Beginning the Journey: Detox vs. Cold Turkey

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD, MPH

Beginning the Journey_ Detox vs. Cold Turkey

Table of Contents

Addicted Brain: The Need to Stay in Active Addiction

brain-synapse-addiction-ABTMany people wonder how people can make the conscious choice to take a drug even though they are aware of the dangers involved. The answer is simple: your brain. Your body is made up of chemicals and so are drugs. When you ingest drugs into your system, you begin altering the way that your brain is functioning. Drugs will alter the way your cells send and receive information. Different types of drugs affect the brain in different ways such as:

  • By imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers
  • Over stimulating the brain’s ‘reward circuit’
  • Binding to the receptors in the brain
  • Overflooding the brain with excess chemicals

The severity of the effect of the drug on the brain (and subsequent addiction) will vary depending on your drug of choice. Marijuana, for example, will produce similar chemicals to your brain’s natural neurotransmitters and will send abnormal messages. This will result in the user feeling ‘high’.

Other drugs, which are considered much more addictive, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, will cause your brain’s nerve cells to release an abnormally large amount of natural neurotransmitters. It may also prevent the brain’s natural process of recycling the transmitters between neurons. This change will result in a much different high that can be much more addictive because of the overstimulation in the brain’s reward system which can produce feelings of euphoria.

How Does the Brain Become Addicted?

addicted-brain-limbic-systemAs a person continues to abuse drugs, the brain starts to adapt to producing large amounts of dopamine which is a neurotransmitter. The brain has several dopamine pathways, one of which is critical to the motivational component of the reward motivated behavior.

As the brain begins to adapt to these surges, it naturally produces less dopamine or reduces the number of dopamine circuits in the brain’s reward system. This change will make the user enjoy the drugs they useless, but also enjoy many everyday activities less, as well.

The brain is now forming a tolerance for the drug as well as a dependency. The decrease in dopamine production causes the addict to use drugs in order to bring up the dopamine production to normal levels.

Comfort and Care: Nurses vs Housemates

When the choice is made to stop using drugs or alcohol, there are two different approaches one could take: detox or stopping cold turkey. When a user decides to quit drugs immediately and without any medical supplement, it is referred to as going ‘cold turkey’. Without proper medical supervision the consequences of this choice can be severe.

According to Dr. Richard Honaker, those who choose to stop using their substance of choice cold turkey run the risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Tremulousness
  • Seizures
  • Hypertension
  • Paranoia
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea

The risks of going cold turkey can even be fatal. There are three substances that withdrawing cold turkey can lead to death: alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines. Many people who choose to go cold turkey may rely on friends or family for support. Unless your support system has a medical background, they may not know how to spot the signs that you are in medical trouble. While they may be able to offer emotional support, they do not likely have the skills to help to determine what caused the addiction in the first place.

Addiction-Alcohol-ABTBecause of all of these dangers, many people seeking recovery from their addiction will choose to detox rather than go cold turkey. Detoxing is when the user is given a safe and controlled environment to rid their body of their substance of choice.

Users are often put under 24-hour supervision with medical professionals who are familiar with the symptoms they will be experiencing and trained to help make the process as easy as possible. In some cases, the patient may be given medicine to help ease their withdrawal symptoms. Although many of these medical aides also carry their own risk of addiction.

Medication vs. No Medication

Many rehab graduates have shared that the withdrawal process is the most intimidating on the recovery journey. The process can also be painful, traumatic and scary for those around you. By choosing to detox in a controlled setting rather than at home surrounded by family and friends you are opening yourself up to the possibility of medications that can make this process as easy as possible.

Many treatment centers are able to utilize medications to block the effects of opioids and repress the thoughts of relapse. This combination can provide a much needed strength for your chance of sobriety. The delivery of these medications varies from a strip placed under your tongue to an implant placed in the arm.

The Support Needed: Detox to Rehab

Another benefit of beginning your treatment plan in a detox setting is an easier transition to a rehab center. These centers can often help stop the cycle of addiction by offering group therapy sessions that can not only determine the cause of the addiction, but equip the individual with the tools to fight the urge to relapse.

This is one of the big reasons that many treatment centers feel it so important to add detox services to their rehabilitation centers. This seamless transition offers the support needed to complete the first year of sobriety and onto a sober lifestyle. Are you ready to take the first step toward your recovery? Give us a call today to be connected to a treatment center that is right for you.

Susana Spiegel

Susana Spiegel

Susana has experience writing about addiction, treatment, mental health, and recovery. She holds a Bachelors in Arts of Theology from GCU, and has a deep empathy for those who are struggling with addiction, as she is in recovery herself.

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