Medically supervised drug and alcohol detox programs are often an essential step in the addiction treatment and recovery process. Without a detox program, some people may be in danger of experiencing life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. If you are unsure if you should attend a detox program before seeking treatment for a substance use disorder, speak with a medical professional. In this article, we discuss what a medically supervised detox program is, why it’s sometimes required before someone can go on to treatment, and what to expect when you participate in a medical detox program.
What Makes a Quality Medically Supervised Detox Program?
A top-rated medically supervised detox program is a program that aims to help individuals successfully and safely withdraw from drugs and alcohol in a medical setting. Most detox programs are staffed by trained medical professionals and clinicians who are committed to ensuring each patient is as comfortable as possible throughout the withdrawal process.
In a medical detox program, patients are monitored 24 hours a day to prevent potentially life-threatening side effects that sometimes result from drug and alcohol withdrawal. Patients are given medications to support the withdrawal process and ease pain and withdrawal symptoms. They may also participate in a tapering-off plan depending on the drug a person is addicted to. For example, if someone is addicted to opioids, they may be slowly taken off the drug under the supervision of a doctor to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms and relapse.
Most medically monitored detox programs are residentially based, meaning patients are required to reside at the facility throughout the length of the detoxification process. Depending on the patient’s condition and needs, this may be a few days, several days, or even weeks in a detox program. Once someone has successfully completed the withdrawal process, they will often be recommended to continue onto a treatment program such as inpatient treatment. Some detox centers help facilitate this transition so that it is seamless and requires little on behalf of the patient.
Why Do Some People Require Medical Detox?
Not everyone will need to complete a detox program before entering into a drug and alcohol addiction treatment program. These are people with a less severe addiction to substances that only cause psychological dependence. However, others will need to go into a medically supervised detox program before they can successfully take part in a treatment program. These are people who are severely addicted to drugs and alcohol or who are addicted to substances that can result in severe withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped.
Addictions to the following drugs are more likely to require a medically supervised detox program in order to safely withdraw from them:
- Heroin and prescription opioids such as fentanyl, morphine, codeine, and Percocet
- Benzodiazepines such as Klonopin, Xanax, valium, and Ativan
If someone has a severe alcohol addiction and suddenly stops drinking the results can be fatal. While nearly everyone who heavily consumes alcohol will experience some form of withdrawal in the following hours, those who are chronic heavy drinkers may be at risk for life-threatening side effects. These side effects may include:
- Delirium tremens (DTs), which can be fatal
People who attend a detox program for alcohol addiction will often be given benzodiazepines to prevent seizures and relax the central nervous system. Additional medications may be prescribed depending on the patient’s unique condition and needs.
While opioid withdrawal side effects are typically not life-threatening, they can be incredibly uncomfortable and even painful. People who attempt to stop abusing opioids on their own often go back to using the drug just to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, participating in a detox program can help prevent relapse as well as provide the necessary medication and other treatments needed to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches and pains
Patients addicted to opioids may go through a tapering-off process while in a detox program to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. They may also be given medication-assisted treatment such as methadone or suboxone to ease cravings and prevent relapse.
Benzodiazepines are one of the most prescribed medications in the country. Unfortunately, these drugs are highly addictive and come with potentially severe withdrawal symptoms. Patients in a detox program for benzodiazepine addiction will likely be slowly tapered off the drug to prevent intense withdrawal symptoms and relapse.
Common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:
- Severe anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain and stiffness
Some people may experience anxiety associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal for several weeks, months, or even years. Most other benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms should subside after approximately two weeks depending on the level of addiction.
Additional Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal
In addition to the substances mentioned above, many other drugs also produce withdrawal symptoms when they are suddenly stopped. This is especially true for people who have abused the drug for a long period of time and/or who have used the drug heavily.
Common drug withdrawal symptoms include:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Intense cravings
- Muscle pain
- Increased or decreased appetite
The intensity and severity of withdrawal symptoms will depend on how long the substance was abused and the level of addiction and physical dependence on it. The type of substance a person is addicted to will also play a large role in the withdrawal symptoms they experience.
Why Is Self-Detoxification Dangerous?
Some people may feel that they can detox from drugs or alcohol on their own without medical supervision. However, this can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases.
One reason why self-detoxification can be dangerous is that some substances require a tapering-off process to successfully withdraw from the drug. When a person stops taking a drug cold turkey, they can experience very intense withdrawal symptoms that can be highly uncomfortable and even dangerous. This can ultimately result in not only health complications but also relapse to alleviate these symptoms. If a person relapses shortly after trying to quit substances, they may become discouraged and choose not to continue on their path to recovery.
Additionally, detoxing from substances on your own can result in serious health complications such as seizures, convulsions, and hallucinations. People may also experience severe panic attacks, depression, and other withdrawal symptoms that have a profound negative effect on a person’s mental state. While not necessarily life-threatening, these symptoms may lead a person to experience potentially dangerous consequences such as suicidal thoughts and health deficiencies due to neglecting to take care of themselves.
If you are unsure if you should attend a medically supervised detox program, speak with a medical professional. Attending a detox program can help make the detox process as easy as possible and prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and relapse.
A Day in a Medical Detox Program
While each person’s experience in a medical detox program will be different, there are certain factors that are often part of most programs. The primary purpose of a detox program is to help patients safely detox from drugs and alcohol. Most services offered in a medically supervised detox program are centered around this purpose.
The following are activities that a patient may participate in while attending a medical detox program:
- A complete medical evaluation
- Drug testing
- The use of medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings
- Nutritional support
- On-site support groups
Most patients will work directly with a doctor to determine the best course of action for their detox process. During the process of detoxification, patients may sleep, eat, participate in recovery meetings, and do other non-stressful activities that ultimately contribute to a more comfortable withdrawal experience.
Next Steps After a Medically Supervised Detox Program
After the successful completion of a medically supervised detox program, patients are then ready to move on to an addiction treatment program to begin the process of recovery. Some detox facilities will assist in this transition to make it as easy as possible for individuals to get the help they need and deserve. Patients may be recommended to attend one of the following types of treatment following detox:
- Inpatient addiction treatment
- Outpatient treatment such as intensive outpatient programs, standard outpatient programs, or partial hospitalization programs
- Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous
If you have any questions regarding detox programs in your area or which detox program is right for you, give us a call today. One of our dedicated treatment specialists would be happy to answer any questions you have and provide you with information on medically supervised detox facilities in your area or in the area you plan on seeking treatment.