What is Medical Detox?
The detox process is a little like taking drugs in reverse. Instead of preparing a hit and waiting for a hit to take hold, a person in detox is waiting for drugs of abuse to release their grip. It is a process whereby all of the substances the person has taken in the recent past can move through the person’s system, without new drugs to take their place. It is a process whereby the longstanding damage an addiction can cause is adjusted, dealt with, and rectified. At the end of detox, a person is sober, and that person’s mind is adjusting to sobriety. It is the first step to complete on a long path toward lasting and persistent sobriety and addiction healing.
Withdrawal is intensely powerful, and there are many different ways to accomplish the goals of detox. For example, some people choose to detox at home, while others choose to go through a medical detox process. This article will compare and contrast those two healing methods.
Is Medical Detox Right for You?
Some drugs of abuse cause very serious medical problems during the withdrawal process. For example, an article in the journal Alcohol Health and Research World reports that about 10 percent of people with alcoholism will have serious medial problems during withdrawal, and those problems can include life-threatening seizures. That means some people may want to get better, but they can die during the process.
A medical detox process can assist with that. During medical detox, professionals assess the overall health and wellness of the person attempting to recover. The person moves into a facility, and every few hours, they are assessed for signs of withdrawal distress. If those signs are found, teams can apply remedies, such as:
- Prescription replacement medications
- Prescription psychiatric medications
- Over-the-counter medications
In severe situations, medical teams can even provide life-saving therapies, such as resuscitation, for people who endure something terrible due to the withdrawal process. It could be the only safe way to help some people recover from drug abuse.
Medical detox can also be a wonderful approach for people who do not have a support team around them. For example, the Pew Research Center reports that one American adult in five has never been married. People like this may not have people at home who can help them to deal with cravings and temptations. They may be living alone. When a craving hits, they may be forced to deal with it alone.
In a rehab facility, people are simply never alone. There are always teammates around who can talk and help during a craving. And there are peers who can add support when people feel overwhelmed. This could also be vital for people who have low distress tolerance and who are at risk for relapse at home. They are in a safe space in a rehab facility, as there are no drugs available. There, they may not be able to use even if they want to do so.
Finally, some people need a medical detox process because they have tried and failed to get sober in an at-home detox attempt in the past. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse points out, it is not uncommon for people with addictions to relapse to drugs. In fact, relapse rates for addiction sit in the 40-60 percent range. A relapse is real, and it happens. When people have relapsed repeatedly during at-home detox attempts, it is clear that something bigger must happen. That something might be medical detox.
Medical detox is relatively easy to prepare for. People simply need to choose a facility, listen to what the facility needs for intake, and then show up on the day of intake ready to learn and grow.
Is At-Home Detox Right for You?
In an at-home detox process, people with an addiction handle any symptoms of withdrawal as they appear, while they continue to live at home. It could be the right choice for people who are addicted to drugs that cause mild-to-moderate symptoms of withdrawal during recovery. For example, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that withdrawal symptoms attributed to opiates are uncomfortable, but they are not life-threatening. Most symptoms have passed within about a week. That being said, opiate withdrawal comes with severe cravings, so medical detox is often recommended.
For milder cases of addiction, uncomfortable symptoms like nausea, constipation, and sweating could be easily handled in an at-home situation with remedies like:
- Cool baths
- Clean sheets
- Over-the-counter medications
- Nutritional support
They may not require the big guns of medical monitoring and prescription assistance. They can be handled effectively at home.
But even when physical symptoms are not overwhelming, withdrawal can come with some severe cravings and psychiatric distress. People in withdrawal may feel as though they need drugs, right now, and they may need family support to get them through those cravings. Some people have that family support at home. If they do, they can lean on it during at-home withdrawal.
Similarly, some people have what clinicians call “distress tolerance.” This means they have the ability to accept the difficulties that happen to them without feeling the need to act upon them. For example, in a study in the journal Eating Behaviors, researchers report that people who tend to recover from eating difficulties have the ability to accept and manage difficulties. People who were higher on clinical scores were not able to do that. Instead, they tried to avoid what came.
People who choose an at-home detox will need the ability to deal with difficulties as they arise, because they will arise as detox moves forward. It will be part of the healing process.
It might be easier to deal with the distress if the addiction is new. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse points out, it takes time to develop an addiction. These issues do not develop overnight. People must move from experimenting with drugs, to using them often, to feeling unable to stop using them. The sooner a person intervenes in this process, the easier recovery might be, and that means the easier the detox process might be. Those who are new to drug use might find it easier to withdraw at home, simply because they do not have years of abuse behind them.
For those who do choose at-home detox, there is quite a bit of preparation involved. People will need to surround themselves with supervisors and supporters, and they will need to break ties with dealers and bad influences. Next, people will need to stock up on the medications and other tools they might need to stay comfortable during the transition. They will need to choose a spot for the detox that is safe, secure, and comfortable. It can take time to plan, and while costs are minimal, the stakes are high. There is no one to take responsibility if things go wrong.
Using Detox the Right Way
Detox is an important part of the addiction recovery process, but it is not all that people need in order to get well. Detox, whether it is done at home or in a facility, requires follow-up with rehab. It is here that people can learn more about how to stay sober for the rest of life. It is simply vital to follow up with this step, so detox work can persist for the rest of life.