Detoxification treatment, or detox, is the process of removing drugs, alcohol, and other harmful substances from someone’s system. It is meant to help treat acute intoxication as well as withdrawal. This ensures that substance users are medically stable and can enter ongoing care in an addiction recovery program.
As with addiction treatment in general, no single form of detox treatment is going to be equally effective for everyone. Depending on factors like the substance in question, the severity of someone’s addiction, and the state of their mental and physical health, each person is going to require something different.
Because of this, it is important to know the options that are available when seeking out detox treatment and being able to evaluate which one is best for you, such as detox hospitalization or private detox.
Detox can take its physical and mental toll and be unpleasant and uncomfortable at best, and potentially life-threatening at worst. Either way, it is largely an unavoidable first step to successful addiction recovery.
No matter how bad detox might sound, you cannot start your recovery with alcohol or drugs still in your system, as sobriety is a key part of addiction rehab. A recovery program will require your full attention and focus, and that becomes significantly more difficult if you’re dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal, which can range from distracting to dangerous.
Similarly, attempting to skip the detox process and instead just stop using completely all at once, otherwise known as “cold turkey,” is not recommended. It can cause a massive shock to your system and lead to deadly complications depending on the substance.
For example, attempting to quit using heroin all at once can trigger such intense and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that people will relapse almost immediately after withdrawal starts. Trying to quit benzodiazepines like Xanax cold turkey can cause grand mal seizures, and improperly detoxing from alcohol can lead to delirium tremens, a serious form of alcohol withdrawal.
Detoxing and slowly tapering down the dosage of the substance someone is addicted to may take longer, but it is much safer than the alternative.
In the technical sense, yes, you can detox at home. The more important question is, “Should you detox at home?” If you want your detox to be safe, successful, and as comfortable as possible, then the answer is a resounding no.
Part of the reason that quitting drugs or alcohol is so hard to do is the withdrawal symptoms that appear when someone attempts to stop using. Depending on the particular substance as well as the severity of someone’s addiction, withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening.
Attempting to detox at home without medical supervision creates many unnecessary health risks and leaves you vulnerable to possible complications that can arise during withdrawal. Among these are seizures and psychosis.
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Even symptoms that seem milder in comparison can become dangerous when you detox alone. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration, and the combination of depression, suicidal thoughts, and confusion or hallucinations pose a high risk of self-harm or worse.
And even putting aside the dangers to your health and well-being, there’s the fact that you are much less likely to complete your detox successfully, as drug cravings and untreated withdrawal symptoms are often too much to deal with alone, causing the user to relapse mid-detox. Relapsing during a withdrawal period also can raise your risk of overdosing.
Whether you choose detox hospitalization or a private detox treatment center, both options help you to avoid these issues. Medications and other treatments can ease withdrawal symptoms and provide a safe and controlled environment in which to detox. You will be carefully monitored without having to worry about relapse or potential health complications.
While detoxing at home without medical supervision isn’t one of them, there are still multiple detox treatment options available for you to choose from. The different detox treatment subgroups all fall under the two main types of medical detox programs: inpatient and outpatient.
Outpatient detox treatment is what it sounds like. It is detoxification treatment that does not require you to live on-site, even though it takes place at a detox facility or clinic. This flexibility allows you to continue with your daily routine while making regular appointments for medication and support during withdrawal. Outpatient detox is the best option for those with less severe addictions to substances that have relatively mild withdrawal symptoms.
Inpatient detox is medical detox treatment that takes place onsite and requires the person undergoing detox to live there in a setting that’s monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Inpatient detox is effective for people with serious, long-term addictions or a history of addiction and relapse, as well as potential health problems that could react negatively to withdrawal symptoms.
Detox hospitalization and private detox are two different types of inpatient detox programs, and each has its own advantages and drawbacks. Choosing the right one for you will largely depend on what you are looking for in detox treatment.
The main difference between the two is that detox hospitalization is, as you might expect, in a hospital, while private detox takes place in an independently operated treatment facility that will typically provide all of its treatment services under one roof.
As a medical institution, detox hospitalization can provide high levels of intensive care that someone may need if they are dealing with dangerously severe withdrawal symptoms and complications related to health issues or co-occurring disorders. A private detox center may not be able to offer the same level of medical attention that detox hospitalization can.
Detoxing in a hospital setting does come with limitations, though. Detox hospitalization often has a stricter set of operating procedures and parameters. Lack of adequate funding is often an issue with hospitals, which means much less in the way of individualized amenities or comforts outside of what is necessary to provide a safe medical detox environment.
Finally, there is the fact that, at the end of the day, it is a hospital that does not specialize specifically in addiction treatment, and so detox is generally just one section of a facility that provides at least a dozen other medical services, meaning that an individualized level of care cannot be expected.
In the case of private detox, the biggest drawback is that it is the more expensive option of two. The amount that someone’s insurance is willing to cover can vary based on a variety of factors. However, this money allows privately owned detox centers the ability to offer a wider range of individualized amenities and cutting-edge treatments.
Beyond just creature comforts, private detox facilities also are solely dedicated to detox and addiction recovery, and therefore, can offer more specialized treatment methods and options than detox hospitalization can provide.
Various medications are used in addiction treatment and throughout medical detox. Some of the medications you might encounter in a hospital detox setting are:
Benzodiazepines are used to treat people who are going through depressant withdrawal, especially with alcohol. Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants can be dangerous during withdrawal, particularly when you quit cold turkey. Benzodiazepines are another drug in the depressant category that works in the brain in a way that’s similar to alcohol. However, certain benzos are milder and easier to control through the weaning process than alcohol. Weaning can prolong withdrawal, but it also helps you avoid some of the dangerous side effects of cold turkey cessation like seizures.
Naltrexone is approved to treat both alcohol and opioids. It’s intended to block the euphoric high that’s produced by those different drugs. Studies show it can reduce drug cravings when it’s used along with other addiction therapy options.
Methadone is an opioid that’s used to treat opioid addiction. It helps users to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and powerful drug cravings. Methadone is also easier to control than other opioids, so you can take a dose that doesn’t produce significant intoxicating effects. Methadone maintenance programs bypass detox completely in favor of managing addiction with the medication. Methadone can also be used in conjunction with addiction therapies and then stopped after a weaning process. However, methadone can be abused, and it can cause more intense withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit.
Buprenorphine is another opioid used to treat opioid addiction. However, it’s a partial opioid agonist, which means it has weaker effects than other opioids that are full agonists. It can effectively stop withdrawal and cravings, but it’s less likely to cause intoxicating effects. Buprenorphine has an effects ceiling, which means that after a certain dose, the drug stops producing more intense effects. For that reason, abuse, intoxication, and overdose are less likely on buprenorphine. The drug can also be used alongside addiction therapies. You can also slowly wean off of the drug to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it binds to opioid receptors and does not activate them. It can even kick opioid agonists off their receptors and blocks them from being activated. Suboxone is taken under the tongue, where the buprenorphine can be absorbed into your system and activates to stop withdrawal. Naloxone is inert and can’t make its way into your blood by these means of administration. If the drug is abused or taken in a way not prescribed, the naloxone becomes active and causes withdrawal symptoms, making Suboxone harder to abuse than buprenorphine alone.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Types of Treatment Programs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014, June 20). Behavioral Health Treatments and Services. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/treatment
Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. (2006). Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64119/