May 20, 2009
McDermott's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Detox
This guide was first published by Lifeline Project, Manchester, UK.
This electronic version may be freely distributed electronically or as
hard copy. However, be warned that you are missing out on Mike Linnell's
Why should I do-it-myself?
People often go along to a drugs agency in the hope of finding an easy
solution to their drug problem. This is a mistake. There are no easy
The majority of people stop using drugs without any help. Addiction to
smoking is just as difficult to give up as addiction to heroin, but the
majority of people stop smoking with out any outside help. Drugs agencies
are thought to be in contact with between 10% and 25% of all heroin users.
The rest stop using drugs without any help whatsoever. When the U.S. army
was fighting in Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of soldiers became addicted
to heroin. When they returned to the U.S.A., the vast majority gave up
heroin without any help whatsoever.
While a small number of people find that it is harder to stop using unless
they are physically removed to a place where they cannot get drugs, i.e., a
hospital or a rehab unit. This may be an option for you to consider, but if
you do, remember, you still have to face the situation back in the real world
when you do get out. Ultimately, nobody else can do your detox for you.
Some people find that support from a drugs worker can be helpful during a
detox. Other peopleÕs experience is that they are a bunch of know-nothing
do-gooders who are about as much use as a blocked needle or a packet of wet
skins. There are also other drawbacks associated with attending a drugs
agency. They expect you to attend for regular appointments. You can
expect to run into other drug users, possibly even dealers, and most drugs
agencies keep records of your name, address, date of birth, etc. In some
cases, these are passed on to the Home Office and kept on a register. If you
decide to use a drugs agency, remember to ask about their record keeping
and confidentiality policies.
Ultimately, whether you decide that you want support from a drugs worker
or not, the only person who can stop using drugs is YOU. However, the
greatest obstacle to your success is fear. This booklet aims to try and remove
some of the mysteries that surround drug detoxification, by explaining
what will happen, we hope to make you your own expert. You take the
credit for success, and the responsibility for your own continued use.
Before you make the decision to detoxify, there are several questions that
you should try to answer for yourself.
Who are you stopping for?
In order to succeed in your attempt to stop using drugs, you have to
genuinely want to stop. Not for your parents, not for your wife, not for the
court or the probation officer, but for yourself. Of course, all those other
people may play a role in making you want to stop. If you are upsetting
your parents, if your wife is about to leave you, or you stand a good chance
of being sent to jail, that may well make you tired of using drugs. However,
for many people, it doesnÕt.
If you arenÕt really sure about it, perhaps you should think about other
options. Some people find it is easier if they attempt to stabilize their drug
use before giving up. If you feel that this may be a better option for you,
then talk it over with a friend or a drugs worker. If you do attempt to stop
using drugs before you really want to, you may be setting yourself up to
fail. After several failures, you may lose confidence in your ability to
succeed, which can lead you to stop trying. So try to be clear about what it
is that you really want, and if you do want to continue using drugs, then
focus on trying to reduce the harm associated with your drug use.
Why do you want to stop?
Drug use has both positive and negative aspects to it. Everybody who uses
drugs experiences both. People usually only stop when they are aware that
the negative aspects outweigh the positive ones. Some people are aware
that the negative consequences of their drug use are great, but are still
unable to make the decision to stop using drugs. This may be because the
positive benefits that they gain from using are even greater, or it may be
simply because they havenÕt thought clearly enough about the
consequences. Here is a list of some of the positive and negative aspects of
Drugs make you feel good.
Drug use helps you gain acceptance among friends
Drugs give you something to do
Everybody you know uses drugs
Drugs make you feel more confident
Drug use makes you feel free to be who you want to.
Drugs may be bad for your health
Drug use may upset your family and friends
Drug use can get in the way of the other things that you want to do
Drug use is against the law
Continued drug use can damage your self-image
Dependence upon drugs can negatively shape the way that you see yourself
Before you decide to give up, make a list of the positive and negative aspects
of your own relationship with drugs. Then you can see whether or not you
think stopping would be a good idea.
What drugs are you using?
Just as different drugs have different effects, so the attempt to stop using
different drugs has very different results. Make a list of the drugs that you
are currently using and try to think about which ones might be causing
you a problem. Remember, you can lie to parents, employers, teachers,
partners and friends, you can even lie to yourself Ñ but given that you are
only doing this detox because you want to, what would be the point?
