What Is a Medical Detox Program?
Table of Contents
- What Is a Medical Detox Program?
- How Is Medically Supervised Detox Helpful?
- Who Should Participate in a Medical Detox Program?
- Timeline and Management of Withdrawal Symptoms
- The Dangers of Detoxing From Substance Abuse at Home
- The Risks of Non-Medical or “Social” Detoxification
- The Risks of Rapid Detox
- Finding Rehab Programs That Offer Medical Detox Services
- What is Medication Assisted Addiction Treatment?
- What Does the Medical Detoxification Process Look Like?
- Common Detox Fears
- Moving on to the Next Chapter of Addiction Treatment
- Life After Addiction is Waiting for You
- Medically Reviewed By
As a particularly popular, and often necessary, part of substance abuse treatment, the medically supervised detox process not only forms the foundation for an individual’s recovery from addiction but for their ability to successfully maintain their sobriety, as well.
These programs provide a safe and controlled environment, staffed with doctors and other medical professionals to help ensure that recovering individuals can withdraw from an abused substance as smoothly as possible.
Unfortunately, there remains quite a significant level of stigma surrounding this treatment service. Thus, it is important to ensure that you know what the detox process entails and how it works, so that you can accurately determine if this is a good treatment option for you.
What is Detox?
Detoxification, also known as detox, is the process of removing toxins and harmful substances from your body. In particular, it involves the liver’s removal of these impurities from the blood, although this can also take place in the skin, kidneys, lungs, intestines, and lymphatic system.
This can be done medically or by oneself. However, in the case of substance abuse, it is always highly recommended that individuals seek out professional detox treatment services, as this can be a dangerous process to attempt on one’s own.
How Is Medically Supervised Detox Helpful?
Drug and alcohol addiction can cause physical changes to your body, as well as chemical changes in your brain. This can lead to your development of a psychological and physical dependence on an abused substance, making it difficult to resist or stop using on your own.
It is for this reason that addiction is considered to be a disease, as many people feel that their habits of substance abuse are not in their control. Thus, participating in a medically supervised detox program can provide you with the external support necessary to overcome this condition.
Who Should Participate in a Medical Detox Program?
Medically supervised detoxification can be beneficial to individuals struggling with any form of substance abuse. However, there are certain forms of alcohol and drug abuse that may have a greater need for this level of medical care.
This is because certain substances will produce particularly intense withdrawal periods when attempting to decrease or stop their usage. These side effects of withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable to deal with, and can even become life-threatening if not properly managed.
These substances include:
Opioids are perhaps one of the most dangerous substances a person can abuse, as they are ridiculously potent and extremely addictive. Commonly abused opioids include OxyContin, Percocet, and Fentanyl (amongst several others).
Each of these drugs can produce dangerous side effects when misused, including a high risk for overdose, and may present symptoms even more so when attempting to stop using them. In extreme cases, these can even be lethal.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms commonly associated with opioid use disorders include:
- Agitation and anxiety
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
Additional symptoms may present themselves later in the withdrawal process, including:
- Stomach cramping
- Dilated pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
Alcohol abuse can result in particularly severe withdrawal periods, making alcohol detox absolutely essential for those attempting to recover from this type of substance use disorder. Initial symptoms may present themselves in as little as six hours after a person’s last drink, including:
- Shaky hands
After the first couple of days, individuals may begin to experience more serious side effects, including hallucinations and seizures. They may even develop a rare condition called Delirium Tremens, which can cause tremors, confusion, and fevers (amongst other side effects).
Compared to other drugs, Benzodiazepines are an incredibly addictive substance that are typically used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. Because of their high risk for abuse, they are not commonly prescribed, and rarely ever for long periods of time.
For those who do manage to acquire and form this type of drug addiction, however, any recovery attempts will absolutely need to involve undergoing detox. This is because this form of drug abuse can result in several dangerous side effects, including:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased tension
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Poor concentration
- Excessive sweating
- Heart palpitations
- Stiff muscles
- Perception changes
- Drug cravings
- Hand tremors
Individuals may also experience more intense, and potentially fatal, side effects, including hallucinations, seizures, psychosis or psychotic behaviors, and suicidal ideations or behaviors.
These all constitute medical emergencies that will require immediate professional care, such as that which can be provided through a drug and alcohol detox program.
Timeline and Management of Withdrawal Symptoms
In general, substance withdrawal will typically last over a period of 10-30 days. This timeline can change depending on several factors, including:
- The type of substance you are addicted to
- How long your drug or alcohol addiction has persisted
- The severity of your substance abuse
- The method of abuse you participate in (i.e., snorting, smoking, injecting, or swallowing)
- The amount of a substance you typically take at one time
- Your tolerance to an abused substance
- Your family history
- Your genetic makeup
- The presence of any underlying medical or mental health conditions
Depending on the extent and severity of your addiction, your symptoms may cause more complications and persist over longer periods of time than that of another person’s withdrawal.
