Drug and Alcohol Detox Guide
Drug and alcohol detox is the first step in the journey for many patients. Because addiction to many drugs comes with a physical tolerance, patients often experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using that substance. Detoxification under the care of substance treatment and medical professionals allows them to manage the resulting withdrawal symptoms swiftly and safely, minimizing the risk of relapse, before moving forward to the next step in treatment: a personalized addiction treatment plan characterized by traditional, alternative, and holistic therapy options.
What is Detoxification?
Detoxification, or detox, refers to the initial phase of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction that offers patients medical care as needed as well as therapeutic support as they navigate the withdrawal symptoms that often come after the cessation of use of addictive substances.
A bare-bones, short-term detox may provide only the basics – emergency medical care and a place to stay during the most significant withdrawal symptoms – but a high-end drug detox program will offer a range of services and amenities in order to ensure that the needs of each patient are met. Depending upon whether or not the patient struggles with co-occurring mental health disorders, underlying medical issues, and past attempts at detox, services may include:
- Medical care: Not everyone will require medical stabilization at the onset of detox, medication during detox, or medical care of any kind, but all patients should undergo an initial medical assessment and receive any medical care and monitoring necessary to ensure their safety and health throughout the detox process and beyond.
- Therapeutic support: The psychological withdrawal symptoms associated with detox can be significant, and all patients will benefit from access to a range of therapeutic options based on their needs. Traditional therapy options like personal therapy and group therapy are available to all, and each patient may also take part in alternative and holistic treatment options as well during the detox period.
- Regular assessments: Throughout the detox process, which can last up to a few weeks, patients will have regular check-ins with their therapeutic team as well as ongoing medical monitoring as needed to make sure that their needs continue to be met, and detox and treatment goals are adjusted as needed.
- Aftercare support, treatment, or referrals: Detox is an important part of addiction treatment, but it is not a cure or enough on its own to help a patient to stabilize in recovery.
What Drugs Require Detox?
Cessation of use of all drugs of dependence will require some medical and psychotherapeutic attention during the first few weeks of recovery. Detox from every drug is typically defined by a set of withdrawal symptoms that will vary depending upon the mechanism of that drug as well as the other factors listed above. These withdrawal symptoms may be psychological in nature or they may be physical in nature – and in most cases, patients will experience some degree of both. Detox is always recommended as the starting point in recovery no matter what the drug of choice.
At Home Detox vs. Medical Detox
Some patients would prefer to detox at home. Withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, and it is preferable to many to have the comfort of familiarity as they attempt to navigate the process of detox. Many patients have informally attempted detox at home multiple times before they consider professional treatment.
Unfortunately, opting for a self-detox at home is not only ineffective; it can be dangerous and even deadly as well. It is never recommended that patients attempt to stop using all substances of abuse without medical care.
Risks of At Home Detox
Some of the risks that are higher with choosing to detox at home as opposed to detoxing at a professional drug and alcohol rehabilitation center include:
- Mental health symptoms and complications: Chronic drug abuse and addiction can cause mental health symptoms, and it can also exacerbate the symptoms of an underlying mental health disorder. When a patient suddenly stops taking a drug that their brain is accustomed to receiving regularly, the effect can be extreme mental health symptoms – even psychosis, hallucinations, seizures, and more. This can be a devastating experience in any forum but in the care of medical professionals, the patient will have the treatment necessary to stabilize safely.
- Relapse: When the patient is at home, there is nothing standing between them and relapse except perhaps a concerned family member or two. It can be very tempting to relapse in order to stop the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that characterize the detoxification experience, and when at home, the patient may be more likely to do just that. When in the care of professionals, however, it is well known that this may be the compulsive desire of the patient, and extra care is taken to help support them through the detox process so they can avoid relapse until they are strong enough to do so on their own.
- Medical issues: Underlying medical issues can be just as problematic during detox as underlying mental health symptoms. In fact, many patients may not realize that they are living with an underlying medical concern until they detox and begin to experience complications or undergo a medical evaluation at the onset of treatment. Medical care can help to identify any issue that may problematic during detox, and it can also provide support and treatment as needed to ensure that any issues are mitigated before they become harmful.
