Addiction and Recovery: What is Medical Detox?

Posted March 31, 2020 by in Health + Fitness
woman with head in hand

Medical detoxification (or detox) is a process during which the organism eliminates harmful substances and gets ready for the healing phase (or recovery). The process is used at the beginning of substance addiction (such as alcohol or illegal drugs) treatments and it’s called medical detox because it happens under medical supervision. 

As such, the process is performed in detox centers, where the patients will live for the entire duration of the treatment. This is required because both the body and psyche go through a traumatic transformation while the substance is being removed. The process is called withdrawal and can have various symptoms such as shaking, insomnia, fatigue, hallucinations, depression, and more.

If these symptoms show up, the patient has access to medical specialists who can offer help and treatment. 

Is Medical Detox Mandatory? 

It depends. Each person’s story is different and so is their body and the way they react during withdrawal. However, according to the Alcohol Health and Research World journal, about 10%  of people with alcoholism will have serious medical problems during this time. 

Not all people suffering from addiction will need to go through medical detox, but specialists recommend it for specific drugs like heroin (the withdrawal process is painful), prescribed opiates, alcohol (some of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms), benzodiazepines (medical supervision is mandatory), and more. 

Some of those problems can include life-threatening complications, which is why it’s important to have specialists nearby. So, it all depends on how your situation is evolving, but it’s best to be in a safe location, where everyone is dedicated and supports your efforts to get better. 

Medical Detox vs. Recovery

Many people see detoxification as the main (and sometimes solely) treatment for addiction. However, it’s crucial to understand the difference. Medical detox does provide a short term solution and can relieve the symptoms associated with withdrawal. Still, it doesn’t treat the cause of addiction and doesn’t prepare you for a sober life going forward. 

We should see detox as the first step towards a new lifestyle, one where you get to keep your health and enjoy life to its fullest. So, without taking the correct measures to give yourself the best chance, it’s highly likely that you’ll return to the habits that led to detox in the first place. 

How Long Does it Take?

In many cases, this is not a pleasant treatment, so it’s natural to want to know a bit more about its duration. Sadly, there is no standard detox period for a given substance. Each patient reacts differently to the treatment, based on their medical history, the type of substance used, and the extent of use. 

Now, while it’s difficult to predict how long it will take, most detox sessions last between a few days and a little over 10 days.  

Can I Do Detox at Home?

Patients who are addicted to drugs that don’t life-threatening withdrawal symptoms can handle the detox process at home. According to the US National Library of Medicine, there are some situations when outpatient services are acceptable. However, you must discuss this with a specialist and if they recommend inpatient treatment is highly advised to follow their recommendation. 

Withdrawal is an extremely difficult time and it’s not something you can go through based on willpower alone.