Some drugs are not regarded as addictive, but that does not mean that you
cannot become habituated to their use, or that their use is not a problem.
Cannabis, L.S.D., Solvents, Amphetamine and Ecstasy may all fall
into this category. Some people may experience mental craving if they try
to stop using these drugs, but they should not experience any physical
Other drugs are quite definitely addictive. This means that when you
attempt to stop using them, you might experience physical withdrawal
symptoms as well as psychological craving. The drugs that fall into this
category include Opiates like Heroin and Methadone,
Benzodiazapines like Valium, Temazepam, Ativan or Nitrazepam,
Barbiturates like Seconal or Tuinal, and Alcohol.
For a long time, people thought that Cocaine fell into the first category of
just being psychologically addictive. However, more recently, scientists
have identified changes in the brain chemistry that occur after regular
use of coke, and so the severe craving experienced by people with a
cocaine problem may well have a physical component as well. Whether it
does, or whether it doesnÕt, cocaine provides us with an example of a drug
that produces chaotic and compulsive use patterns prompted by
psychological craving rather than fear of withdrawal.
Make a list of the drugs that you currently use regularly. If all the drugs
that you use fall into the non-addictive category, then you will not need to
detoxify gradually. You can stop using immediately without experiencing
any physical symptoms whatsoever.
If you find that you use more than two types of addictive drugs regularly,
then you will probably find it easier if you seek professional help with
If you are just using one of the addictive drugs or one addictive drug and
one or more of the non-addictive drugs, then you may well be a good
category for a do-it-yourself detox.
What is your source of supply?
If you are dependent on drugs that are prescribed by a doctor, then you
have an ally in your detoxification project. Talk over your plans with the
doctor and tell him or her what you are planning to do.
If you feel that you are dependent upon Benzodiazapines or Barbiturates,
and are on high doses, or have been using them for a long time, then it
may be unwise to attempt to stop without medical supervision. Both drugs
can cause severe fitting when they are withdrawn, and deaths have been
caused by barbiturate withdrawal so it is not a good idea to attempt to stop
immediately. With the Barbiturates, it is usual to change over to
Phenobarbitone before attempting a gradual reduction, whereas with the
Benzodiazapines, it is usually best if the prescription is changed to
If you are dependent upon an Opiate, then many people find it helpful to
change over to either Methadone or Dihydrocodine (DHC or DF118) for
detoxification. Again, if you are receiving your supplies from a doctor or a
clinic, talk your plans over with them. They can help you by rationing
your supplies for you. during the course of your detox, and by offering
more flexible options should you experience difficulty with your plans.
If you are dependent on black-market drugs such as heroin or cocaine, you
may find it difficult to persuade a doctor to prescribe for you. This can be a
good thing, as if you go on a script, it can make it too easy to continue using
for a long time. Once again, it is crucial to stress that you need to know
what you want. If you want to stop using, then it may be easiest to attempt a
home detox. Should you find it too difficult, then you can always seek help
from a doctor or drugs agency afterwards. If you wish to continue using,
then you may well benefit from a visit to a drugs agency in order to discuss
ways of stabilizing your drug use or reducing the risks that you run.
What will the withdrawals be like?
Withdrawal symptoms will differ with the drugs that you use. Cocaine users
will not experience physical withdrawals, but they may experience intense
craving, irritability, inability to sleep, mood swings and panic attacks.
Heroin users, on the other hand, will experience all of the psychological
symptoms, accompanied by physical withdrawal symptoms. Some clever-
**** drugs workers claim that withdrawal is no worse than a dose of bad flu.
That might be true, except when did anybody suffer a dose of flu that
stopped you from sleeping or even getting comfortable for more than a
minute at a time? A dose of flu that can be cured in minutes by the
consumption of a little bag of powder?
With opiate withdrawal, although the symptoms are the same for
everybody, everyone seems to focus on one particular aspect as the thing
that they experience as the worst. For one person it may be pains in the
muscles or joints, for others it could be the inability to get comfortable.
Others have difficulty coping with the lack of sleep. The range of symptoms
for opiate withdrawal includes sweating, restlessness, nausea, diarrhoea,
stomach cramps, muscle pains, sleep disturbance, hot and cold flushes. It is
undoubtedly unpleasant. However, fear of withdrawals makes them seem
worse than they actually are. Almost everybody can cope with the severity
of their withdrawal, regardless of how much they have been using.
