Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach
To effectively treat substance use conditions such as addiction, treatment must begin with detoxification. Detoxification, more commonly referred to as detox, is the experience of being medically supervised and guided when weaning or withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs. Detox programs often utilize medications to help individuals withdraw from substances in a safe and controlled environment.
Why is Detox Essential?
When people use alcohol and other drugs, their brain and body become acclimated to the effects of substance use. The brain adapts to the repeated use of chemicals, and these chemicals interact with the brain in many different ways. Specifically, these substances alter brain chemistry and can impair brain functioning.
Once chemical dependency, addiction or other substance use disorders form, the individual experiences increased tolerance and associated withdrawals from not using substances. Typically, withdrawal symptoms motivate individuals to use drugs repeatedly as a way to ease these withdrawals. However, when people try to achieve sobriety, they must purge these substances entirely out of their system before their treatment journey can truly begin.
In moderate to severe cases of addiction, withdrawal symptoms can be debilitating. While symptoms vary according to the severity of dependence and particular drugs used, some common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Insomnia, fatigue and restlessness
- Muscle pain
- Changes in mood and appetite
Detox is essential because it gives people a valuable resource to withdraw from alcohol and other drugs safely. Since withdrawal effects can be uncomfortable, there are increased risks of relapse when a person tries to withdraw from drugs on their own. Detox is an essential step of the pre-treatment process and helps to set individuals up for greater long-term recovery success.
What Happens in Detox?
When a person arrives at any detox facility, they have to go through medical and psychological evaluations to determine their unique level of care, which helps determine if detox is the right choice. Detox can occur in a hospital setting, specialized inpatient setting or outpatient treatment setting. The amount of time spent in a detox unit will vary between patients, although the process can take several days up to a week or longer.
During inpatient detox, patients receive 24/7 medically supervised care. These programs are highly structured and involve close personal monitoring of patients by medical personnel, including therapists, psychiatrists, counselors and other treatment specialists. The treatment staff helps patients during their detox and aids them in making the transition from detox to a treatment program like rehab.
During outpatient detox, patients visit a treatment facility daily. They receive treatment in sessions that can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Compared to inpatient detox, outpatient detox holds fewer restrictions and supervision as the patient engages with their environment outside of the treatment setting. Patients also have more opportunities to lean on their support systems after completing treatment for the day.
Medical Detox and Medication-Assisted Treatment
Medical detox is another term that can describe detoxification, specifically with the help of medications to assist in the detox process. Nearly all detox facilities utilize a medical detox approach, as medication can help make the detox process more comfortable. Medical detox is provided at the start of treatment to help patients clear substances from their brain and body and prepare the mind for treatment and recovery.
Sometimes medical detox is referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Although medical detox is medication-assisted, medication-assisted treatment is a term that describes a treatment that utilizes medication throughout the treatment process. MAT may be provided during both inpatient and outpatient treatment settings to help patients:
- Ease severe drug cravings and urges to use
- Help bring clarity to the mind
- Have better engagement with behavioral therapies
- Reduce symptoms of co-occurring disorders
It is essential to understand that medical detox is a pre-treatment experience, while MAT occurs during treatment. It is not uncommon for someone to receive medical detox and then be recommended MAT when entering a long-term treatment program. The ultimate goal of MAT is to help patients achieve and sustain long-term recovery.
How to Know if Detox is Necessary
The most accurate way to know if a person would benefit from detox is by undergoing a clinical evaluation conducted by a medical professional. Withdrawing from specific drugs, like alcohol, can be life-threatening when done at home, making seeking a professional assessment the best option for someone questioning detox. Every treatment facility is different and offers unique treatment programs, so it’s vital to contact community treatment facilities to consider local detox and treatment options.
DiscoveryMD is a treatment program that offers outpatient detox. We recognize the importance of monitoring patients during detox and providing support and compassion while going through the process. To learn more about our detox options or hear more about our treatment facility, contact us today.