Drug And Alcohol Detoxification Programs

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on October 26, 2020

Individuals struggling with an addiction to drugs such as benzodiazepines, opioids, and alcohol may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when abruptly stopping use. A supervised medical detoxification is the first step in getting clean and sober.

Drug And Alcohol Detoxification

Understanding Drug And Alcohol Detoxification

Drug and alcohol detoxification is the process of the body ridding itself of harmful substances, which usually takes place before addiction treatment begins. Because detoxification can be harmful to a person, or even fatal if not treated properly, it’s best to complete the detox process under medical supervision.

For this reason, many inpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs include a detox component for those who need it. Medically supervised detoxification programs help individuals safely detox, restore physical health, and prepare for addiction treatment.

Finding an alcohol and drug detox center, followed by an inpatient treatment program, that best suits the person struggling with addiction’s individual needs is critical for long-term recovery.

Who Will Need Detox?

People with severe addictions, who experience withdrawal when not using substances, and who are addicted to certain substances of abuse will likely need to detox prior to treatment.

People who have addiction to drugs which lead to physical dependence, or a physical reliance on the drug to function, experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop use.

Some of these symptoms can be serious to life-threatening, such as:

  • seizures
  • increased body temperature
  • dangerously slowed or stopped breathing and/or heart rates
  • heart attack
  • coma

Withdrawal symptoms can also lead a person to vomit, hallucinate, or experience delusions. Such situations often require medical attention or support, and medically supervised detox programs provide this support.

Drugs which can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms include:

Although abuse of these drugs often leads to physical dependence and eventually withdrawal, each individual experience will vary. Because each individual case varies, and withdrawal and detoxification can be unpredictable, it’s best that each person undergoing detox do so in the safest manner possible—with medical support in a detox program.

Factors That Affect Detox

The severity of withdrawal symptoms, which affect a person’s detox experience, often depends on severity of abuse, duration of abuse, and drug of abuse. Type of withdrawal symptoms experienced will depend on the type of drug, and also if the drug is being abused with another substance.

For example, opioid withdrawal is rarely dangerous, but can be when abusing more than one opioid or when abusing opioids with other drugs, especially other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines.

All factors will be taken into account during the initial phase of detox, the clinical assessment, and addressed during the detox program.

Dangers Of Detoxing From Drugs And Alcohol At Home

Detoxing at home can be dangerous for several reasons. First, going through the detox process on one’s own means the person doesn’t have access to medical care in case of emergency medical situations, like seizures and coma.

Second, detoxing is the process that comes before treatment. If a person is detoxing for the purpose of overcoming addiction, it is best to detox with medical care and professional support. This both ensures the detox is successful and that the person makes it into treatment without relapsing (going back to substance abuse).

How Do Detox Programs Work?

Detox programs work by offering three main phases for each person who comes to detox:

  • clinical assessment
  • detoxification and withdrawal
  • preparation for formal treatment

Clinical Assessment

This first phase of a medically supervised detox program identifies the person’s drug of abuse, severity and duration of abuse, any co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders, and any other health conditions.

A full assessment allows for more complete and comprehensive treatment and healing. If a person is abusing two substances, the detox will likely be more complex. If they are struggling with both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, they will need treatment for the symptoms of their mental health disorder while undergoing detox.

Understanding which drug of abuse and the severity and duration of abuse is important as this helps determine how long a person will be in detox. Each person will have their own timeline, but detoxification can take from a few days (three) up to ten days.

Acute withdrawal symptoms of more severe addictions are typically treated during this time. Once the drug is out of a person’s system and these symptoms have been overcome, a person can move on to treatment.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms which occur with certain drugs of abuse (some benzodiazepine medications, for example) can persist for months, but medication-assisted treatment can help a person manage these symptoms while participating in inpatient treatment.

Some people will have other health conditions, whether pre-existing or brought on by substance abuse, and these will need to be taken into account during detoxification. Drug addiction often leads to poor overall health, which can result in vitamin deficiencies and dehydration, both conditions which can be treated during detoxification.

Detoxification And Withdrawal

Once a person has had their full clinical assessment, clinicians and other treatment professionals can determine the best course of action for their detox. Because detox is a fairly quick process, and treating it must match this timeframe, assessment and beginning detox will happen in a timely manner.

During detoxification, a person will be in a hospital-like environment, whether in a hospital facility or rehabilitation center. The first goal of detoxification is stabilization, or getting a person to a safe point. This is also the goal throughout detox as the worst of withdrawal symptoms arise.

While going through withdrawals, a person’s body functions will be affected, meaning their heart and breathing rates could slow, be stabilized, then slow again. Medical detoxes provide support throughout this process and aid in keeping all body functions at safe levels.

Medications Used During Detox

For the most severe and painful withdrawal symptoms, a person can receive medications to ease the discomfort, such as naltrexone (Vivitrol) or buprenorphine (Suboxone). This helps keep a person focused on the end goal of preparing for treatment, rather than focusing on abusing substances to ease the withdrawal symptoms.

Levels of substances in the body will be monitored throughout the process through drug testing, and once a person is rid of the substance and completely stable, they are ready to move on to a treatment program.

Preparing For Formal Treatment

After completing detox, or toward the end of the program as a person becomes more alert and able, staff and treatment professionals will design an addiction treatment program that fits their specific needs. If the person has a co-occurring disorder that had to be addressed during detox, it will also be addressed during inpatient addiction treatment.

If the person needs medication, gender-specific treatment, prefers alternative treatment or spiritual components, all of these will factor in to the individual treatment program. Medically supervised detox programs which are held at rehab centers typically pair with inpatient treatment programs for a seamless transition from detox to treatment.

What Happens After Drug And Alcohol Detox?

After detoxification is complete, the participant generally moves on to a treatment program. There are several different types of addiction treatment programs, but the most effective for those who need detox is inpatient treatment.

Inpatient treatment programs immerse participants in a substance-free environment, providing everything they need to manage addiction for a lasting recovery. Methods used in these programs can include behavioral therapy, counseling, group and individual therapy, alternative treatments, medication-assisted therapy, and more.

People who move straight to treatment from detox have a higher chance of succeeding in recovery than those who detox and do not complete treatment. To learn more about drug and alcohol detoxification programs and the treatment that comes after, contact us today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more
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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on October 26, 2020
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