drug detox centers are termed as “medical detox centers” and are located in hospitals or medical facilities, allowing access to professional medical personnel. A patient’s stay in this type of drug detox center may be relatively short, but may involve transfer to a drug rehabilitation program at another facility for longer-term treatment and support.
There are inpatient detox centers and outpatient detox centers. Inpatient programs generally offer more supervision of patients and more regulation, while outpatient detox centers can be more flexible and less disruptive to the patient’s regular routine.
Some drug detox centers offer residential programs that last longer, often several months. Residential detox programs may also include a rehabilitation component that provides support for the psychological and emotional components of addiction. A rehabilitation program is intended to prepare recovering addicts for long-term sobriety.
Methods Used in Drug Detox Centers
There are several different methods of detox, and the application of these methods will vary depending on the drug detox centers and the type of drug. One method of detox is the substitution of a less dangerous drug in place of the drug to which the patient is addicted. An example of this is giving methadone to wean addicts from heroin.
There are also some drug detox centers that use a rapid detox method that must be done under general anesthesia and calls for the use of a breathing tube.
Any of these methods can have their own risks and side effects, and must be done in a medically supervised environment.