Medical detoxification (detox) is a crucial first step in recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. Because alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening when severe, medical alcohol detox is necessary. Medical drug detox is built for individuals who show signs of a physical and psychological dependence on drugs.
If you believe that you or a loved one has a drug or alcohol use issue, a medical detox program will help to resecure a healthy lifestyle once again. Our team at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center’s medical detox program will provide a foundation upon which to build better and healthier habits. Regardless of choice to initiate your recovery path, to learn about the characteristics of detox programs will allow you to find a plan that best fits your needs.
What is Medical Detox?
Medical detox refers to cleansing the body of toxic, addictive substances under the supervision of medical professionals. The medical team will usually be conducted by a physician, which consists of clinical staff, therapists, and nurses. Some facilities will utilize advanced practice staff like physician assistants or nurse practitioners to deliver medical care during the detoxification process.
The term detox may sound like familiar as a way to describe cleansing the body of unhealthy food. But do you know what medical detox is and how it differs from our common understanding of the term?
Similar to asthma, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis, addiction is a common condition that pops up occasionally but can be controlled. Medical detox plays a similar role in addiction that a hospital emergency department plays in the management of long-term medical conditions.
Identical to an ER visit for asthma tack, medical detox for substance-abuse will provide stabilization for an acute flareup of chronic disease, but by itself will not change the long-term course of the condition.
For most who seek inpatient drug and alcohol treatment, medical detox is the priority, and detox will occur at the very beginning of treatment. While detox alone is not considered addiction treatment, individuals who complete medical detox have a higher chance of staying in treatment longer and having more prolonged stretches of sobriety.
When is Medical Detox Necessary?
Individuals with substance addictions who have become or are already at risk of becoming physically dependent on substances are top candidates for medical detox.
The physical dependence of substances will be most likely if you have:
- Used substances over an extended period
- Used substances regularly in large amounts
- Require increasing amounts of substances to feel the usual effect
- Tried quitting substance use but we’re unable without help
- Had substance cravings frequently when not having access to it
- Experienced diminished effect over time using the same amount of substance
Individuals with substance use disorders will usually check into medical detox when they’re at risk of experiencing the effects of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. Along with tolerance, the presence of withdrawal happens when the individual has become physically dependent on the substance.
Each substance has a characteristic pattern of withdrawal symptoms that are caused by chemical effects within the body and mind that come about with the consumption of a substance is reduced or stopped altogether.
Substances that Require Medical Detox
Evaluation and treatment for potential withdrawal symptoms will be required for an addiction to any of the substances listed below:
- Alcohol: When consumed, alcohol inhibits the activity of the central nervous system, which has control over automated body functions like heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, stress responses, and motor movements. Withdrawing from alcohol causes a rise in body temperature, high blood pressure, anxiety, tremors, and increased heart rate along with other symptoms.
- Benzodiazepines: Also known as benzos, these drugs are sedative medications used to treat anxiety and, in some cases, seizures. Benzos have a similar chemical effect on the body, and the brain is alcohol does, and both cause similar withdrawal symptoms.
- Opioids: Opioids are prescription medications that come from the poppy plant and are primarily prescribed to treat pain. Because opioids create the same effect of the body’s natural endorphins, taking them regularly will lead to a shut down of endorphins, which will make the body reliant on the effects of opioid use. Although opioid withdrawal is not fatal on its own, withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable.
- Prescription Drugs: Many prescription medications are misused purposely to feel the effects of a high or relief from stress. In addition to opioids and benzos, prescription drugs like sleeping medications, gabapentin, and muscle relaxers can also be abused. Each different prescription drug will have a relatively unique withdrawal effect.
- Stimulants: Some more popular street drug stimulates are methamphetamine, MDMA, and cocaine. Although stimulants won’t produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, most users will become severely depressed once usage has stopped.
- Synthetic Drugs: The most popular and fatal synthetic drug is the prescription opioid fentanyl, which also creates significant withdrawal symptoms that a medical detox can successfully handle.
Expectations of Medical Detox
During medical detox, the treatment staff will help customize medical detox care to each patient’s needs.
