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Guide to Drug Detox

Last updated on: Friday, 15 September 2023
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  • What You'll Learn

You can find detox centers through DRS’ comprehensive directory. Depending on the substance, medical detox may be needed to help you safely come off your drug of choice. Withdrawal symptoms consist of physical and mental changes that can be highly uncomfortable and even deadly. Detoxes are designed to help patients through these symptoms become stable off drugs and ready to begin treatment. Regardless of what detox type you require, one should always seek additional counseling after attending a drug detox.

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When is Detox Needed?

Detox is an aspect of substance use treatment that isn’t always necessary. A detox may not be warranted if the person isn’t abusing substances known to cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Similarly, if they aren’t using heavily or frequently, it may be determined that they can begin treatment without first attending detox. Detox is recommended when withdrawal symptoms are expected to be potentially dangerous or uncomfortable enough to make the process unnecessarily challenging. Many treatment facilities will not accept patients attempting to quit certain drugs without them first completing a detox stay.

Different Types of Detox

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Medical Detox

Medical detoxes are fully staffed facilities with trained practitioners who can administer any needed medications to prevent or treat withdrawal symptoms, including tapering the person off narcotics to a point where they can safely cease consuming them. They can handle patients at a higher risk than social detoxes. However, the process of medical detoxification is more expensive and can prolong withdrawal, making for a longer stay.

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Social Detox

A social detox facility can’t administer most narcotic medications. Social detoxes are a lower level of care than medical detoxes. While they can provide some medical care, it is usually limited to monitoring and treating minor symptoms as they arise. Staff members in social detoxes may not be counselors but are qualified to observe and report symptoms to medical professionals and clinicians. For these reasons, patients who may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms are better suited for medical detox.

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Home Detox

Home detox is done at home and is only suggested for those not at risk of suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms or those with a treatment plan or medical supervision provided by an outpatient provider. While home detox may seem like a good option for those who do not wish to go away to treatment, it can be quite challenging to stop using drugs and alcohol, especially when you are in an environment where that behavior is done regularly. Always consult with a medical professional before starting a home detox.

TIPS: If you are going to detox

  • Never stop taking medication without consulting a doctor.
  • Get a professional assessment to determine if you need medical detox.
  • Do not abruptly stop using large amounts of alcohol or certain drugs without consulting a medical professional.
  • Get medical support through medical detox or advice from your doctor when detoxing from alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines.
  • Holistic detox approaches can be effective, especially when withdrawal symptoms are mild and do not require medication assistance.
  • Make sure to eat healthy foods and get plenty of sleep to help your body heal.

Detox Do’s and Don’t

There are a few important things to keep in mind for anyone who will be attending detox. These tips have been formulated into a list of dos and don’ts that can help make the process a success:

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Understand It May Be Difficult

The only way to get off of addictive substances that make people feel good is to feel a little bad. It’s a brutal truth, but there’s no way to transition to being drug-free without experiencing some discomfort. Medications like Suboxone and methadone may make the symptoms less severe. But keep in mind that the person will still experience minor withdrawal symptoms as the dosage is decreased.

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Take Your Time

The detox process can’t be rushed and takes however long it takes for each person to get through any withdrawal symptoms. It’s common for patients to become antsy once they start feeling better and want to get their program started. But rushing on to the next step can easily lead to trouble, as many patients experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms. These residual symptoms can pop up and cause setbacks, particularly if the patient isn’t in the detox facility.

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One Center is Best

Try to find a rehab that has on-site detox facilities. This will make the transition easier and more straightforward. The last thing you want to do is have time outside of care in between detox and rehab. You can easily trick yourself into thinking that a long-term rehab may not be necessary. This puts you in danger of relapsing.

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Don’t Lie

Be completely honest. The detox staff must have a complete understanding of your drug and medical history to help ensure your safety. Lying or omitting anything during the intake process can have deadly repercussions.

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Don’t Overthink Things

Don’t overthink things. While in detox, you will be experiencing a wide range of emotions and discomforts. Withdrawal isn’t limited to physical symptoms, and it’s quite common for the person to want to give up during the process. Instead of being carried away by one’s thoughts, remember that these feelings are normal and will pass when withdrawal symptoms subside. And they will subside.

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Don’t Skip Rehab

Don’t use detox in place of rehab. Detoxes do not provide care beyond handling the physical dependence on substances. But the person became addicted at some point in their life, and without counseling and relapse prevention, they are likely to repeat this coping mechanism.

  • Transcript

    What are the three methods of detoxification?

    The three methods of detoxification are Medical Detox, Social Detox, and Home Detox.

    Medical Detox takes place in a hospital or specialized facility. It ensures that the individual has 24-hour medical oversight and is suitable for individuals who have been using drugs in large amounts or for an extended period.

    Social Detox involves counseling, peer support, and other non-medical interventions to help someone through the withdrawal process. It is best for individuals who are not coming off large amounts of substances but could benefit from the support system provided by a social detox.