- Overdose: Relapse at home can be deadly due to overdose after even a brief period of abstinence. Often, patients take larger doses of their drug of choice than they would otherwise in order to overcompensate for the severity of the withdrawal symptoms they are experiencing. Even those who take a “normal” dose may find that the dose is now far too much for their system to handle given the recalibration of their tolerance that occurred during their brief detox attempt. For this reason, it is highly recommended that patients undergo detox followed by intensive psychotherapeutic treatment until they are stable in recovery with the coping skills they need to avoid relapse for the long-term.
Benefits of Professional Detox Programs
In addition to helping patients to defend against the risks of at-home detox, there are a number of benefits that are provided to those who begin their treatment journey with professional care. Some of these benefits include:
- 24-hour support: At no point during the detox experience will a patient feel alone or without the support of medical and/or therapeutic professionals. An acute professional detox program will offer round-the-clock care that includes psychiatric treatment and peer support as well.
- Personalized care and amenities: Details like managing basic hygiene, eating healthfully, and attending to one’s mental wellness often fall through the cracks without support during the detox period. Substance abuse treatment professionals ensure that patients enrolled in detox stay active in a structured schedule that helps them to meet their needs on all levels.
- Preparation for therapeutic growth: Though the first weeks in detox may be too physically and/or emotionally draining to truly dive into therapeutic treatment, the first steps can be taken as soon as the patient is ready.
- Space to heal: When enrolled in a professional detox program, patients have the opportunity to step back from the pressures of life and focus on themselves – no bills, no knocks on the door, no intrusive phone calls, and no distractions. The sole focus of every day is on health, wellness, growth, and connecting with the services that will allow the patient to grow in recovery and leave drug and alcohol abuse in the past.
Typical Detox Program Timeline
Though each patient’s experience will be unique during detox and addiction treatment, there is a general process that most people will undertake if they choose an acute professional detox program. These include:
- Intake: When the patient first enters detox, they will undergo the intake process. For an acute treatment program, this will usually include a bag check; a brief tour; introduction to staff members, roommates, and/or other residents; and the completion of any paperwork that has not yet been taken care of prior to enrollment.
- Stabilization: In some cases, a patient enters detox in the midst of a medical and/or mental health crisis. In this situation, stabilization may be necessary immediately in order to ensure the patient’s safety.
- Evaluation: Medical and psychiatric care will begin with an evaluation and physical exam. This process is to determine whether or not there are acute medical issues that require treatment, a medication schedule that must be maintained, or the possibility that a chronic medical disorder may be an issue as well.
- Acute medical care: Based on the results of the evaluation, the patient will then be given the medical care needed to treat the acute care issues as they enter detox and begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.
- Detox plan: Depending upon the patient’s drug of choice, the use of other substances of addiction, their past experience with attempted detox, and other issues, a detox plan will be created and implemented. This could include medication to address specific withdrawal symptoms or long-term maintenance medication to manage detox over a longer period of time. It may call for specific therapeutic interventions per the patient’s treatment goals or co-occurring mental health issues. It may also dictate a nutrition and exercise plan as well as include a range of holistic treatment options in order to help simplify the detox process and limit the discomfort associated with both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
- Therapeutic treatment plan: In addition to the physical issues associated with detox, the psychological struggle that occurs due to cravings and the urge to drink or get high rather than deal with the cumbersome emotions that come with stopping the use of drugs and alcohol is addressed in detox. Personal therapy, group therapy sessions, and other forms of alternative therapies may begin during detox in order to help the patient to more quickly progress in recovery.
Learn More About Our Medical Detox Program
Drug and alcohol addiction is taxing both physically and psychologically. Detox is the first step in a much-needed recovery process that will empower the patient to leave drug and alcohol abuse in the past and begin to build a new life defined by balance and strength.
Learn more about the options available to you and your loved one in drug rehabilitation when you contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. We are here to assist you and help you and your family take the first steps toward a new life.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.