Some people do really stupid things and claim the fact that they were in
withdrawal is an excuse. It isnÕt that they canÕt deal with the sickness
though Ñ the real reason that they do these things is because they arenÕt
really committed to stopping. ItÕs hard to sit and suffer if you know that as
soon as you get money, you are going to get sorted, and therefore youÕll
have to go through the whole thing again. You, on the other hand, are
different. If you have decided to stop using drugs, this will be the last time
that you suffer this way. Not only will you feel the pain, you will embrace it
as you kiss it goodbye, safe in the knowledge that after you have finished
your detox all that will be behind you.
How do I go about it?
Once you have decided to stop using, donÕt just say ÒthatÕs it, no moreÓ as
you are bound to fail. You need to plan your detox properly. Decide a time
when you are going to do it. It could be relatively soon, or it could be some
time in the future. Whenever it is, put aside at least two weeks when you
donÕt need to do anything stressful and you donÕt have any responsibilities.
If you have children, send them to their grandparents or to a friend for a
holiday. They wonÕt enjoy spending this time with you, and youÕll be glad
not to have to worry about them.
Tell everybody about your decision to stop using. People who love and care
about you will give you support through this period. Other users may
resent your ability to break the habit and try to tempt you into using. If
you suspect that this is the case, explain what you are doing, and tell them
that you would rather they didnÕt come around during this period. You can
decide later whether you still want to see them, but if they insist on trying
to tempt you, you can be certain that they donÕt really care about you, so
donÕt feel guilty about excluding them from your life.
Try to put some money aside. You need to be able to pamper yourself with
rewards during this period. Giving up drugs is a very brave and difficult
decision, so you shouldnÕt feel guilty about indulging yourself in other, less
destructive ways. If you are unemployed, perhaps you could avoid paying
the rent for a week and make up the arrears a bit at a time later on.
Finally, find a comfortable place in which to do your detox. One of the main
reasons for doing a detox as an in-patient is that some people donÕt have
anywhere comfortable that they can detox. For most people though,
detoxification is much easier if you can make a drink in your own kitchen,
watch your own T.V., read your own books and listen to your own stereo. If
the place where you live isnÕt very nice, see if you can go back home to
your parents, or if you can stay with non-addicted friends for a couple of
Personally, I think you should regard a detox as being like a prison
sentence. Rather than focussing how long you have felt lousy, focus on
how much closer you are to feeling better. Make a calendar and tick off the
days, or keep a diary and write down how you feel. Identify landmark
points so that you can look back over it and see how much progress you
have made. Stopping using drugs is one of the major decisions in your life
Ñ it will be nice to look back and see how you managed to overcome each of
the obstacles, or even just how much you suffered without quitting.
Every time you complete a certain period, congratulate yourself for having
made it. Give yourself a reward. For each day you complete it could be
something small, like something special to eat or drink. For each week that
passes, do something really nice for yourself. Buy yourself something to
wear or go out for a meal. Think about both the detoxification and the
rewards as investments in the new you Ñ the person that you want to
become rather than the person that you were.
One of the most difficult aspects of opiate withdrawal is the lack of sleep.
Some people might be tempted to use sleeping tablets in a desperate attempt
to get some respite. Personally, I find that they donÕt really help, they just
dope you up so that rather than lying around withdrawing, you are lying
around feeling doped-up and withdrawing. You still wonÕt sleep and
benzodiazapines are addictive too, so you could end up replacing one habit
with another. Remember, there are no easy solutions, youÕve just got to bite
the bullet and ride it out.
Finally, donÕt get hung up thinking about the length of time that a detox is
going to take. Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, just try to get
through one day at a time. ItÕs difficult trying to imagine a life without
drugs, but far easier to make it through to the end of a day. Then you can
again start afresh tomorrow. Remember, every day that you manage to stay
clean is an investment in your own future Ñ and if you canÕt be bothered to
invest in yourself, you can be pretty damn certain that nobody else will.
How long does it take?
How long is a piece of string? It all depends what drugs you use, how much
youÕve been using, how long youÕve been using for and what your own
particular metabolism is like. Somebody who has been using
benzodiazapines might take months to feel normal. Heroin usually takes
anywhere between three days and two weeks. Methadone seems to take
much longer than heroin. It can last anywhere from two weeks to a month
before you start to feel normal again.
