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Medical Detox


Medical detox is the process of withdrawing from addictive drugs under medical supervision. The medical detox process helps to break the body’s physical dependence on the drug of addiction, at the same time as beginning to reduce the body’s tolerance levels to the drug.  

Stopping drug use suddenly after a prolonged period of heavy abuse can result in withdrawal symptoms. The user experiences physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that are caused by changes in the brain’s chemistry due to drug abuse. As the brain can’t adapt quickly, it goes into a state of hyper-excitement, creating unpleasant and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Detox

The individual withdrawal symptoms of detox will vary, depending on the type of drug being taken. Without proper treatment medications, withdrawal symptoms can range from moderate to severe. These include:

  • Meth Withdrawal: Detoxing from crystal meth can produce severe psychological withdrawal symptoms that include intense cravings to take more meth, irritability, anxiety, anhedonia (inability to feel any pleasure), nightmares, profound depression, suicidal thoughts, and tendencies.
  • Heroin Withdrawal: Detoxing from heroin produces extreme physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Imagine every pain receptor in the body suddenly being activated after being blocked for a long time. The user experiences heavy sweating, fever, shaking, vomiting, diarrhea, excruciatingly painful abdominal cramps, bone aches, muscle cramps, flu-like symptoms, agitation, irritability, runny nose, anxiety, depression, and fiercely intense cravings to take more heroin.
  • OxyContin Withdrawal: The withdrawal symptoms of detoxing from OxyContin (oxycodone) are almost identical to detoxing from heroin, with the exception that symptoms last much longer. OxyContin has a longer half-life than heroin, so it takes longer for an addict to detox completely.
  • Alcohol Withdrawal: Withdrawing from severe alcohol addiction can be potentially fatal without proper medical supervision. Withdrawal symptoms include shaking, tremors, nausea, vomiting, sweating, headache, insomnia, anxiety, agitation, depression, hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs).

Why Is It Dangerous to Detox at Home?

Many people attempt to detox from drugs or alcohol at home, believing all they need to do is quit and they’ll be cured of their addiction. However, it’s common for people to underestimate the severity of psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxing without proper supervision can trigger relapse in a high percentage of people. Changes to the brain’s chemistry cause the user to experience fierce compulsions to take more drugs that are often so overwhelming that the user will do almost anything to get more drugs.

Studies show that the highest risk of accidental overdose is when a user relapses back to addictive drug use after a period of detox. The risk is significantly reduced if the detox process is conducted under medical supervision.

Types of Detox Programs

There are several different types of drug detox programs available that will vary for each person depending on the type of drug being taken. Some detox programs include:

  • Natural Detox: Quitting drug use suddenly or going “cold turkey” is called natural detox. The user simply stops taking the drug of choice. Natural detox can be dangerous, as the user may experience potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that could require emergency medical assistance.
  • Medicated Detox: Depending on the type of drug being taken, some people choosing to detox in a licensed rehab facility may go through a medically-supervised detox process. The person stops using drugs completely by cold turkey, but prescription medication may be given to treat any withdrawal symptoms that emerge.  For example, someone detoxing from alcohol, crystal meth, or cocaine may require medicated detox, where prescription antidepressants, anticonvulsants, or anti-psychotic medications may be given.
  • Medical Detox: Detoxing from opiate drugs such as heroin or OxyContin may require medical detox. The person is given treatment replacement medication, such as methadone or Suboxone, to replace the drug of addiction. The dosage of treatment medication is tapered down over a period of time so the person eventually becomes free of both drugs.
  • Rapid Detox: Some patients may require a rapid detox procedure, where the person is admitted as an inpatient and put to sleep with a general anesthesia. The person is then given intravenous injections of opiate blocker medications, such as naltrexone, which stops the action of narcotic drugs and begins a rapid detox process. The person goes through the detox process while asleep, which reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Why Seek Treatment in a Residential Treatment Facility for Medical Detox?

Seeking professional treatment in a residential treatment facility offers the best possible chance of making a successful recovery from addiction. Doctors can administer appropriate treatment medications that can reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, but also provide replacement medication to make the detox process safer for the user overall.

If you are ready to get treatment for your addiction, contact a trained specialist today. It’s not too late to seek help.