What is Medical Detox? 4 Facts to Know

August 21, 2020

3 min read

After admitting an addiction problem exists and seeking help, detoxification, or detox, is the first step to breaking free of substance abuse. Recovery begins with the physical process of cleansing the body of drugs or alcohol and eliminating the influence of those substances.

Of course, detox isn’t as simple as quitting cold turkey and waiting for the body to process and eliminate whatever drugs or alcohol are left in the body. 

The body’s physical dependence on a substance can’t be eliminated with a flip of a switch. The biochemical changes in the brain that lead to cravings and cause a person to act irrationally or even violently don’t disappear overnight. The withdrawal symptoms experienced during detox can be uncomfortable, painful, and even life-threatening. 

What Is Medical Detox?

Most people struggling with addiction need help getting through detox. In many cases, medical detox is recommended to ensure the safety of the patient. 

Medical detox is a highly controlled, medically supervised detox program in which the patient is monitored to minimize the risk of medical complications, but also to ensure that immediate help is available if complications should arise. Constant support and regular counseling are provided. This increases the likelihood that the patient will be able to complete the detox process.

Four Medical Detox Facts You Should Know:

1. Medical Detox Has 3 General Phases

Although each individual’s circumstances are unique, there are three general phases in the medical detox process: evaluation, stabilization, and preparation.

The first phase, medical and psychological evaluation, is done to determine which substances are in the body, identify medications that might be needed, and assess the patient’s psychological and emotional state.

The second phase is the stabilization of the patient, which involves both medical and psychological treatment to minimize risk, prevent complications, and reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Addiction treatment medication is often used for stabilization.

As medical detox treatment winds down, the patient will enter the third phase, which is preparation for entering a treatment program, often an inpatient rehab. Therapists and doctors explain what the patient should expect on a day-to-day basis and how this relates to their long-term recovery.

2. Withdrawal Symptoms Vary

Again, no two people struggling with addiction are the same, which means withdrawal symptoms and the duration of medical detox will vary depending on each individual’s circumstances. These factors include:

  • The substance abused
  • How frequently, how long, and how much of the substance has been abused
  • How the substance was abused (snorting, injecting, smoking, etc.)
  • Family history and genetics
  • Underlying medical and mental health conditions

For example, alcohol tends to be viewed as less dangerous than illegal drugs or prescription opioids. However, due to the severe withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, detox is often more dangerous and can be fatal without medical supervision.

Withdrawal symptoms can include sweats, shivering, anxiety, heart palpitations, irritability, depression, and loss of appetite, as well symptoms associated with a cold or flu.

3. The Brain and Body Might Not Be on the Same Page

Medical detox is not a perfect science in which a person’s body and brain reduce their dependence on drugs or alcohol at the same pace. Based on the factors mentioned previously, someone might be mentally committed to recovery, but if their body is still dependent on a substance, progress will be slow.

Medical detox accounts for both sides of the equation, using constant monitoring to make sure the body and brain are aligned and in sync on the way to treatment and sobriety.

4. Rapid Detox Is Not Medical Detox

Remember what we said about flipping a switch? Well, the pressure to speed up the detoxification process — which, itself, is surely related to the need for immediate gratification that’s often the prelude to addiction — has resulted in the development of rapid detox, which is most often used for opiate detox. The idea is that detox will last for hours rather than weeks by using anesthesia and medication to render drugs or alcohol inactive.

In short, with rapid detox, the patient is fully addicted and chemically dependent when he or she goes under anesthesia. Then when the patient wakes just a few hours later, the physiological detox process is complete.

Medical detox is backed by decades of history, research, and proven results, while the jury is still out on rapid detox. There are issues of safety and the possibility of heart attack, vomiting, and/or aspiration. And although the prospect of condensing detoxification into a few hours rather than several days is surely appealing, there have, in fact, been deaths from the rapid detox procedure.

Be sure to speak with your primary care provider before considering any alternative to medical detox.

Learn More About Our Co-Ed Medical Detox Program 

DetoxLA offers co-ed medical detox at our rehab center in Los Angeles. We provide the medical supervision, counseling, and support you need to complete medical detox and start your recovery on the right foot. We take the time to create a custom plan based on the needs and condition of each patient, and we make sure you know what to expect to reduce stress and risk. 

For more information on our co-ed medical detox program, contact DetoxLA today.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Dane is the Director of Brand Strategy for Never Alone Recovery, where he helps brands in the mental health, addiction, and recovery industries connect with their audiences. Dane’s interests include technology, the film industry, travel, marketing, music, and coffee.

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