In these cases, having access to the clinical support and withdrawal management services offered by medically supervised detox services will be essential for a safe and successful recovery.
The Dangers of Detoxing From Substance Abuse at Home
Many individuals will attempt to overcome addiction by quitting their substance use “cold turkey,” or all at once. Whether unable to pay for treatment, or dissuaded by the time commitment this level of care may require, detoxing at home can seem preferable to professional alternatives.
However, while this may seem like the simpler option, this could not be any further from the truth. Quitting substance use without medical supervision can lead to serious issues, including seizures, severe dehydration and malnutrition, comas, and even death.
Thus, it is always a safer and much better idea to seek out professional detox services. Fortunately, these include both inpatient and outpatient detox programs, offering considerable flexibility with time and cost concerns.
The Risks of Non-Medical or “Social” Detoxification
Another type of detox that some people may participate in is through programs known as non-medical, or “social” detox programs. These services prioritize peer and social support as an individual quits their substance use cold turkey; something that has already been shown to be dangerous.
While an emotionally supportive environment is certainly necessary for a person’s ability to successfully overcome their addiction, this does little to ensure patient safety.
As these programs do not provide clinical support, the individual is left to battle their withdrawal symptoms on their own. A process which, as previously discussed, can be incredibly dangerous, if not life-threatening. Thus, these programs are rarely ever optimal recovery options.
The Risks of Rapid Detox
Rapid detox is a method of removing substances from the body in a faster method than other forms of detox. This usually takes place in a hospitalized setting and is strongly discouraged for individuals with severe mental health issues, as it can be particularly intense.
While certainly a faster way of overcoming addiction, it is not a generally recommended option, as withdrawal symptoms will likely develop more quickly and intensely than a regular detox program would. This method also poses a number of unpleasant factors, including:
- Potentially dangerous and expensive treatment option.
- Typically takes place under general anesthesia and administration of medications.
- Originally developed for severe opioid addictions, but now used as treatment for heroin and painkiller addictions as well.
- 1 in 500 people die from undergoing ultra-rapid detox (an even faster form of rapid detox).
- Neither recommended nor covered by health insurance.
- Most people who complete rapid or ultra-rapid detox report continuation of withdrawal symptoms after treatment.
- Individuals who choose rapid or ultra-rapid detox are much less likely to continue on in treatment.
- Rapid detox patients are less likely to work on prevention, co-occurring mental health conditions, and life planning skills.
- Rapid detox frequently results in relapse, due to less social support for recovery, making the results of this treatment rarely worth the cost.
- This form of detox can result in individuals experiencing heart attacks, extreme paranoia, high body temperatures, infection, nausea and vomiting, aspiration and choking, and even death.
Finding Rehab Programs That Offer Medical Detox Services
There are substance abuse treatment programs that offer medically supervised detox as a part of their treatment approach, including both inpatient and outpatient services.
Individuals may also choose to recover from their drug and alcohol addiction at a stand-alone detox center.
Inpatient Treatment Options
Medically monitored inpatient detoxification takes place within an inpatient treatment center, allowing staff members to monitor patients and provide them with recovery support as regularly as possible.
Inpatient detoxification programs will typically be the best option for an individual’s addiction recovery journey, as these provide both a controlled and supportive environment while they overcome their substance use disorder.
Furthermore, these may also provide mental health services as a part of their addiction treatment approach.
This is because, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), therapeutic treatment can be a crucial form of recovery support for individuals overcoming addiction.
Residential Treatment Options
Similar to inpatient treatment, clinically managed residential detoxification will take place at a residential treatment center, which requires individuals to live on-site for the duration of their detox experience.
These, however, will be less medically-structured, and focus on providing more of an emotionally supportive atmosphere to recover in. While these facilities still prioritize having a qualified clinical professional on-site, there may be less of these individuals than at an inpatient facility.
Because of this, a residential detox option may be better suited to those with a less severe drug addiction, which may not require extensive medical intervention and supervision to manage.
Outpatient Treatment Options
Unlike recovering in an inpatient setting, the detox experience offered by an outpatient setting will provide less extensive care to recovering individuals. However, they may be a good option for those with unavoidable time or financial constraints.
Undergoing detox on an outpatient basis may include participating in several services, including partial hospitalization and ambulatory detoxification programs. These will likely also incorporate sober support groups and relapse prevention training.
Partial Hospitalization Programs
Participating in a partial hospitalization program will require individuals who are seeking treatment for their addiction to spend a portion of their day at a medical facility.
Most individuals will choose to carry out their usual responsibilities throughout the morning and afternoon, before traveling to a treatment center to receive more intensive medical care during the night.
Ambulatory detoxification is an organized outpatient service, monitored by medical professionals but without the time requirement of more structured treatment plans.
