What is Medical Detox?
Medical detox, also referred to as medically assisted detox, is the use of medication in a controlled and monitored environment to flush drugs from the body. It is also particularly useful in managing short-term drug withdrawal symptoms, which can be psychological as well as physical. Medical detox is usually the first stage of addiction treatment and typically precedes inpatient and outpatient drug treatment. Sometimes medication is still needed to manage the long-term withdrawal effects when an individual is in rehab, this is known as medically assisted treatment (MAT).
Detox can take several days or several weeks. How long medical detox takes will vary depending on the substance and the severity of the addiction. Other factors include the individual’s overall physical and mental health, age, gender, and metabolism. Additionally, there are different types of medical detox including rapid detox, a process where the individual is put under anesthesia and the drugs are quickly flushed out in as little as a few hours. But faster isn’t necessarily better. This type of drug detox comes with a number of health risks and traditional medical detox is still the preferred method.
Drugs that Don’t Require Medical Detox
Drugs such as alcohol, benzos, heroin, and prescription painkillers significantly alter brain chemistry and medical detox is always recommended. These substances are highly addictive which is why they elicit drastic (and potentially fatal) withdrawal effects that necessitate medical detox. The stronger the physical dependence it causes, the higher the likelihood that ceasing use of it could impair bodily function to a dangerous degree.
As such, the strength of the drug’s hold on the brain and body (or lack thereof) can usually serve as an indicator of whether medical detox is needed. The drugs listed below are drugs that either aren’t as addictive or don’t cause major withdrawal effects. So although these drugs can cause unpleasant side effects or become a hard habit to kick, the results of quitting them are rarely life-threatening.
Still, that’s not to say that these drugs will never require medical detox. Need can vary on a case-by-case basis as pre-existing medical conditions, polydrug use, or concurrent mental illness can complicate things and turn a low-risk drug situation into a precarious one. It’s important to evaluate how you feel and to set yourself up for the most successful result.
Ultimately, determining whether medical detox is necessary will depend on your body’s individual reaction to drug withdrawal. If you’re concerned that you may experience withdrawal complications or simply that you might relapse, the supervision and controlled environment of a detox facility could only benefit you.
Medical Detox Alternatives
Even if medical detox isn’t necessary, detoxification itself is still a crucial role in addiction treatment. Getting off a drug is the first step towards getting clean and there are several non-medical detox options.
Social detox (which may also be referred to as community detox) taps into the power of social support networks to help individuals manage the physical effects of drug addiction. They are formally defined as short-term, nonmedical treatment services that use interpersonal support. The range of supervision and medical support can vary between programs but is significantly less intensive than that of medical detox. As such, social detox is best suited for those with mild addictions and with equally mild withdrawal symptoms.
Drug tapering is a common practice in the rehab community. It is the act of slowly decreasing drug usage over time. This reduces the likelihood of incurring withdrawal effects that abrupt stoppage could cause. However, it’s very possible to take too little (or too much), and is why the tapering off method is strongly recommended to be done so under the supervision of a medical professional. There are three different types of tapering methods: direct which means reducing the amount of the substance; substitution which involves swapping the drug with a different, more easily tapered drug; and titration which is dissolving a small amount of the drug in water and then consumed regularly.
Last but not least, the controversial “cold turkey” method. Quitting a drug suddenly can result in the nastiest of withdrawal effects and is widely recommended against by recovery experts. However, there are plenty of instances it’s worked for individuals, particularly cases where the addiction is more psychological than physical. For the majority of individuals with a drug addiction, this is the most potentially dangerous detox option, and depending on the severity of your addiction, can be more harmful than helpful.
Is Detox Necessary to Recover From Addiction? Yes!
Detox is an essential part of breaking the addiction cycle. Once the body has developed a physical dependence on a substance, trying to quit “cold turkey” can result in a quick onset of adverse reactions–some of which can be deadly. Medical detox allows for the safe elimination of drugs from one’s system and minimizes the chance of those effects occurring. While not all drugs require medical intervention for managing withdrawal symptoms, most types of treatment require that the body is cleared of the substance before treatment begins.