Detoxification is a broad term that we hear quite often in our current culture. It can refer to juice cleanses and fad diets that claim to remove toxins from your system. But in the context of addiction treatment, detox is a critical step on the road to recovery. When you stop using a psychoactive drug, it can cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms that range from uncomfortable to dangerous, depending on several factors. Medical detox is an important process that is designed to get you through withdrawal safely and as comfortable as possible.
Not every addiction requires an extremely high level of care like medical detox, but there are a few drugs that can cause extremely uncomfortable symptoms and others that can be life-threatening. If you have developed a substance use disorder, it’s important to speak to a professional and explore your detox options.
Do you need to visit a medical detox program or will a hospital work? Can you just detox at home? Learn more about addiction, detox, and what makes it necessary, if you or a loved one might be struggling with a substance use disorder.
Also called medically managed intensive inpatient services, detox treatment is a highly intensive, medically managed level of care in addiction treatment. It’s designed to safely guide you through drug withdrawals, treat pressing medical conditions, and avoid serious complications. Detox typically lasts for one week, but in some cases, it can be closer to two weeks.
Medically managed services can help you prevent uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms, but they also enable you to avoid relapse. On your own, it may be difficult to make it through the discomfort and cravings of withdrawal without seeking a relapse. In detox, you will have 24 hours of monitoring every day, ensuring that you don’t use drugs in a moment of weakness.
If you’ve started to develop a dependency on any psychoactive drug, or if you’ve been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, you may be wondering if you need a medical detox. There are several factors that go into determining if detox is necessary for you. However, the best way to find the right treatment options for your specific needs is to speak to a professional. When you enter a treatment program, you will go through an intake and assessment process that will help determine the severity of your biological and physical needs.
That assessment process is primarily based on the placement criteria of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). The criteria is a six-dimension litmus test for determining the right level of care for a person seeking addiction treatment. It also can be used to reassess people who are moving through treatment to the next level of care. The first three dimensions speak to people who may need high levels of care like medical detox. These dimensions include:
It’s common for people to first enter an addiction treatment program having recently stopped using or even being under the influence. People who have recently used certain drugs are at risk of experiencing dangerous withdrawal symptoms and often require medical detox.
Addiction is closely tied to certain medical complications such as infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Medical conditions can also be underlying factors in the cause of addiction. Whether related or not, medical conditions need to be addressed in treatment. If they are serious, they may need a high level of care like detox.
Just as medical complications need to be addressed in treatment, psychological conditions are a serious factor. Mental illness is closely related to addiction and can inform clinicians as to the appropriate next step after detoxification.
If you have become dependent on a psychoactive drug, several factors can determine the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. First, the type of drug you used will determine the type of symptoms you experience. Opioids often cause flu-like symptoms during withdrawal. In extreme cases, vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous without medical treatment.
Cocaine, methamphetamine, and other stimulant drugs can cause psychological side effects such as depression, anxiety, and paranoia. In extreme cases, people who are withdrawing from stimulants experience thoughts of suicide.
Depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines are the most dangerous illicit drugs to withdrawal from. Common symptoms include anxiety, panic, insomnia, and tremors. In severe cases, it can cause seizures and a life-threatening condition called delirium tremens, also known as DTs. However, the prognosis of these extreme symptoms is dramatically improved by medical care. If you have become dependent on alcohol or any other depressant, speak to a doctor about options for a safe detox before quitting cold turkey.
When you first notice you’ve developed a dependence on a chemical substance, your first inclination may be to just tough it out at home. If you can go through withdrawal on your own, then maybe you won’t have to bother anyone else or pay any medical bills. However, in most cases, this is a bad idea; in some cases, it’s a dangerous one. Withdrawal symptoms can range from terribly uncomfortable to life-threatening, depending on the type of drug you used and the amount you were accustomed to using.
Most addictive drugs can cause powerful cravings during withdrawal. Going through withdrawal symptoms alone likely results in relapse when the cravings and the symptoms become too much to bear. If you are dependent on depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines, withdrawal can cause seizures or a potentially deadly condition called delirium tremens. With medical help, the prognosis for these complications is greatly improved.
Some people who go through withdrawals check themselves into hospitals, and this is a lot safer than trying to go through it alone. Hospitals will make sure you’re in stable condition and treat any serious complications. For instance, opioid withdrawal can cause flu-symptoms that can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can cause a number of life-threatening medical conditions, and in serious cases, even lead to death.
Hospital staff can help you avoid reaching dangerous levels of dehydration and help treat some of the symptoms. If you have no other recourse, a hospital is a safe bet when it comes to treating dangerous withdrawal.
However, some withdrawal symptoms come and go for a week. A hospital will help you by treating pressing needs until you are stabilized at which point they will either release you or refer you to a detox specialist.
A medical detox program is better equipped to handle your needs throughout your detox process. They can ease symptoms, wean you off drugs that have dangerous withdrawal symptoms, and address other medical needs like other diseases, infections, or injuries.
After you complete detox at a medical detox facility, you will be connected to the next level of care that’s appropriate for your needs.
Private detox facilities that have board-certified medical professionals on staff are the best option for people who go through detox. Not only will they ensure your safety, but they will connect you to resources to help you continue to pursue recovery.
Addiction and withdrawal are serious issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible. Addiction can cause serious, long-lasting consequences, but your likelihood of experiencing extreme consequences decreases the faster you seek treatment.
ASAM. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, January 14). Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm