We are currently in the middle of the worst drug crisis America has ever seen, and because of this, there has never been a more critical time to end the stigma that has long been associated with substance use disorders.
These stereotypes and prejudices are what make people think that they need to hide their problem with drugs or alcohol and deny themselves the professional addiction recovery treatment that could save their lives. Instead, we need to recognize and understand that addiction is like any other chronic illness, requiring compassion, support, and proper treatment.
And proper treatment starts with detoxification, making sure that someone is medically stabilized and removing the drugs or alcohol from their body. As with addiction recovery treatment in general, detox is not a “one size fits all” situation. What works for someone may not work at all for someone else, so it’s important to know that when seeking medical detox, a person has different options at their disposal, including detox hospitalization and private detox.
It’s impossible to make any kind of informed choice in terms of what kind of detox treatment program is going to be the one that is most effective for a given individual without first having a clear understanding of what exactly detox is and what the whole process entails.
Detoxification is the procedure in which addictive substances and toxins are flushed out from the body to stem the psychological and physical harm caused by regular, long-term substance use. Detox is also sometimes necessary to ensure someone’s sobriety.
Medical detox treatment is a type of detox involving medical supervision and intervention by a medical team that is well-versed in addiction treatment to provide resources and support, as well as administer medications that keep someone undergoing detox stable and in the least amount of discomfort as possible.
A medical detox staff is also tasked with helping manage any complications that can arise during detox as well as the general withdrawal symptoms that follow the cessation of drug or alcohol use in someone with a substance use disorder.
The process of a medical detox from drugs or alcohol is generally broken down into three main stages: evaluation, stabilization, and transition. During the evaluation stage, a person can expect to be screened by the medical staff of the treatment center or facility so they can gather important information that helps determine the most effective forms and methods of treatment.
As part of this process, doctors will usually:
The second stage of a medical detox is stabilization, which involves keeping the person going through detox in stable condition during the withdrawal period and trying to minimize any unnecessary pain or discomfort brought on by withdrawal symptoms. Stabilization also involves watching for any health complications that may arise, including seizures or other extreme symptoms.
Doctors will do what they can to maintain stabilization by:
By the time that someone has reached the last stage of medical detox, transition, they will have typically made it through the entire withdrawal period or at least the parts that require medical monitoring and are able to exit detox care. However, detox that is not followed by aftercare or an addiction recovery treatment program will not be effective, and will most likely be closely followed by relapse.
Because of this, the medical detox team will always strongly encourage moving forward into ongoing treatment and in doing so will:
While the process of detox may seem extremely unpleasant, and in truth, it usually is, it is nonetheless a very necessary first step on the road to lasting recovery from substance use. In fact, the majority of addiction treatment programs will start with either a medical detox or hospital detox prior to ongoing care as part of the greater treatment program.
Recovery cannot begin if someone still has drugs or alcohol in their systems, as sobriety is, of course, a key aspect of addiction rehabilitation.
Recovery also requires an individual’s full focus and attention if they’re committed to the idea of rehabilitation, and that just isn’t possible when they’re also dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.
These withdrawal symptoms will be distracting and uncomfortable at best, and painful or even potentially life-threatening at worst, which does not make for a good headspace in terms of starting recovery therapy.
The reason why people experience withdrawal symptoms during detox is due to the body struggling to cope and regulate itself without the aid of the substance it had become dependent on receiving regular amounts of. Chronic alcohol or drug use rewires the pathways of the brain, which is why, depending on the substance of abuse, it can take a fairly significant amount of time for everything in the body and brain to adjust and eventually return to normal.
Based on what substance someone was abusing, as well as the severity of their addiction to it, common withdrawal symptoms can range from the more mild and manageable end of the spectrum, including:
To more severe and dangerous symptoms, some of which are unique to substances such as alcohol or opioids and can be substantially more difficult to deal with, including:
And if someone tries to stop using alcohol or drugs all at once rather than through the process of detox, then they will be significantly more likely to experience these symptoms, especially seizures, suicidal thoughts, or behavior due to the intense shock quitting cold turkey triggers in the body.
As we’ve just illustrated, because of the fundamental ways in which addiction changes how someone’s mind and body function, it is incredibly difficult for someone to stop using drugs or alcohol once they have become dependent on them, especially if they’re trying to do it without any help. And, if someone is able to stop using, they must then contend with the symptoms of withdrawal.
Attempting to detox at home or without medical monitoring only serves to make the whole process much riskier than it needs to be, and makes someone substantially more vulnerable to the dangerous symptoms previously mentioned, such as heart palpitations or delirium tremens. Adding to this, even some of the more relatively mild symptoms, such depression or confusion, can put someone at high risk of self-harm or worse.
An at-home detox will also more than likely prove unsuccessful, as people often find the symptoms of alcohol or drug withdrawals to be too much for them to handle alone and will relapse before they can finish their detox. Relapsing mid-detox also increases the likelihood of an accidental overdose, which can and does occur when someone relapses part of the way through their detox and takes significantly more of a substance than they normally would in an effort to find relief from drug cravings or withdrawal symptoms.
Detox hospitalization or even just a supervised medical detox takes these issues out of the equation by keeping those going through withdrawal in a controlled environment where they are safe from harm and carefully monitored 24 hours a day, as well as easing withdrawal symptoms through the use of medication or other therapeutic treatments. This ensures that someone going through detox will be successful and unable to hurt themselves or relapse.
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Now that we’ve established exactly what goes into the detox process, why it’s so necessary, and most importantly, why it should never be attempted at home or without some amount of medical supervision, we can go over the different options available to those undergoing detox.
While there are several subgroups of detox treatment, they all fall under one of the two main categories of detox treatment programs: inpatient and outpatient. Outpatient detox treatment programs are just like they sound, completed on an outpatient basis rather than having to live onsite at a hospital or private addiction treatment facility.
Those undergoing outpatient detox treatment usually have much less severe substance use disorders with withdrawal symptoms mild enough that they can continue on with their normal day-to-day lives while attending appointments at a doctor’s office or outpatient detox clinic for medication and support during the withdrawal process.
Inpatient detox, on the other hand, is the most effective treatment for those with serious substance use disorders who have a history of previous addictions and relapse and require being removed from their normal life and placed under careful monitoring from a medical staff in order to detox successfully. Detoxing on an inpatient basis also makes the transition from detox treatment to the long-term care that will most likely be necessary much smoother and easier.
Hospital detox and private detox are both types of inpatient detox programs, and they each have some benefits and drawbacks, depending on what someone’s needs and priorities when it comes to choosing a medical detox program. The most obvious difference is that detox hospitalization, of course, takes place in a hospital, while private detox is done at a facility that is independently-operated and privately-owned, providing all of its treatment services in-house.
Detox hospitalization is a very “institutionalized” kind of detox treatment, which is often a necessary requirement for someone dealing with extremely serious substance withdrawal symptoms. Unlike many private detox centers, detox hospitalization can provide the intensive level of medical attention that someone in that situation would need.
However, this is would pretty much be all that a hospital detox can offer, as funding for hospitals is typically a good deal more limited than that of a private addiction treatment center, which means that those choosing detox hospitalization should not expect much in the way of amenities or extra comforts. Hospitals also do not specialize in addiction treatment, and so detox is just one section of the overall facility and cannot provide the individual level of care that a private treatment center can offer.
A private detox, meanwhile, can offer a much wider range of personal amenities. Apart from a much more individualized level of treatment, private facilities are also dedicated solely to addiction treatment and can, therefore, utilize different treatment methods and options that a hospital detox would not be able to provide.
While the main drawback of private detox is usually that it is more expensive than detox hospitalization and that the amount that someone’s insurance policy will cover can vary depending on multiple factors, being privately-owned generally means that more money can be delegated to ensuring the highest quality treatment and amenities.
(January, 2018). How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment?. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment
(2006).Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification. The National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64119/
(July, 2014).Treatment and Recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery