Information on Medical Detoxification for Opioids, Prescribed Medication and Other Drugs

Created On Thursday, 04, February 2016
Modified On Friday, 01, October 2021

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Medical detox is the first step taken when someone begins the rehabilitation process. The detoxification process is necessary to manage withdrawal cravings and symptoms. Medical detox is different from standard detox because it treats more serious cases of withdrawal. Drugs and alcohol create physical and psychological dependence, resulting in dangerous withdrawal cravings and symptoms. Medical detoxification provides a safe environment for withdrawal from drugs or alcohol under medical supervision. Medical detox programs use medication management, which is a process of administering medication to manage withdrawal cravings. Someone addicted to opioids would benefit from this process because of how dangerous withdrawal symptoms become.

Someone going through a medical detox would experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms. For example, withdrawal symptoms include shaking, irregular heartbeat, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, depression, hallucinations, and sweating. Medical detox centers provide proper medical supervision to help an addict detox in a comfortable environment. Withdrawing from drugs or alcohol is extremely difficult and dangerous due to cravings and life-threatening symptoms. A medical detoxification program is a safe and effective way to withdrawal from these substances. There are inpatient and outpatient medical detox programs—inpatient services are the most common. Outpatient medical detox is typically a medical professional providing off-site advice and supervision while the patient detoxes at home.

There are many benefits with medical detox, and the main benefits are being able to withdraw from drugs and alcohol safely. Most residential drug rehabilitation centers have the capability of offering medical detox. Other medical detox programs are private centers and separate from a drug rehabilitation program. Someone struggling with severe alcoholism would benefit from a medical detox. Alcohol withdrawal becomes dangerous, especially for lifelong alcoholics. The other benefits of medical detox include receiving 24/7 medical care and support and recovering in a drug and alcohol-free environment. Medical detox programs typically use medication to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Also, detox helps reduce the risk of overdose, relapse, and death.

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When to Consider Medical Detox

Substance abuse and addiction impact millions of Americans, and these problems become severe when the proper help is not gotten right away. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among people aged 12 or older, 60.1% used a substance in the past month. Approximately 50.8% drank alcohol in the past month, and 13% had used an illicit drug in the past month. Alcohol addiction is one of the most common addictions where medical detox is required. Among people aged 12 or older in 2019, 50.8% drank alcohol in the past month. The percentage of people consuming alcohol in 2019 was similar to the percentages from 2002 to 2004 and 2015 to 2018.

Severe alcoholism affects people from all age groups, and medical detox is effective. When the addiction becomes out of control, and the addict requires drugs or alcohol to manage their day-to-day life, this would be time to consider a medical detox. Severe alcoholism results in the alcoholic requiring alcohol daily to function because the withdrawal symptoms become too severe to manage. Among adolescents aged 12 to 17, about 17.6% had used alcohol in the past month, while 61.4% of adults aged 18 to 25 had used alcohol and 55% of adults aged 26 and older also used alcohol. Binge alcohol use and heavy alcohol use has the potential to cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Among people aged 12 or older, past month binge alcohol use declined from 24.9% in 2015 to 23.9% in 2019.

Additionally, among people aged 12 or older, the percentage who were past month heavy alcohol users declined from 6.5% in 2015 to 5.8% in 2019. Medical detox is the best approach to manage severe alcoholism because of the withdrawal symptoms. However, medical detox does not offer proper counseling and therapy, which is why drug rehabilitation is essential. Medical detox programs are also beneficial for someone struggling with prescription drug addiction, such as pain medication or stimulants. Among people aged 12 or older, percentages for the past year, misuse of prescription pain medication declined from 4.7% in 2015 to 3.5% in 2019. Also, among people aged 12 or older in 2019, 3.7% misused opioids in the past year. Any addiction involving opioids requires medical detox to control and manage withdrawal cravings.

Medical Detox Does Not Treat All Aspects of Addiction

Medical detox programs help the body manage dangerous withdrawal symptoms from addictive substances. The purpose is to relieve acute symptoms associated with withdrawal, but it will not address the root causes of addiction or help a person maintain sobriety. There is a common misconception that detox is an effective approach to help an addict achieve sobriety, but this is not the case. Someone struggling with addiction could be admitted to medical detox at any time, especially under a medical emergency. Hospital inpatient services are equipped to manage addicts requiring medical detox.

The length of time needed for medical detox varies from person to person. However, it is the severity of withdrawal symptoms, length of the addiction, recent drug use, and substances used that impact the duration of detox. The length of time could range from a few days to two weeks or more. Every individual is different, but detox is crucial in managing mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox allows the patient to withdrawal from drugs and alcohol under close monitoring and supervision of trained medical staff.

What is The Medical Detox Process?

The medical detox process involves stabilization and the initial medical assessment. The assessment is done to build an accurate picture of a person’s individual needs. During the assessment, a medical professional gathers information on a patient’s medical history and details about their addiction. The information is used to develop a personalized detox plan to effectively manage withdrawal symptoms. When the amount of alcohol or drugs in a patient’s system is gradually reduced, the individual begins to experience withdrawal symptoms. The type of withdrawal symptoms that are experienced and the severity depending on how long a person has been addicted to drugs or alcohol.

For example, large quantities of opioids create dangerous withdrawal symptoms, and because of the physical dependence, the drug user requires more of the opioids to not experience the withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can result in a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, shaking, sweating, high temperature, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, headaches, and muscle and bone pain. Some of the psychological withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, confusion, paranoia, insomnia, depression, agitation, and extreme mood swings. The most severe withdrawal symptoms involve hallucinations, delirium, and seizures. Medical detox programs are equipped to manage these symptoms and ensure a smooth transition to treatment.

