What is Drug or Alcohol Detox?

The primary goal of detoxification is to get the body to heal after a period of intense substance abuse and addiction. This process works by ensuring the body can get rid of the substances that you were abusing before helping you achieve stability so that you can make the transition to a long-term recovery program.

Detox can take place in outpatient and inpatient facilities. Your choice of a clinic will largely depend on the severity of your substance use disorder as well as on the presence of other mental and medical health conditions.

In general, severe addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders over and above your addiction might require you to check into an inpatient detoxification program so that you can increase your chances of full recovery.

The type of substances that you were abusing might also have a large bearing on the format of detox program that you will undergo. This is because some drugs - like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids - might come with a dangerous withdrawal process that will require ongoing medical supervision during your detox.

Understanding Detoxification

Detox refers to the process by which your body will get rid of all the drugs that are inside it. As we mentioned above, one of the main goals of detox is to ensure that you safely manage the withdrawal symptoms that arise when you stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Everyone will have different experiences during detox. Additionally, the type of substance use disorder and how long you have been taking drugs/alcohol will also have a major bearing on the type of detox that you will require.

At times, you might be required to take medications during detox to help keep you comfortable and free of pain as the drugs start leaving your system. It is also important to remember that it might take several days to a couple of months for your body to go through all the withdrawal symptoms that you will experience. Similarly, the duration of your withdrawal will depend on several factors, such as:

  • The type of intoxicating and mind altering substances that you have developed an addiction to
  • Any other medical conditions that you might also be struggling with
  • Any underlying mental health conditions
  • The amount of drugs that you used to take at any given time
  • The duration of your substance abuse and addiction
  • The preferred method of substance abuse - swallowing, injecting, smoking, or snorting
  • The severity of your substance use disorder
  • Your family history of substance abuse, addiction, medical conditions, and mental health
  • Your genetic makeup

The Detoxification Process

Everyone will have different needs in detox. To this end, it is essential that you receive highly specialized and personalized treatment as you continue dealing with the drug withdrawal symptoms that are likely to arise when you give up your favorite substances of abuse.

In most cases, you will find that the process of detoxification will involve the following primary steps:

i) Evaluation

During your evaluation, a medical team will screen you for every mental and physical health issues that you might have - as well as check the nature and severity of your substance use disorder.

In most cases, the doctors will use blood tests while trying to measure the total amount of intoxicating and mind altering substances in your system. Through these tests, they might be better able to determine the need for and level of medications that you require.

They will also perform a comprehensive review of your psychiatric, medical, and drug history. This will allow them to gain valuable information that they can use to create the most effective detox and treatment plan for you.

ii) Stabilization

After you have completed your evaluation, you will require psychological and medical therapy to ensure that you achieve full stability. The goal of this process would be to ensure that you do not come to any harm.

In some instances, your doctors might prescribe some detox medications to ensure that you do not suffer any medical complications. These medications might also prove useful in reducing and/or completely eliminating the withdrawal symptoms that arise.

iii) Entry into Treatment

The final step would be to prepare for your entry into an addiction treatment and rehabilitation program. During this stage, your doctors will familiarize you with the process of addiction treatment as well as inform you of what you should expect. If your addiction is severe, you might be referred to an inpatient drug rehab program to ensure that you have the best chances of achieving success after completing detox.

Types of Detoxification

The specific substances of abuse that you were taking as well as the spectrum of different withdrawal symptoms that are likely to arise will play a major role in the type of detox that will be recommended for you. That said, the following are the most common choices available:

a) Home Detox

Home detox is also known as quitting drugs cold turkey. Although this is an option that is open to you - and which many addicts turn to - you should always remember that it might prove dangerous and even deadly in some situations.

This is because trying to quit cold turkey means that you will not receive any medical supervision or care. As a direct result, there is a high risk that you might succumb to any serious issues that might arise, particularly severe dehydration and seizures.

b) Inpatient Detox

In many cases, residential or inpatient detox might be the best option for you. This is because it could reduce your risk of relapse as well as ensure that you receive the medical supervision and care that you need in case of an emergency. Inpatient rehab - which could also include the cost of inpatient detox - will typically cost you between $1,000 and $7,000 per week.

Most detoxification programs are offered on an inpatient basis. Some are stand-alone programs and they can arrange for you to make the transfer to another addiction treatment program once you successfully complete the detoxification stage of your recovery.

Others are part of an extensive inpatient addiction rehabilitation program where you might be able to address all the physical and psychological issues that are linked to your substance abuse and addiction.

c) Outpatient Detox

Although detox is rarely offered on an outpatient basis, this option is still available. In particular, outpatient detox might be the best choice if you are struggling with a relatively mild or new case of substance abuse.

In such a program, you will go for regular checkups with a treatment team. Additionally, you might receive medications through prescriptions. Alternatively, you could check into a methadone clinic for the detox care that you require. The program will cost anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500.

If money is a problem or you need to continue keeping up with your responsibilities at home, work, or school, outpatient detox might be a good option and it will provide you with adequate treatment.

Detoxification for Different Substances

There are certain substances of abuse that require specialized detoxification services and knowledge. Consider the following examples:

1. Opioid Detox

The FDA - the Food and Drug Administration - has approved some medications that you can take while undergoing opioid detox. These medications have, on their part, given rise to several opioid detox approaches. In many cases, however, this form of detox will be offered on an inpatient basis.

You might also be required to take medications to manage your opioid dependence as well as to alleviate most of the unpleasant, painful, and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that are highly likely to arise - such as methadone and buprenorphine.

2. Alcohol Detox

If you suddenly stop drinking alcohol on a regular basis, there is a high risk that you might develop withdrawal symptoms that could be distressing and even potentially fatal. These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Shivering
  • Slow movements
  • Slowed thoughts
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

In some instances, you might also develop delirium tremens especially if you have been abusing alcohol for a long time and in a heavy way. This condition is considered to be a medical emergency because it can turn out to be fatal if you leave it untreated. It is often accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Changes in the functioning of the brain
  • Confusion
  • Deep sleep
  • Disorientation or delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

It is essential that you undergo medically supervised detox while trying to safely remove alcohol from your body. In some instances, doctors might prescribe benzodiazepines to help you alleviate some of these adverse alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

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