Patients will undergo comprehensive evaluations to ensure that these needs are met, where the clinicians will screen for:
- Co-occurring disorders
- Medical conditions
- Drug and alcohol use disorders
- Risk for withdrawal
- Contributing psychological factors
Once the evaluation is completed, the medical detox process will begin.
Medications Used During Detox
During the detox process, addiction medications will be given to lessen withdrawal symptoms and decrease cravings, becoming very helpful for some patients. These medications are administered on a patient by patient basis under the supervision of a medical professional.
Some medications most commonly used during medical detox will include:
- Methadone: This drug is a fully active opioid that carries all of the risks of an opioid; however, when monitored, methadone detox is a highly effective way to prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms.
- Naltrexone: Used for the treatment of both alcohol and opioid use disorders, naltrexone will act as a long-acting opioid blocking agent. To receive naltrexone during detox, the patient must be absent from opioids for at least seven days.
- Vivitrol: This is a form of injectable medication that is often utilized during treatment for alcohol and opioid use disorders. The patient can only receive vivitrol once they’ve absent from alcohol or opioid use for at least 7 to 10 days.
- Suboxone: This prescription drug is equally effective as methadone and treating the withdrawal symptoms. Its active ingredient buprenorphine is also an activator of the opioid receptors but carries less addiction and overdose risk than methadone.
- Sublocade: This prescription drug is a long-acting injectable form of buprenorphine. Sublocade’s form of administration will help limit the risk of abuse. However, it is vital to understand that Sublocade can only be administered to patients who have already received several doses of suboxone for at least seven days.
Length of Medical Detox Process
The length of stay and intensity of the detox process will depend on many factors which include:
- Type of substance used: The substance used will determine how severe the withdrawal symptoms will be. For instance, alcohol withdrawal can be induced in just a few hours after the last drink, sometimes requiring the patient to take a dose of substitute medication for a few days.
- Duration and frequency of use: The longer the user has taken the substance, the more likely the effects of physical dependence will become present. Similarly, the more substances and the more extended period an individual uses, the more likely a physical dependence may develop.
- Amount of substance used: A more substantial substance use will tend to promote a faster tolerance as the body will need to take drastic measures to acclimate itself into the intake of a large amount of drug. This will develop into a tolerance which will require more of the substance to be consumed to feel the same effect.
- Individual factors: Weight, body chemistry, metabolic rate, and genetics will all help determine the presence of substance withdrawal, and the response of the withdrawal to treatment.
Although each patient’s timetable to fully cleanse will vary, primarily, the medical detox process will last 5 to 7 days.
Safety of a Medical Detox vs. Detox at Home
To detox at home could be fatal due to seizures or loss of consciousness in some cases, depending on which substance an individual is withdrawing from. Detox should always be overseen by a medical professional.
Once an individual experiences withdrawal from substance use, medical detox will be a priority to eliminate substances from the body effectively. Each level of the process will be supervised by a physician lead medical team of nurses and clinical staff, all of who have been trained in addiction treatment.
For most substances, the withdrawal process will cause fluctuation in blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature; therefore, treatment staff will closely monitor those vital signs.
The medical detox process will take place at a licensed detox facility with medical oversight from experienced addiction specialists. A medical detox facility will give round the clock supervision by medical staff who can administer meds or assistance to ease the pain that comes from withdrawal.
Next Steps After Detox
Efficient alcohol and drug rehab programs will address both the physical and psychological natures of addiction. The detox process will address the physical consequences of substance use but alone cannot alter the natural course of addiction. Medical detox works in combination as an introduction to an extensive treatment program that will address the underlying spiritual, emotional, and behavioral causes of addiction. Patients in medical detox will usually transition immediately upon release right into an inpatient treatment center.
Depending on the substance used, home life and other obligations (like work or school) will play a factor in whether the individual enlists into inpatient or outpatient therapy. Both will have their benefits and keep the focus on the goal, continuing the path of a sober lifestyle.
Medical Detox Programs at Harmony Ridge
Harmony Ridge Recovery Center is a nationally-recognized drug and alcohol detox and treatment facility. We provide a comfortable transition from addiction to sobriety in a caring and nurturing environment. Our team of dedicated medical professionals has helped countless individuals, like you, achieve and maintain a fulfilling life lives, free from substance abuse.
Contact us today to learn more about our programs. We are awaiting your call!