When we look at addicts, many of us do so with a lot of judgement and criticism. Many think, “why can’t they just stop?” They don’t understand the complicated dance that an addict does with their conscience every day. They justify their drug use, depend on it, cultivate it, idolize it, and they hate it—all at the same time.
Culture has deeply stigmatized addiction, calling it a bad “choice” and denying that it’s a real disease. While it is a clinically recognized disease of the brain, what we think about addiction doesn’t matter. We all want the same thing. We want our loved ones to live, flourish, and find their peace in sobriety.
It is important to recognize that dope sickness, or withdrawals, are a very real part of the detox process. These can be dangerous when detoxing from things like alcohol or opiates, and often require the help of medical professionals. Take a moment to really try and look at what the addict is going through with total objectivity. Addiction doesn’t make sense unless you throw in an impulsive and irrational need for drugs or alcohol.
Addiction is Irrational
It’s hard to imagine being so dedicated to something that’s destroying you. An addict knows that drugs are bad. They know that they could overdose and die with every fix—but they choose to keep using anyway. There aren’t a lot of things that most people would be willing to risk their lives for—which gives you some idea of how powerful addiction really is.
You wouldn’t steal from your elderly grandmother for a tiny bag of white powder. That doesn’t seem like it makes any real sense. But, a person who’s in active addiction will find a way to justify it to themselves. Then, when they experience guilt, they use more drugs to cover it up.
This is a vicious cycle that is rarely broken by sheer willpower. When a person is drowning in addiction, the drugs become their lifeline. They base their day around times that they can use, and change their entire lifestyle to accommodate their drug of choice. Buying and using turn into a full-time job, and dope sickness has a lot to do with their motivation.
Dope sickness is what happens when drugs start to leave the body via normal kidney and digestive routes. The longer a person has used drugs, the shorter their high is going to last. This is because they’ve developed a tolerance to the drug. Tolerance is what happens when the brain tries to restore balance by reducing certain chemicals that are being supplied by the drugs and alcohol.
As soon as those levels start to fall, the addict starts to panic. Their stomach starts to roll, they may throw up, or even pass out. Body temperatures get erratic, resulting in a cold sweat that never seems to go away. It’s almost like they’re feeling the effects of Icy Hot on the inside of their skin. Every touch, joint, and muscle in the body aches. This pain can be so severe that the person uses just to feel normal again. Read more about dope sickness to plan for your detox period before making any decisions.
What most of us really don’t understand is that many addicts don’t experience a real high without a huge amount of drugs. What they take every day makes them feel normal enough to function—usually to find their next high. It doesn’t end until they die, end up in jail, or finally make the choice to get help.
Why Choose to Detox at All?
With drugs being that important to the addict and withdrawals being so terrible, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would really want to get sober. From the outside looking in, we see someone who enjoys the way that drugs make them feel. They walk around stoned and totally disconnected, and we don’t see how unhappy many of them are.
What we fail to realize is that this anesthetized state numbs them from everything—including the parts of their life that they still care about. They don’t love themselves, and they’ve put drugs on a pretty high pedestal. Think of it like a puppet. The drugs pull the strings, and the addict does whatever they’re told. This includes stealing, lying, hurting people, and hurting themselves.
Addiction isn’t happy. It isn’t one huge party that never stops. It’s a horrible compulsion that turns people into a perverted version of who they used to be. It doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?
Choosing to detox is the first step on the road to recovery. The addict can’t truly focus on therapy and a treatment program if they’re too busy throwing up to pay attention. Getting sober is the easy part. It’s staying sober that’s intimidating.
Coping with the Sickness
The best way to cope with the symptoms of withdrawal is to contact a medical professional. Whether it’s a family doctor or one working at a rehab, this is the person who can tell you how to get sober safely.
Serious addicts often need help to stay hydrated and to care for themselves while the drugs and alcohol leave their body. A lot of rehabs offer an initial detox program, and this is one question you should definitely ask before choosing a treatment facility.
Over the counter painkillers and anti-nausea medications can help with the symptoms, but it’s important that the addict doesn’t trade one addiction for another. If you choose to try and detox at home prior to rehab, tell your doctor. Make sure that they know what’s going on, and call them regularly to let them know that you’re still safe. It’s also vital that you have someone stay with you. All it takes is one seizure to crack your head and leave you unconscious in your home.
This is Just the Beginning
When the dope sickness stops, a person can feel amazing relief. It’s like their body has been assaulted for close to a week, and the pain and discomfort are finally going away. This is only the beginning, though. Understand that sobriety isn’t the same as recovery, and contact professionals for help.