This is typically the least intensive outpatient treatment option, typically involving trips to a physician’s office, or receiving treatment through a home health care agency. These will allow individuals to detox from home under supervision, rather than at a detox center.
What is Medication Assisted Addiction Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment can help to treat several substance use disorders. During this level of care, individuals will be administered specific addiction medicine that can help to relieve withdrawal symptoms, as well as ease drug cravings.
This method has been proven to have a number of benefits, including:
- Improves patient survival rates.
- Increases treatment retention levels.
- Decreases illicit opiate use, as well as other criminal activity amongst individuals with substance use disorders.
- Increases patients’ ability to find and maintain new employment opportunities.
- Improves birthrates and fetal health amongst women with substance use disorders.
Drugs Used in Medication Assisted Treatment
There are several different medications that may be used during this form of treatment, including:
- Naltrexone: Can be used to treat individuals with opioid and alcohol use disorders, as well as to prevent and reverse opioid overdose.
- Buprenorphine: Can be used to treat opioid use disorders involving heroin, morphine, and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
- Methadone: Often used for long-term treatment of opioid use disorders and relapse prevention.
- Acamprosate & Disulfiram: Commonly used to treat alcohol use disorders; while not a cure, these can provide relief from withdrawal symptoms and alcohol cravings.
Drug Detox During Pregnancy
When a pregnant woman is struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction, it is essential to quit for the sake of the baby. After all, not only can the mother’s substance abuse harm themselves, but their unborn child, as well.
Thus, detox with medical supervision is completely necessary for pregnant women. Without tapering down, the fetus may go into preterm labor or severe fetal distress. Thus, this medical intervention is essential for a safe pregnancy.
What Does the Medical Detoxification Process Look Like?
Because addiction is such a personal condition, not everyone will have the same detox experience. However, this process will generally consist of three steps, including:
New clients will be screened by a medical team to determine any existing underlying medical conditions and mental health issues. This may include blood tests, which will give your treatment provider an idea of how much and what kind of drugs are in your system, and how to best treat your addiction.
Once evaluated, your medical team will then begin to stabilize you through a combination of medical and psychological therapies. They will also likely begin to administer medications to help manage withdrawal and prevent relapse.
Preparation for Next Steps:
As the final step of detox, you will begin to be prepared for your next step in addiction treatment. For many people, detox is only the first stage of their recovery journey. Many people will move onto inpatient or intensive outpatient services once completing this step.
Common Detox Fears
Many people are not scared of treatment, but the initial detox treatment portion can be daunting. Withdrawing from a substance can be painful, and therefore it is good to debunk common fears of detox. Some of the more common fears of medically supervised detox include:
Fear of withdrawal symptoms or pain:
The most common fear is that of pain and withdrawal symptoms. Going through a proper detox program means you will be in a safe, humane, and properly supervised environment, which will be far more effective in preventing discomfort during withdrawal than attempting to do so at home.
Fear of the future:
You may be afraid of what happens next. This is a natural reaction when facing the reality of addiction. You may also be going through other important life events that can make finding time for treatment difficult. It is okay to have these concerns, and our staff is dedicated to ensuring your comfort while working through them.
Fear of the unknown:
This is a completely rational fear, as you have grown accustomed to dealing with your addictions. You may think that this is your life and nothing will ever change. Going to detox opens the possibility of change, which can be triggering. However, taking that leap of faith and giving yourself a chance at recovery is the best thing you can do for you and your loved ones.
Moving on to the Next Chapter of Addiction Treatment
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), many individuals will benefit from incorporating several different treatment approaches when overcoming their substance use disorder.
Detox is, for many individuals, just the beginning of their addiction treatment process and journey to recovery. This intensive level of treatment helps them get through the hardest parts of battling substance abuse so that they can move on to other levels of care.
Whether choosing to participate in inpatient or outpatient settings, continuing to put their recovery first will give individuals the best possible chance at achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety.
Life After Addiction is Waiting for You
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, this can be an incredibly difficult thing to cope with. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through this alone, and help IS available.
At Find Addiction Rehabs, we are dedicated to helping people like you find a detox addiction treatment program that is dedicated to serving all of your care needs. With our hotline available 24/7, we are here to provide recovery support and resources, anytime you need them.
So call now, and let us help you take that first step on your path to addiction recovery, where you can achieve a happier, healthier, and successfully sober you!
Deborah Tayloe is a freelance writer specializing in health and sciences. Deborah earned a B.S.Ed. in Secondary Education/English, accompanied by a Spanish minor. Her writing expertise allows her to craft engaging, impactful articles to help people be well.
In addition, she holds a fully accredited Certificate of Natural Medicine and is a certified Herbalist. Through her understanding of complementary medicine, Deborah helps medical professionals give people the information they need to embrace natural approaches to wellness.
When she’s not working, Deborah trains for 5K races and advocates for animal rights.