When Is Medical Detox Necessary?

Everyone has different needs when it comes to treating alcohol use disorder, a condition that can be diagnosed when your pattern of alcohol use is problematic and causes significant distress. It can range from mild to severe, depending on how many symptoms you have. The care you’ll need depends in part on where you fall in that range. However, when attempted alone, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. In the minds of many, the first step in breaking free from drug or alcohol addiction is to stop using whatever substance one has been abusing.

However, it’s not always that simple. In some cases, when an adult has been using certain substances in high quantities or for such a long period of time that they no longer have control over their usage, there needs to be a more hands-on process. This is where medical detox may be the best course of action to help them begin their recovery journey. Learn more about whether you can safely detox at home or should seek help from a medical professional.

When Is Medical Detox Necessary?

What Does it Mean to Detox? 

Detoxification, or detox, is the process of letting the body remove the drugs in it. The purpose of detox is to safely manage withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking drugs or alcohol.

Everyone has a different experience with detox. The type of drug and how long it was used affect what detox will be like. 

For many people, one of the biggest fears associated with addiction treatment is the fear of going through withdrawal. Giving up drugs or alcohol after a long period of heavy use can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, and without knowing what those symptoms are or how to handle them, the whole idea can be intimidating. The anticipation of withdrawal can be enough to derail a person’s motivation to enter rehab and attempt getting sober. Medical detox involves using medication and medical support to bring a drug or alcohol-dependent person to a non-dependent state. The person will receive specific medications so they are less likely to experience the severe side effects of withdrawal.

What Happens During an Assisted Medical Detox? 

Medical assessment

The first step in a medically assisted detox is for patients to have a thorough medical assessment in order to build an accurate picture of their individual needs. During this assessment, an expert will gather information on a patient’s medical history and details about their addiction, and use this to develop a personalized detox plan.


When the amount of alcohol/drugs in a patient’s system is gradually reduced, they will typically begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. The type of withdrawal symptoms that are experienced, as well as how severe these are, depending on how long a person has been addicted to alcohol or drugs, the type of substance that they are addicted to, how much they have been consuming, and their general mental and physical health.

It is important to understand that each person experiences detox in a unique way, and each new detox is entirely different, regardless of whether someone has gone through detox previously.

Withdrawal can result in a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms.


In order to help patients to cope with withdrawal, they will be given appropriately controlled medication as part of the detox process. There is no medication that prevents all withdrawal symptoms, but some types of medication can help to ease anxiety and depression, enable sufficient sleep, and counteract as many other problems as possible.

Around the clock support

Research has shown that supportive and compassionate care is just as important as medication in enabling successful detox and the best possible outcomes for patients. Therefore, each person going through detox will be carefully monitored, 24 hours a day, for the duration of the process.

When Is Medical Detox Needed?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) advises inpatient detox for withdrawal from sedatives such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Xanax) and from alcohol. Withdrawal from alcohol and benzos can result in severe anxiety, agitation, and seizures. Supervised medical detox can provide the safest environment for you if you’re anticipating withdrawal from these drug types. 

SAMHSA also recommends inpatient medical detox for opioid withdrawal, which may have relatively less acutely dangerous health risks but can make you very sick and can result in some complications such as dehydration.

Given the inherently higher intensity of care that comes with supervised medical detoxification, such a setting may be additionally beneficial for you if you:

  • Have a co-occurring mental health disorder.
  • Have a comorbid medical condition.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Have had multiple and/or severe withdrawal experiences in the past, especially if each withdrawal attempt has been worse than the previous one.
  • Have been abusing multiple substances.

How Medication-Assisted Treatment Works

There is a stigma behind helping recovering addicts reach sobriety with the assistance of medications. However, our goal is to break this stigma. Because opioids are such addictive drugs, they require more intensive treatments when you’re going through drug rehab. Other substances are often needed to lessen the severity of the withdrawal symptoms and the long-term effects opioid abuse has caused. This is where MAT comes in.

We use two FDA-approved medications to treat opioid abuse: naltrexone and buprenorphine. Our licensed staff prescribes and administers these in small doses. We allow all three to be trialed in order to find which one works the best for each patient. We will only use MAT for the necessary duration to help an individual reach a point where they no longer need medication.

Requiring medication-assisted treatment in West Virginia is not something anyone should be ashamed of. We want more people to understand that. By using medications to manage the effects of opioids, our patients at Harmony Ridge have a better chance of being able to focus solely on their recovery.

Types of Medication for Assisted Detox

Naltrexone for Medical Detox

Naltrexone helps patients cope with the effects of opioid withdrawal. Used in a pill or injection form, it blocks out the euphoric high that comes along with the type of drugs the patient has been abusing. The naltrexone also cuts down the urge to use that many recovering addicts face during treatment. 

Like any other medication, it comes with some possible side effects, which can include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping

Because it can cause liver damage with excess use, it will be closely administered by our medical professionals.

Buprenorphine for Medical Detox

Buprenorphine is the first medication medical staff uses to treat opioid addiction, and it can be prescribed by any doctor’s office. Other medications can only be given out by certified clinics like ours. Buprenorphine is usually available in pill form, and it alleviates the side effects of opioid withdrawal. Buprenorphine also decreases cravings that come along with the drug abuse treatment process.

Although it has the potential to be abused itself, it is sometimes mixed with naltrexone to decrease this potential. It has uncomfortable side effects that can come along with use that can include:

  • Fever
  • Constipation
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability

Is A Medication-Assisted Program Right For Me?

While no one can make this decision for you, and ultimately the need for medications is determined by our qualified medical staff, we highly suggest considering all facets of a medication-assisted treatment program. 

You should understand how it works and what it offers to see if our MAT program matches your needs. Some questions you can ask yourself are:

  • Do you have trouble maintaining your sobriety in abstinence-based treatment programs?
  • Do you commonly relapse upon treatment completion or while in treatment?
  • Do you want to be able to stay clean with the assistance of craving-reducing medications while working on your long-term goal of obtaining and maintaining long-term, total abstinence?
  • Are you willing to take medications as prescribed and for their sole purpose of helping you maintain your sobriety during treatment?

How Harmony Ridge Can Help with Medical Detox

Medication-assisted treatments can be overwhelming to think about due to the risk of the medication used becoming addictive. We are here to help you understand that, if done correctly, MAT is an amazing way to help cope with addiction. Our staff is highly trained and certified to provide the care necessary to include MAT in our treatment programs.

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to substance addiction, we are here to provide you with helpful information. In order to obtain your normal life back, it is more than likely you will need some form of substance abuse treatment. Please contact us today, and we will help you start your journey to recovery.

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