Medical Detoxification from Drugs or Alcohol

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.

What Is Medical Detox?

Detox sign with stethoscope

When someone has developed significant dependence to one or more substances, an abrupt reduction or cessation of their use can lead to a range of challenging mental and physical withdrawal symptoms.1 Medical detoxification serves as a way to address acute intoxication and withdrawal in a supervised environment where doctors and other medical staff can provide comfort care, as well as medications, to help the patient through the detox process.2

Medical detoxification is NOT a substitute for comprehensive addiction treatment. However, it is a potential entry point into rehab or another form of substance abuse treatment.2 Because medical detox can make the withdrawal process easier to bear, it may minimize the likelihood of immediate relapse and make it easier for the patient to focus on their continued recovery efforts.2 In an inpatient treatment facility that offers medical detox, such as Laguna Treatment Hospital, once the patient feels well enough, staff can help them make a transition into therapeutic services and ongoing treatment.

Why Choose Medical Detox?

Treatment often requires a swift change in direction. You or your loved one may have to leave everything behind to stay in an inpatient program for a month or more, for example. It can sometimes seem like too much. It can be tempting to think that maybe it’s better to try to taper off your drug(s) of choice yourself or attempt an at-home cold-turkey detox.

Unfortunately, this process may not be as simple as it sounds. For some substances such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, the withdrawal syndrome can be severe, even life-threatening.2 Trying to quit or taper these substances without medical support can be perilous in some cases.2 For other substances, the withdrawal syndrome may not be as immediately dangerous but can be uncomfortable enough to cause relapse. Opioids, for example, have a withdrawal syndrome that can feel like a terrible flu.2 Left unmanaged, the swift onset of extreme sickness can prompt a quick return to opioids even if you really want to quit using them.

Medical detox helps to ease the transition into sobriety.

Medical detox helps to ease the transition into sobriety. With this form of care, you are not left to endure the symptoms of withdrawal alone, a process that can easily lead you right back to using drugs or alcohol again to find relief. In an accredited medical detox facility, qualified doctors and nurses look after you day and night to help you through the detox process, providing medications to alleviate symptoms and curb cravings while monitoring your health.2 Should any concerning symptoms arise, medical staff can intervene immediately. With some forms of substance dependence, withdrawal management will include a tapered schedule of treatment medications to minimize symptoms and lower the risk of withdrawal complications.2

At Laguna Treatment Hospital, we utilize EarlySense technology, which is a noninvasive monitoring system placed under the patient’s bed that will alert staff of any concerning changes in the patient’s status arise. If you have a loved one in treatment with us, you can rest assured that we are continually watching for any changes in your family member’s condition and taking the necessary steps to keep them safe.

Signs and Symptoms of Withdrawal

Different types of substance dependence are associated with varying signs and symptoms of withdrawal. Many withdrawal syndromes include both physical and psychological symptoms. Some examples of the potential range of symptoms include:2

  • Mood changes.
  • Depression.
  • Anhedonia (inability to feel joy).
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Headaches.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Sweating, runny nose, and watery or red eyes.
  • Shakiness of the hands.

The above is a general list of possible symptoms seen with various types of substance withdrawal. For more specific information, view NIDA’s substance-specific list of commonly used drugs and their associated withdrawal symptoms.

When Is Medical Detox Needed?

Man addicted to alcohol

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. At their most extreme, undermanaged alcohol withdrawal symptoms may progress to a condition known as delirium tremens (DTs), a potentially deadly syndrome characterized by profound confusion, impaired consciousness, hallucinations, and severe autonomic nervous system hyperactivity (e.g., dangerously elevated blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature).3 A 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.2

Given the inherently higher intensity of care that comes with  a supervised medical detoxification, such a setting may be additionally beneficial for you if you:2

What Happens after Detox?

therapy group at Laguna Treatment Hospital

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), medical detox is “only the first stage of treatment.” Alone, detox is not enough to address a person’s addiction, as its sole focus is physical dependence and not all the social, psychological, and behavioral issues surrounding addiction.2 NIDA states that, without additional treatment post-detox patients will often relapse.4

Rehab programs—whether inpatient or outpatient—provide you an opportunity to delve into the issues that sustain continued problematic drug use. They can help you learn the skills you need to resist cravings and manage triggers, and to develop new ways of coping with negative feelings that don’t involve drug use. Both inpatient and outpatient programs can serve patients well and support recovery. Outpatient programs are less intensive than inpatient programs, providing fewer hours of treatment per week and allowing for more freedom, so they are often preferred by patients with less severe substance use disorders or those who’ve completed a more intensive program.

Recovery meetings, such as those hosted by various 12-step groups, are often part of rehab and are encouraged after you leave treatment so that you stay connected to a sober community and that you both receive support and give support to others. In times when it’s not possible to attend in-person meetings, American Addiction Centers (Laguna’s parent company) offers virtual 12-Step meetings. 

To learn more about medical detoxification and what treatment post-detox may entail, call us now at . Our Admissions Navigators are available 24/7 to discuss how we can help you or your loved one find recovery.

Detox FAQs