However long it takes, donÕt let it get to you. Three days without sleep will
begin to feel like a week. A week without sleep will feel like a month. A
month without sleep and you start to feel as though youÕre going mad. You
arenÕt. Your mind and body will snatch some sleep as you need it. It might
only be the odd five minutes here and there, but itÕs better than none.
Remember, the longer youÕve been clean, the more youÕve actually got
invested in your detox, so when the going gets tough just congratulate
yourself for the success that youÕve achieved so far, and try to make it
through to the next morning. And then start again, doing it one day at a
When will it all be over?
A detox is never over. After a few weeks, your mind and body will be free of
the drugs that youÕve been taking, but your problems are only just
beginning. Ask any veteran junkie, theyÕll all tell you the same thing Ñ
getting off drugs is easier, staying off is far harder. Detoxification lasts a
couple of weeks, staying drug free takes a lifetime of effort.
There are a number of points that you should bear in mind:-
1. Stay busy.
Boredom is one of the main reasons why people go back to gear. If you
canÕt get a job, take up some voluntary work, or a hobby. Go back to school
and train for a new career. Do anything that will stop yourself sliding back
into your old patterns of behaviour.
2. Avoid other drugs.
Some people think that because they were addicted to say, heroin, they
wonÕt have a problem with other drugs. A number of things happens
frequently with ex-users if they use other drugs. Some of them simply
transfer their dependency to a different drug, such as alcohol or cocaine
that can be just as damaging. Those who use the non-addictive drugs such
as amphetamine, LSD or Ecstasy often find that it acts as a spur that allows
their resolve to slip. If you must use other drugs, cannabis is probably the
safest, but that can also lead you to slip into using other drugs. The safest
strategy is to avoid all drugs completely.
3. Find some support.
Seek out friends that you can talk to when things are getting heavy. Some
people find that organizations like Narcotics Anonymous are useful in
helping them stay away from drug use, because people in the organization
understand what you are going through. Others feel that the quasi-
religious content of the twelve step programmes like A.A. and N.A. is too
much to take, or they dislike the way that programme members continually
define themselves as addicts rather than moving forward and getting on
with the rest of their lives. Good friends, who may or may not be ex-users,
can fulfil the same functions. Giving support when you feel low or when
youÕve slipped up and used again. If you donÕt have any non-drug using
friends, go back to point 1, and find something to do with your time.
Chances are, youÕll make new friends through your new activities.
4. Avoid drug-using situations.
Many people find that certain cues make them think about using drugs. It
may be a certain person Ñ a friend or a relative. It may be a certain place Ñ
a particular pub or an estate, somewhere that you used to score, or it may be
something less concrete like the sight of a Jif lemon or a bottle of vinegar.
When you can recognize them, avoid them like the plague until you are
certain that you have enough strength to deal with them.
5. Use the money you would have spent on drugs to do something you really
want to do.
If you do stop using, make sure that you get some benefit from having done
so. Put the money towards buying something you really wanted, or doing
something that you really want to do. Try to avoid having large amounts of
surplus cash just lying around putting temptation in your way. Instead,
plan a holiday in that country that youÕve always wanted to go to. (Avoid
places like Thailand or Holland.) Take driving lessons, or save for a car. You
have already had your first taste of success when you stopped using drugs.
Now, anything is possible.
Summary for action
1. Re-read this booklet.
2. Make a list of the reasons for and against your continued drug use.
3. Decide whether you genuinely want to stop using drugs or not.
4. If you donÕt want to stop, put this booklet away until you do.
5. Make a list of all the drugs that you currently use. Is a D-I-Y detox viable?
6. If so, plan a time to stop using. Remember to leave at least two weeks
clear with no responsibilities.
7. Tell your family and friends about your plans.
8. Accumulate money to pamper yourself with rewards after each stage.
9. Arrange to have a comfortable place to do it.
10. Make a detoxification time-table/calendar/diary
11. Plan activities to fill up your time after you have completed your
12. Begin the detoxification programme
13. DonÕt use any more drugs.
14. (I couldnÕt end on 13, could I?) Wish yourself good luck Ñ youÕll need it!
(c) Peter McDermott, Lifeline, 1993