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Alcohol and Substance Abuse Detoxification and Diet Concerns

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Medical and Biological Treatments


Before any actual drug treatment can occur, it is necessary that drug dependent people be 'detoxified' (meaning that all drugs they are addicted to get physically removed from their bodies).

There is no mystery to detoxification - it is a normal body process that occurs whenever someone ingests a drug or other poison. Most all drugs are gradually broken down into less toxic chemicals by the liver and then purged from the body as waste. Often, drug dependent people are physically dependent on one or more substances, and will go into withdrawal if they do not keep a steady level of drug in their systems at all times. While in withdrawal, drug dependent persons are strongly motivated to take more drug or alcohol, as this will lessen their withdrawal symptoms. If they are able to hold out and not take more drugs or alcohol through the period of withdrawal symptoms, the normal process of detoxification will eventually remove all traces of drugs from his or her body.

As a general rule, detoxification should always take place while under the care of a medical doctor or other qualified medical professional. Withdrawal symptoms experienced as people come off of some drugs can be very severe and even life-threatening. Persons coming off of alcohol, for example, may experience 'grand mal' seizures strong enough to throw them to the ground. Though less lethally dangerous, other withdrawal symptoms can be severely painful and leave people begging and pleading for more drug to ease their pain. Through appropriate use of medication, a physician can gradually step an addicted person down through the process of detoxification, so that withdrawal symptoms are minimized and no severe, life-threatening symptoms are experienced.

Diet and Nutrition Concerns

Drug dependent persons often pursue their drugs of choice to the exclusion of eating a healthy diet. It is not uncommon to find that people presenting for drug or alcohol treatment are moderately to severely undernourished and lacking in the proper vitamins and nutrients. Getting drug dependent people on a healthy balanced diet is an important part of treatment. Acute vitamin supplementation may be necessary during detoxification, and advisable on a continuing basis thereafter to promote health.

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