The What, Why and How of Medical Detox

Patient in a hospital bed.

For many people entering rehab, a preliminary step is medical detox, which can help to manage the sometimes severe or even life-threatening effects of withdrawal from certain drugs and alcohol. When physical dependence on a substance is present, medical detox for certain drugs can make withdrawal easier, safer and less unpleasant.

When your body stops getting the drugs or alcohol to which it has become accustomed, it reacts by causing cravings, pain and other symptoms, some of which can be dangerous. Withdrawal from alcohol and some drugs can cause flu-like symptoms, sweats, shakes and even seizures. The substances that typically cause the worst withdrawal symptoms are heroin, benzodiazepines and alcohol. Opioid pain medications can have similar withdrawal to heroin since both are opioids.

What Is Medical Detox?

Medical detox takes place in a medical facility with trained doctors and nurses who can supervise withdrawal and often make it more comfortable. Medications are not always given during medical detox, but they are often used to treat withdrawal symptoms like nausea and pain. Medical detox can take a few days to about 10 days, which is how long it takes to get enough drugs out of your system so that you stop feeling severe withdrawal symptoms.

In some cases, medical detox is just palliative to help you feel better as the drugs leave your system, but some drugs have to be gradually tapered off to avoid serious or even life-threatening complications. The most dangerous substances to detox from are benzodiazepines and alcohol, or a combination of the two. Most drugs cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Another benefit to medical detox is the controlled environment, which prevents people in detox from taking more of the substance to stop withdrawal symptoms. It can be extremely difficult to just stop using a substance that has been in your body for a long period of time, but medical detox can help you deal with both the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that you might experience during the detox process.

Medical doctor listening to patient's heart with stethoscope

What Comes After Medical Detox?

Although medical detox removes the drugs or alcohol from your system, in most cases this will not be enough to prevent you from resuming your substance use later. This is because there are often complex psychological reasons why you started misusing the substance in the first place. If those underlying issues are not addressed in a treatment setting through counseling, group therapy and other methods, it can be difficult for history not to repeat itself, potentially resulting in a recurrence of drug or alcohol use.

Medical detox can be an effective first step in treatment or rehab, but it is only a first step. Recovery is a lifelong process that involves your continued commitment to sobriety and the help and support from family, friends and the treatment community.  Contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake to discuss your treatment options today.