Nothing clearly indicates the need for treatment than withdrawal symptoms that start soon after one stops abusing drugs or alcohol.
These changes in mental and physical health are all signs that one needs to start an addiction recovery program right away.
It’s a decision that saves and changes many people’s lives. Medical detoxification (detox for short) is critical to healing from an addiction.
It is typically the first step of many drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs. Without it, recovering from a substance problem once and for all would be a difficult thing to achieve in many cases.
Table of Contents
What Is Medical Detox?
Medical detox is a medical procedure facilitated by healthcare professionals and addiction care specialists for people who are going through withdrawal after excessive drug or alcohol use. The procedure serves a dual purpose. First, the process rids the body of addictive substances and toxins safely. Secondly, it ensures the withdrawal period is manageable and that clients receive the care they need as they manage these symptoms. The goal is to become stable enough to enter a drug rehabilitation program when the detox process ends.
Why Is Detox Recommended?
Long-term and chronic substance abuse leaves short- and long-term effects on the body, mind, and spirit. It’s not enough to quit drugs and alcohol after they have been used for a long time. Still, many will try and fail. Many people attempt to quit substances “cold turkey,” and end up returning to using because the pull of addiction is strong. Plus, tolerance builds over time, so a person with a high tolerance who stops may feel like they need to continue using just to avoid an uncomfortable withdrawal period.
Common drug and/or alcohol symptoms include:
- Insomnia (or other sleep disorders)
- Muscle aches and spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
It is important to note that withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the substance(s) a person uses. Some are far more severe than the ones listed above.
Medical detox helps people remain committed to their decision to stop using. It helps them not only manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal but also the behavioral and emotional ones. It also helps them avoid the cycle of using and relapsing, which is dangerous. A break in use followed by a return in use is dangerous, particularly if withdrawal symptoms are severe. Relapse can lead to overdose, medical injury, or worse, death.
Once medical stability has been achieved and toxic substances have been cleared, a person can move on to considering a rehab program that is best for them.
When Detox is Necessary
Since addiction is a chronic condition, it may be challenging to determine when detox is necessary. Those with addictions who believe they are at risk of being physically dependent on drugs or alcohol will be candidates for detox. These factors determine physical dependence on a substance:
- Using drugs or alcohol regularly in significant amounts
- Using a substance over an extended period
- When someone experiences diminished effects over time from using a similar amount of the substance
- When the user has to increase the amount of drugs or alcohol to achieve their desired effect
- Craving drugs or alcohol when you do not have access to them
- Trying to stop using and found that you are unable to do so without medical help
Fighting Addiction Yourself is Difficult. Let Our Experts Help!
Fighting Addiction Yourself is Difficult. Let Our Experts Help!
Those with substance use disorders (SUD) will seek out medical detox when they are at a heightened risk of experiencing withdrawal effects from drugs or alcohol. Along with tolerance, the presence of withdrawals will indicate that the body is becoming physically dependent on drugs or alcohol. All drugs have their own characteristics when it comes to withdrawal symptoms caused by chemical effects within the body. These are produced when someone reduces their intake or stops altogether.
Drugs That Require Detox
When someone becomes addicted to the following substances, they must seek treatment for potential deadly withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- Alcohol: Alcohol is often overlooked because of its easy accessibility and legality. Unfortunately, alcohol withdrawals are among the most deadly of all drugs. Withdrawal symptoms can cause an elevation in body temperature, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, tremors, seizures, and hallucinations. Someone that has been using alcohol for months on end should never try to stop using the substance alone.
- Benzodiazepines: Benzos are sedative medications used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Benzos have similar chemical effects on our bodies as alcohol and will produce similar withdrawal symptoms. It’s imperative that someone go to detox for benzos.
- Opioids: Opioids are medicines used to treat moderate to severe pain, and they can include prescription medication, or illicit drugs like heroin. Opioids mimic the body’s natural endorphins, and regular usage can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. While they are not deadly, they are incredibly unpleasant and can lead someone to relapse.
How Long Should I Wait to Detox?
Waiting is not required. One can enter detox before withdrawal symptoms get underway or worsen. When it comes to getting help for addiction or substance abuse, the sooner, the better. Waiting is actually not advised. People who are in withdrawal from opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol should seek professional help immediately as any of these substances can be life-threatening.
How Safe Is Drug/Alcohol Detox?
It is safer than trying to face addiction on your own without professional medical help. You have a better chance of getting the targeted help you need for your situation, and you also improve your chances of ending a life-threatening addiction.
Rehab center staff members are knowledgeable about the addiction recovery process. They are also compassionate, patient, and understanding about the toll that addiction takes on people and their loved ones. They are in a solid position to advise care for people going through addiction and substance abuse. Some staffers have been through the process themselves, so they know what to expect and know what other people need at this critical time.
Getting a medical detox at a professional rehab center or hospital ensures you:
- Get the right treatment that eases the drug/alcohol withdrawal process to make it more manageable
- Get the proper attention should medical emergencies arise during withdrawal
- Enter the right counseling and therapy programs where specialists can offer guidance when detox ends
Several things happen during medical detox. A person may be weaned off a substance according to a taper schedule. Tapering means clients are gradually given less of a drug over time to ensure they remain stable as the body adjusts to not having the drug in its system. People in detox may receive sedative medications and intravenous fluids to counteract the detox symptoms.
They also may be given medications to manage conditions related to their addiction, such as nausea and vomiting, and headaches, among other ailments. Medical professionals also closely monitor clients’ vitals, such as their heart rate and blood pressure. The medications given may also vary according to the drugs one is dependent on.
How Long Does Detox Take?
A medical detox operates on a 24/7 schedule. It generally ranges from three to 10 days, depending on the person’s individual factors and severity of their dependence. In some cases, the procedure can run longer. It is difficult to set a timeline for drug and alcohol detox because a lot depends on the person. Factors that affect the detox schedule include:
- What kinds of substances were abused
- How they were used/abused
- How much of the substances were abused
Detox Programs Can Be Adapted to One’s Needs
No two detox programs are alike as no two drug rehab programs are alike. Both kinds of programs can be customized to meet the needs and preferences of the person undergoing treatment.
Medical detox is usually carried out in a residential setting. An inpatient setting is recommended for people who are having severe withdrawal symptoms. This arrangement, which provides medical care given around the clock, can take place at residential rehab treatment centers, hospitals, dual-diagnosis treatment facilities, and medical detox centers.
It also can be carried out at treatment centers that offer holistic and alternative addiction treatment. A therapeutic follow-up program may be recommended after detox ends.
Is Medical Detox the Same As Rapid Detox?
No, these are not the same. A traditional drug or alcohol detox takes some time to complete, especially in severe cases. Many people who enter detox know they need it but may want to consider speeding up the process.
They either may consider or decide to undergo a rapid detox procedure. There have been claims that rapid detox effectively treats addiction to alcohol and opiates/opioids, and the procedure helps people bypass uncomfortable and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, which means a quicker start to substance recovery.
During the rapid detox procedure, people are put under general anesthesia in a clinical setting and given medications intravenously (via IV) to speed up the substance withdrawal process. This detox process typically carries out the substance elimination process in four to six hours while clients are being monitored under medical supervision. When the process is finished, clients then remain under medical supervision for another day or two as they recover from the procedure.
Medications that may be given during this process is naltrexone, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids and alcohol. Clients may also continue to use this drug for months after undergoing a rapid detox.
The decision to complete a rapid detox is a personal one. Here at CHAT, we support the traditional medical detox method for addiction recovery. However, if you or someone you know is considering rapid detox, we encourage you to do your research. There are people who say rapid detox can be effective for clients but that it should be followed up with rehab participation. Others claim the treatment is a short-term fix and that it treats only the physical part of addiction and neglects the psychological part of it. There is also debate over whether it is safe and the expensive process is generally not covered by insurers.
What Happens After Detox?
Detox is the initial step, not the first and last one. It is helping lay the foundation for recovery to begin. There are many programs to choose from that promote and support sobriety during and after treatment.
Depending on one’s needs, they can enter a residential treatment program that offers a safe space to focus on their addiction that is highly structured and monitored by medical professionals 24 hours a day. In centers such as these, clients also can participate in individual or group counseling and a variety of therapies that help them understand the psychological side of their addiction. There also can find a 12-step fellowship program to join, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, or an alumni program to help them stay connected to like-minded people who share their sobriety goals and avoid relapse.
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