    Home Detox is a detox that can be done in the comfort of one’s own home. It can be done on an outpatient basis with the supervision of a professional. While this option may seem the easiest, Home Detox can be the most challenging detox to complete without medical oversight and structured support.

    What happens in the process of drug detox?

    Detoxing from drugs involves working with medical professionals or other support staff to ensure your physical and mental well-being when coming off drugs. The withdrawal process is considered complete when your body is no longer experiencing withdrawal symptoms. After a successful detox, one should have more regular sleeping and eating patterns and be able to go through the day without needing prescription or over-the-counter medications to feel normal.

    Which drugs require medical staff to detox?

    The main drugs that require medical oversight are alcohol, benzodiazepines (benzos), and opiates. Alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal can lead to life-threatening seizures, so proper oversight and medication are necessary. With opiates, withdrawal symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on the body and mind. While most opiate withdrawal is not life-threatening, it is incredibly uncomfortable, and medical intervention ensures that a person can get through it safely.

Ask a Professional

  • Do all drugs require a medical detox?

    No, but a medical detox can be beneficial regardless of whether it is required. Alcohol, opiates, and benzodiazepines usually need a medical detox if an individual has taken large amounts or been on them for an extended period, as the withdrawal can be life-threatening. Drugs like methamphetamines do not require a medical detox, but medical intervention can go a long way in keeping someone comfortable during the withdrawal process.

  • When should a drug detox be utilized?

    Detox should be used when someone uses drugs in large amounts or for a long duration. Adverse reactions can be expected whenever someone stops using a substance, they have developed a physical dependence on. Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the individual and the substance used, so always consult a medical professional to determine if detox is required.

  • How long will detox take to complete?

    The time it takes to complete detox varies depending on the substance, how long it’s been used, and how much a person uses. Most people who require detox can expect a minimum stay of 72 hours. Depending on the severity and duration of their symptoms, patients are usually discharged once acute withdrawal symptoms have diminished, generally occurring within 5- 7 days. Those withdrawing from substances that produce severe and dangerous symptoms can expect their stay in a detox center to take longer than a week.

  • What happens after detox?

    Immediately after being in a detox center, the patient should transition directly to some form of inpatient treatment. Detox is only the beginning of the drug rehab process and is better viewed as a preparatory step since detoxes prepare patients to receive treatment. Patients craving and feeling ill from withdrawal symptoms experience far less benefit from rehabilitation services if they can complete them. That’s why detox services originated. They bridge the gap between active addiction and abstinence so treatment can be delivered.

  • What’s the difference between medical detox and non-medical detox?

    The main difference between the two types of detox is the amount of medical oversite and the use of medication to treat symptoms. If the person is attending a medical detox facility, they can expect a hospital-like setting where they will live and have their symptoms monitored for the duration of their stay. They are medications to help alleviate some withdrawal symptoms, making the process safer and more tolerable. Non-medical detoxes generally consist of symptoms monitoring and reporting, along with the support and encouragement of the detox staff.

  • Want to know more?

    The questions from Addicted.org’s “Learn from our Experts” are answered by Michael Leach, CCMA. If you need further clarification on any of the questions above or have any other questions you can contact him directly at mike@addicted.org.

Terminology Used Surrounding Drug Detox

Term
Definition
Medical Detox
this is a detoxification process that uses medication to control withdrawal symptoms while also providing medical supervision. Some addictions cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms, which could become life-threatening without medical supervision.
Conventional Detox
a common detoxification process within an inpatient setting is managing drug users addicted to street drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, or marijuana. Conventional detox does not traditionally offer medical supervision.
Withdrawal Management
refers to the medical and psychological care of patients who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms as a result of stopping their drug or alcohol use.
Home Detox
is a process of detoxing off drugs and alcohol at home without professional help or supervision. Most addiction professionals can help addicts through a home detox with proper guidance.
Medication-Assisted Treatment
MAT is the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of substance use.
Withdrawal Symptoms
are the abnormal physical or psychological features that follow the abrupt discontinuation of a drug that produces physical dependence.
Drug Toxins
are left behind from drug or alcohol use, and drug toxicity refers to the level of damage that a compound can cause to an organism. The toxic effects of a drug are dose-dependent and can affect an entire system in the body.
Delirium Tremens
DTs are the most severe form of alcohol (ethanol) withdrawal—the problem is manifested by altered mental status and sympathetic overdose, which could progress to cardiovascular collapse.
Physical Dependence
is the body’s inability to function without the use of drugs or alcohol. Physical addiction to drugs or alcohol occurs when you repeatedly use a drug until you become so dependent on it that your body can no longer function without it.
Psychological Dependence
is defined as becoming mentally dependent on substances or the behaviors you display as a result of the psychological addiction. Psychological dependence also causes withdrawal symptoms as your body tries to compensate for the lack of chemicals.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Author

AUTHOR

More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.

Reviewer

MEDICAL REVIEWER

More Information

Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.

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  • Our content is written by experts in the field of substance use and addiction recovery. The DRS team has over 80 years of combined experience.
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