Detox for Addiction

Detox is the starting point of addiction treatment. During a detox, people suffering from addiction are cut off from any addictive substances. Gradually, their bodies re-learn how to function without the presence of drugs. Doctors and family members watch over the person during the detox period to keep them safe. Medications may also be administered to ease potential side effects.

Detox Overview

Medically assisted detoxification, commonly known as detox, is the first step in treating addiction. Before a person can start an effective rehab plan, they need to remove the drugs from their system.

Detox involves flushing drugs or alcohol from a person’s body in a controlled manner. Though some people can stop using drugs without serious side effects, most people are given medications during the detox process to curb withdrawal symptoms. While these symptoms are uncomfortable, in most cases they are not life-threatening.

However, these symptoms may drive people to use the abused substance(s) again and not complete their detox. Because of this, doctors, family and loved ones must closely monitor them and adjust their treatments as necessary.

In many cases, detox can be done at home with proper supervision. However, it can also be done in a medical facility to ensure a person’s safety.

In short, detox allows people to get a clean start on a life without drugs.

Detox and the Treatment Process

Because detoxification is the first step in the treatment process, it goes hand-in-hand with long-term rehabilitation. Those looking to detox should consult an addiction specialist who can guide them through the process. Relatives, friends or loved ones can also seek out these specialists and urge the person struggling with addiction to get help.

The detox process starts by cutting off the person’s drug intake. This will allow their bodies to function properly without drugs in their system.

The length of the detox process depends on what drug(s) the person is addicted to. In general, detox lasts from a few days to a few weeks. By the time the detox is over, the person’s body will be free of lingering drugs. In addition, most of the withdrawal symptoms will have passed.

In some cases, a person may refuse to seek detox and addiction treatment despite the drawbacks to addiction. In the state of Florida, the Marchman Act allows concerned family members or loved ones to legally request they seek treatment. If a judge agrees, the person in question can be legally obligated to undergo detoxification and rehabilitation.

Though detox is crucial to recovery, it is only one part of the treatment process. Detox alone will not be enough for someone to achieve long-term sobriety. After a detox, people battling an addiction must seek rehabilitation that can teach them how to live drug-free.

Where Can Detox Take Place?

Detox can take place in many different settings, including a hospital, at home or at another facility. An addiction specialist can help determine what place will work best for you.

Some places are better than others depending on the person and the addiction. For example, someone who experiences life-threatening withdrawal symptoms should be placed in a hospital setting.

The two most common detox settings are:

  • Outpatient Detox: Outpatient detox allows people to recover without staying in a hospital. In most cases, outpatient detox is done at the patient’s home. Outpatient detox works best for those who are motivated to start the treatment process and who will not have serious withdrawal symptoms. Addiction specialists and family members must monitor those undergoing outpatient detox closely so they can fully recover.
  • Inpatient Detox: Inpatient detox typically takes place in hospital setting, where doctors and nurses watch the person. Inpatient detox works better for people who have a severe addiction or those who are not motivated to recover on their own. Hospital settings allow people to recover safely, as medical experts can quickly adjust treatments if complications arise.

What is Withdrawal?

When people experience symptoms stemming from drug deprivation, it is known as withdrawal.

Before detox, a person’s body is accustomed to their drug use. When they reduce or stop their drug use, their bodies will not be used to living without the drug in their system. As a result, they may experience discomfort.

Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological, as addiction is a disease that affects the body and mind. Note that these symptoms vary depending on the addiction and the person’s overall health.

  • Physical Symptoms: Include tremors, nausea, fever, headaches and muscle pains. Those undergoing severe withdrawal may experience life-threatening seizures. Physical symptoms generally clear up after a few weeks.
  • Psychological Symptoms: Include extreme drug cravings, mood swings, depression and anxiety. Psychological withdrawal symptoms can persist for months after the initial detox in some cases.

Because withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, it is very important to consult an addiction specialist before undergoing any type of detox. Often, they will be able to provide medications to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Detox Medications

Addiction specialists will administer medications during detox. These medications are not used for long-term addiction management, but instead help manage discomfort due to withdrawal. They also help the body wean off of the abused drug.

Doctors use different combinations of drugs to make the detox process easier. Medications are most commonly used in inpatient treatment facilities. In these settings, 80% of detoxifications are aided by medications. In some cases, addiction specialists can administer detox medications to take at home for those undergoing outpatient therapy.

Not every drug for addiction has a medication that will help with withdrawal or detoxification. Doctors can recommend other treatment options to manage withdrawal symptoms in these cases.

Next Steps After Detox

Once a person has successfully undergone a detox, they are ready to receive long-term treatment for their addiction. In most cases, people are admitted into a rehab program which teaches them how to live long-term without drugs.

If a person relapses despite previous rehab attempts, they will need to undergo another detox before they can seek treatment. While this can be frustrating to loved ones, it is important to encourage the person with the addiction to try again and not shame them.

The detox process is only one part of the treatment process, and it can prove challenging in some cases. However, good communication between doctors, family members and the person undergoing treatment can make the process simpler and more comfortable.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Dr. Kent Hoffman has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/14/2019