Drug detox is often the first step in addiction treatment. According to the NIDA, "Patients should be encouraged to continue drug treatment following detoxification" as, without attending addiction treatment afterward, a patient could be in danger of relapse and other issues.
This is only one of the potentially dangerous drug detox side effects.
Relapse and Overdose
An individual does have a high chance of relapse after leaving drug detox. Many people do not attend addiction treatment afterwards and this can be extremely problematic. "Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse," which is something many individuals do not realize after they leave detoxification.
The potential return to drugs is one of the most dangerous side effects of drug detox. All patients after detox will still experience cravings and other issues that will tie them to their desire for the drug. And if they do not know how to manage these problems, there is a high potential for relapse.
According to the NLM, "Because withdrawal reduces the person's tolerance to the drug, those who have just gone through withdrawal can overdose on a much smaller dose than they used to take." This can lead to potential health risks and even death with drugs like:
- Opioids (Respiratory Depression)
- Stimulants (Seizures, Cardiovascular Problems)
- Inhalants (Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome)
- Alcohol (Respiratory Arrest)
- Hallucinogens (Hallucinations and Dangerous Behavior)
Some drugs do not cause death in overdose, but all drugs can cause dangerous effects in this state. When someone leaves detox, they must be informed of the dangers of not continuing treatment. The NLM states, "Most opiate overdose deaths occur in persons who have just withdrawn or detoxed." This side effect of detox can be potentially harmful or even deadly.
Substance Addiction Withdrawal Side Effects
In some cases, the withdrawal side effects that occur during detox can be painful, dangerous, or even deadly. In the case of alcohol, there is a condition that affects severely addicted individuals called delirium tremens where hallucinations, seizures, fever, and severe confusion can occur (NLM). The withdrawal syndromes caused by some drugs can be intense and, depending on how the detox is handled, potentially dangerous.
Some of the dangers of the withdrawal syndrome are:
- Relapse as a result of painful or extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms
- Withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous or even deadly
- Alcohol withdrawal (Delirium Tremens)
- Stimulant withdrawal (Depression)
- Inhalant withdrawal (Hallucinations and Seizures) (CESAR)
- Opioid withdrawal (Intense muscle pain that can lead to relapse)
This is why it is often important for the individual's symptoms to be managed with medication. During detox, the symptoms caused by the withdrawal syndrome can be curbed and, in some cases, eliminated by medication. This is not to say that the medications used won't have their own side effects, but the most potentially dangerous side effects are usually those caused by withdrawal.
If a person is well-managed during detox by a trained medical professional and reminded to attend addiction treatment afterward, many of the potentially dangerous side effects of drug detox can be eased. However, there is always a risk whenever one undergoes any type of medical procedure.