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Medical Detoxification

Addiction can lead to wide-reaching consequences that affect multiple aspects of your life including your health, relationships, finances, and even your legal standing. Effective addiction treatment needs to address issues that are related to all of these areas of a person’s life, but treatment also follows a set hierarchy of needs, starting with your physical safety and well-being.

When you first enter addiction treatment, you will go through an intake process in which clinicians will assess your needs and place you in an appropriate level of care.

This evaluation is based on what is called the ASAM criteria, a six-dimension assessment that is outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The first two factors in the criteria involve your physical health; the first deals with your intoxication and withdrawal potential. If you enter into treatment intoxicated or having quit recently, you have a high likelihood of experiencing some type of withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary widely, depending on the type of drug on which you’ve become chemically dependent. Some drugs can cause uncomfortable symptoms while others may even cause life-threatening symptoms. Common symptoms that may be caused by different psychoactive substances include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Cramps
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Muscle tension and soreness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

The safest way to manage withdrawal is to go through medical detoxification to avoid potentially dangerous health complications. But withdrawal isn’t the only thing that can be treated in medical detox. The second dimension in the ASAM criteria is biomedical conditions and complications. Active addiction can take a toll on your health directly and indirectly.

For instance, alcohol abuse can directly contribute to liver disease, and it can indirectly lead to injuries caused by an accident that happened because you were intoxicated. Medical detox centers need to be equipped to handle both. Serious medical procedures like surgery will need to be addressed in a hospital or with a specialist. But detox centers can handle medical care and management for people who have ongoing needs.

Because of the priority that medical needs take in treatment, detox is often the first level of care people go through in the continuum of addiction care. Learn more about medical detox and how this first stop on the road to recovery can help you.

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What Is Detox Treatment?

Detox, or medical detoxification, is the highest level of care in addiction treatment. It involves 24-hour medically managed care and staff members that include board-approved medical professionals. This level of care is reserved for people who have immediate medical needs that are related to substance use directly or indirectly.

These needs are typically related to withdrawal, but they can also be related to disease or injuries. In medical detox, you will be treated to help avoid dangerous medical complications and alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. Detox involves three major facets, which include the following:

Medical Evaluation

Different drugs can affect your brain and body in different ways. Plus, the lifestyle of active addiction can cause medical complications such as infectious diseases, injuries, and diseases caused by drug abuse. When you arrive at a detox facility, you will go through a medical evaluation to help determine your need and the appropriate approach to treatment. Based on this evaluation, treatment will be tailored to you, and you may be prescribed medications to help wean you off the drug or to manage symptoms.

Medically Supervised Detox

Through your stay in a detox program, you will receive medically managed treatment. That means that on-staff medical professionals will be there to evaluate your condition and make changes to your treatment plan as needed, including administering medications. Medical staff will be available at all hours of the day to monitor your condition, and they will be ready to intervene if you experience any medical complications. Your safety will be a top priority while you will be kept as comfortable as possible.

Clinical Care

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), detox is an important step in addiction treatment, but it’s not an effective way to address long-term drug abuse on its own. For that reason, detox facilities often have clinicians on staff who can help connect you to the next level of care that’s ideal for your needs. Based on your medical, psychological, and social needs, you may continue to an inpatient program or an intensive outpatient program.

Frequently Asked Detox Treatment Questions

Do I Need Medical Detox Treatment Services?

If you’ve been using a drug or alcohol, and you’re wondering if medical detox is really necessary, there are a few things to consider. The first is the type of drug you’ve been using. Central nervous system depressants, such as benzodiazepines, prescriptions sleep aids, and alcohol, are the most dangerous category of drugs during withdrawal.

Depressants suppress your nervous system while you are taking them and when you quit, it can send your nervous system into overdrive. This can cause seizures and a potentially deadly condition called delirium tremens (DTs).

Plus, because of a phenomenon called kindling, if you’ve gone through depressant withdrawal before, you will be more likely to experience dangerous symptoms. However, medical treatment dramatically improves your odds of avoiding life-threatening symptoms.

Another factor you should consider is the threat of relapse. Opioids and stimulants are less likely to cause life-threatening symptoms during withdrawal. However, withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant, and it can cause powerful drug cravings.

If you go through withdrawal by yourself, you are much more likely to relapse, which can be dangerous. Even if you think your willpower will get you through, it may be more challenging than you think. Addiction is a disease that affects the brain, causing powerful compulsions to use that may get out of control.

doctor and patient outside at a table

How Long Is Medical Detox Treatment?

Like most aspects of addiction treatment, the length of time you spend in medical detox will be based on your specific needs. However, most people spend between five and 10 days in medical detox before moving on to the next level of care. It usually takes about a week for your body to adapt to the loss of a psychoactive chemical it has come to rely on. In some cases, it could take longer.

Within that time, your brain chemistry, which was thrown off balance by quitting the drug, will readjust to life without the chemical. If you still have high-level medical needs after you’ve gone through detox, you may go through an inpatient or residential program where you will continue to have 24-hour access to medical care. In some cases, detox can last as long as two weeks, but you are usually ready to advance in treatment within 10 days.

Can I Complete Detox and Go Home?

Addiction treatment is an ongoing process that requires continued care after treatment, especially if you’ve developed a severe substance use disorder. According to NIDA, drug addiction relapse rates can be as high as 60 percent, which is similar to other chronic diseases like hypertension, asthma, and diabetes. However, long-term care can improve treatment outcomes and lead to lasting sobriety. Though addiction is difficult to overcome, it can be successfully managed with the full continuum of care.

Continued Commitment to Recovery

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder that has caused chemical dependence or other health issues, medical detox may be the level of care you need to start your path to sobriety.

To learn more about medical detox and the addiction treatment process as a whole, speak to a treatment specialist at Desert View Recovery. Addiction may be a complicated and chronic disease, but it’s one that can be treated with the right services. Call at any time to take the first steps toward lasting recovery.

Sources

ASAM. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about

Becker, H. C., Ph.D. (1998). Kindling in Alcohol Withdrawal – Brochures and Fact Sheets. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/25-34.pdf

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). How effective is drug addiction treatment? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment

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