What Is Medical Detox?

Understanding Medical Detox

As alcohol and drug users explore rehabilitation treatment options, they may come across facilities that offer medical detox. If you’re asking, “What is a medical detox?” you’re not alone. Short for medical detoxification, the process allows an individual to adjust to life without drugs or alcohol slowly with a health care professional instead of stopping cold turkey. Medical detoxes often prevent addicts from returning to their unhealthy habits, making the process an important part of long-lasting recovery.

The Experience of Withdrawal Without Detox

For many, addiction is both physical and mental. When an addict is accustomed to drinking a bottle of whiskey or more per day or taking ever-increasing doses of opioids in an effort to get high stops using, he or she craves the experience. Dramatized depictions of withdrawal often miss the true agony of the experience. Without aid, an addict must often find the motivation to avoid people, places, and things that enable the negative lifestyle. After deciding to quit, he or she must wait out the stomach upset, trembling, anxiety, and other symptoms that make giving up on a feel-good fix so difficult.

Quitting drugs also means facing the reality of the world. Many people use drugs and alcohol to escape. They don’t want to face their underlying mental health, relationship, and career problems. Instead of identifying and changing the source of unhappiness, they mask it with mind-altering substances. Over time, this crutch gets harder to leave behind. A person’s identity can fuse to the substance of choice and make him or her feel lost in the truest sense of the word.

The realities of withdrawal are raw and painful but not unendurable. In many cases, an individual can give up a substance without medical intervention. Only certain drug users need medical attention to prevent severe complications, and other users reach out for medical support, because they know they won’t give up the substance without help.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Every addiction is unique, and every withdrawal experience is different. While medical professionals can offer generalized descriptions of the experience, an individual may or may not feel all the associated symptoms. The severity of the symptoms also changes depending on a person’s physiology and the severity of the addiction.

Alcohol Abuse Withdrawal:

  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Confusion

Opioid Withdrawal:

  • Causes Muscle Aches
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Stomach Upset
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

Cocaine Withdrawal:

  • Increased Appetite
  • Malaise
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue

Methamphetamine Withdrawal:

  • Dry Mouth
  • Uncontrollable Shaking
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia

A Few Other Symptoms of Withdrawal:

  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Upset Stomach
  • Depression

Some people will stop feeling these effects after a few days or weeks, while others will struggle with lingering symptoms for months. Without medical support, the timeframe for withdrawal may last longer than anticipated and nudge users back toward old habits.

Complications During Withdrawal

When long-term heavy alcohol, prescription opioid, benzodiazepine, and heroin users decide to quit the habit, they will more than likely require a medical detox. Without a slow and controlled process, a user may experience extreme psychological distress and physical pain, seizures, hallucinations, or fever. After a point, any of these symptoms can result in serious health consequences.

Medical detoxes minimize the symptoms and complications associated with withdrawal. In the event of a complication, a medical detox administrator can ensure the safety of a patient and reduce the likelihood of a relapse.

How a Medical Detox Works

During a medical detox, a physician will oversee the entire withdrawal process. Using a patient’s medical history, the current state of health, use history, and long-term goals, the physician can create a custom detox process to minimize the side effects of withdrawal and encourage a permanent state of recovery.

A typical detox protocol involves drug regimens that enable a user to taper off a substance comfortably. Whether someone is addicted to alcohol or methamphetamine, the recovery industry uses specific medical treatments to control the amount of medication a patient receives to minimize the risk of complications and maximize comfort levels. Over time, the user can safely wean off the drug while the medical team addresses common withdrawal side effects, such as dehydration and nutrition imbalances. Nutrition support, rest, medical monitoring, psychological therapy, and drug tapering give patients a more comfortable experience as they stop using a substance.

Experiencing Medical Detox

Medical detox will minimize the effects of withdrawal and ensure a patient’s health and safety, but a supervised detox is still a detox. Inpatient programs often require a patient’s isolation for the duration of the process. After check-in, all detox patients undergo an interview. Program administrators and physicians need to understand all circumstances, logistics, and medical information that may affect the course of treatment. Patients need to disclose all details about substance usage, frequencies, amounts, and past medical history.

Even with the best bedside manner and treatment team, the experience can feel lonely and uncomfortable. However, the medical community widely regards a supervised medical detox as the most effective form of substance use cessation. With a qualified medical team overseeing the process, it is far easier than a personal attempt to quit. Anyone curious about undergoing medical detox may ask to speak to a previous patient at the facility and learn more about it.

The Path to Recovery

After the initial detox process, a user can start over. Without the fear of physical symptoms of withdrawal eroding an addict’s resolve, he or she can focus on mental health, a long-term plan for recovery, and rebuilding a life. With medical detox, therapy, a support group, and time, anyone can overcome addiction, find hope, and live a full life.

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