According to StatPearls: Withdrawal Symptoms, “the withdrawal response after discontinuation of a particular drug or alcohol can depend on how long it was used for. When people consume alcohol for at least 1 to 3 months or even consume large quantities for at least seven to ten days, the withdrawal response can occur within 6 to 24 hours after cessation of alcohol.” Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol is a common medical problem that millions of Americans struggle with. Approximately five to ten percent of the population has alcoholism. Approximately five percent of these individuals may develop delirium tremens when they withdraw from chronic alcohol use.

Around the Clock Support and The Length of Time Needed for Medical Detox

Medical detox centers provide around the clock support and care, and this is because most patients are struggling with dangerous withdrawal symptoms requiring medical attention. Each person going through detox is carefully monitored 24-hours a day for the duration of the process. The length of time needed for detox varies but does depend on how much alcohol and drugs they have been consuming, the severity of their withdrawal symptoms, and their physical and mental functioning. Medical detox cannot be rushed, and it requires time to effectively treat the withdrawal symptoms. Addiction becomes a devastating problem, and most addictions could be avoided with early intervention and noticing the signs of addiction.

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among people aged 12 or older, the percentage with a past-year alcohol use disorder declined from 7.7% in 2002 to 5.3% in 2019. Among people aged 12 or older in 2019, 3% had at least one illicit drug use disorder in the past year. Overall, these estimates in 2019 were higher than the estimates in 2016 and 2017, but they were similar to those in 2015 and 2018. Unfortunately, among those aged 12 or older, only 1.5% of addicts received any substance use treatment in the past year. The percentage in 2019 was similar to the percentage in each year from 2015 to 2018. Severe withdrawal symptoms are prevented with early intervention and helping the person receive detox and treatment before the addiction spirals out of control.

Alternatives to Medical Detox

Formal detox is often the first approach to take when attending a drug and alcohol treatment program. It is an important step during the addiction recovery process, and the person will better benefit from the efforts of counseling and therapy after being physically stabilized. Medical detox is one type of detox, and there are different types available to help addicts through withdrawal symptoms. The different drugs and alcohol create unique withdrawal symptoms, which last a different length of time. Typically, stimulant drug withdrawal symptoms appear within a few hours to a couple of days after the last dose. Sedative withdrawal symptoms appear as quickly as a few hours after or as delayed as several days following the last use. The withdrawal symptoms from opioids emerge within six to twelve hours and may last one week.

Choosing the proper detox is important because it would depend on the severity of withdrawal symptoms. An alternative medical detox would be non-medical or a social detox, which involves stopping the use of drugs entirely or going cold turkey. However, the detox is done under the care of treatment professionals. The social model of this detox approach involves the facility providing the patient with emotional and psychological support during the withdrawal process. Medications are not administered during this withdrawal process, which would make it difficult for some addicts. Depending on the drug, withdrawal symptoms could be severe, causing intense pain and discomfort.

Natural detox programs are risky for prescription drug abuse because of the psychological impact. There is an increased risk for suicide ideation, anxiety, and depression when attempting a cold-turkey withdrawal. When deciding on natural detox, it is important to consult with a medical professional to ensure the option is suitable. Another alternative to medical detox is ultra-rapid detox, which is supposed to ease the process of opioid withdrawal. When undergoing rapid detox, the patient is placed under anesthesia and does not experience the withdrawal symptoms discomfort. However, the length of withdrawal is different for each person and is complicated because of the combination of medications used.

Terminology Surrounding Medical Detox

Term Definition
Medical Detox provides patients with medication and medical treatment to prevent and address complications during detox. Typically, this is done with prescription drugs, pain medication, and severe alcoholism.
Withdrawal Symptoms are the unpleasant physical reaction that accompanies the process of ceasing to take an addictive drug. Everyone struggling with addiction experiences withdrawal symptoms. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the drug or alcohol and the length of time the person has been abusing the drug or alcohol.
Residential Withdrawal Management are programs where clients spend nights at a withdrawal management facility or hospital. Withdrawal management is essential to manage dangerous withdrawal symptoms that often involve opioids, sedatives, stimulants, and alcohol.
Rapid detox is a process that involves the use of anesthesia, and the patient is administered medication while under anesthesia. The process is meant for the person not to experience withdrawal symptoms while they under anesthesia. Unfortunately, many people wake up from being sedated, still experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Stabilization is the physical and psychological process of assisting the patient for entry into a drug and alcohol treatment center. Medical detox programs stabilize a person physically so they can receive counseling and therapy.
Substance Dependence is a combination of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms indicating that the individual continues the use of the substance despite the consequences.
Substance Intoxication is the development of reversible substance-specific syndrome as the result of the recent ingestion of a substance.
Non-Medical Detox is a detox process that involves cold-turkey withdrawal or suddenly stopping the use of drugs or alcohol without medication. Non-medical detox is dangerous, especially when detoxing from alcohol or pain medication.
Relapse a person who is trying to stop using drugs or alcohol makes a mistake or experiences trauma and begins to abuse drugs or alcohol again. Relapse is a common problem when addicts only receive detox and not counseling or therapy.
Overdose occurs when an excessive and dangerous dose of drugs or alcohol is consumed, resulting in a toxic amount within the body, causing various medical issues.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

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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.


Dr. Rohit S. Adi, MD, DABAM - Medically Reviewed on October 1, 2021

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Dr. Rohit S. Adi is certified in addiction medicine, through examination, by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. While in Louisiana, he worked as an emergency-room physician at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, but then transferred to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, where he works to this day. Holding numerous positions throughout his medical career, Dr. Adi has seen the devastating effects caused by drugs and alcohol. Having the ability to do something about the problem, he co-founded a holistic drug rehabilitation center in Louisiana, where he serves as the facility's Medical Director.