Medical Detox for Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal
Drug detox or alcohol detox can be a crucial first step in recovery from addiction. Successful detoxification may be a catalyst for people to seek substance use treatment and begin the journey of recovery.1
This page will discuss medical detox and how it works.
What Is Medical Detox?
Detoxification programs provide support for patients experiencing withdrawal symptoms from illicit drugs, alcohol, or certain prescribed medications.1
When someone regularly uses a potentially addictive substance, such as alcohol, sedatives, opioids, or stimulants, for an extended period (e.g., weeks, months, or years), withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur upon abruptly stopping or significantly reducing intake of that substance.1 The nature and severity of withdrawal symptoms vary based on:1
- The substance or substances used.
- The duration that the individual has been using them.
- How much the person has been using.
Symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable to severe, painful, and even dangerous, which may require medical intervention. Furthermore, experiencing withdrawal symptoms can lead someone to relapse or return to drug use as a way to relieve the discomfort.1
Detoxification rids the body of these substances while supporting sobriety and ensuring a person is medically stable. It can take place in outpatient, hospital, or inpatient/residential settings and range from less intensive (patients visit an office at pre-determined intervals) to 24/7 monitoring and medical support.1
The level of support a person will need often depends on the substance that was used and stopped, as well as the length and severity of the substance use. For example, daily, heavy alcohol or sedative use typically necessitates 24/7 support due to the potential for severe withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures.1
Though detoxification alone seldom results in long-term sobriety, detox provides a starting place for sobriety and can facilitate entry into continued treatment.1
The Drug & Alcohol Detox Process
The detoxification process consists of three crucial components:1
- Evaluation involves testing for the existence of substances in the bloodstream, determining their concentration, screening someone for co-occurring physical and mental conditions, and learning about their living environment and social situation. This assessment helps determine the treatment approaches used in detox and in continued treatment.
- Stabilization. In the stabilization phase, the patient receives treatment for acute intoxication or withdrawal symptoms to ensure their safety and make them as comfortable as possible. Medications may be used to assist with detoxification. Patients are educated on what to expect in future substance use treatment and on their role in recovery. During this stage, providers seek the involvement of the patient’s support system when appropriate.
- Fostering patient readiness to enter continued addiction treatment. This component stresses the importance of continued substance use treatment and assists in preparing the patient for admission. Most patients benefit from treatment after detox.
How Long Does Detox Last?
Detox typically lasts between a few days and a few weeks.3 The length of detox can depend on several factors, including:3
- The substance or substances being used.
- The severity of the patient’s addiction.
- The support available to the patient at home.
- The medical stability of the patient.
Medical detox in an inpatient setting tends to have a shorter duration than outpatient detox.3
Medications for Alcohol & Drug Detox
- Mitigate or eliminate withdrawal symptoms. For example, someone in alcohol detox may be prescribed medication to reduce the risk and severity of seizures.1
- Control, reduce, or eliminate drug craving. For example, someone in opioid detox may be prescribed Suboxone to minimize or eliminate the desire to seek out and use heroin or other opioids.4
- Provide comfort. Various adjunctive medicines can be prescribed for patient comfort.1 These medications may treat symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, and diarrhea.1
- Treat co-occurring disorders. Many people in detox may also take medication for psychiatric conditions, such as depression or anxiety. 1
The following sections will discuss detoxification, withdrawal, and the types of medication used in detoxification from common substances of misuse.
Alcohol Withdrawal & Detox
Heavy, sustained alcohol misuse will likely necessitate detox in a medical environment, where a person can be monitored and medication (e.g., benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, etc.) given to reduce the risk of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, hallucinations or delirium.1 More common withdrawal symptoms include:1
- Decreased appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Detox
Severe Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms also necessitate more intensive medical attention.1 Benzo withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of alcohol and can include:2
- Elevated heart rate.
- Hand tremor.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Transient visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations.
- Psychomotor agitation.
- Grand mal seizures.
Patients experiencing benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms may be given tapering doses of an alternative benzodiazepine to avoid seizures during detox. Alternatives include phenobarbital (a barbiturate), anticonvulsants, or sedating antidepressants.1
Opioid Withdrawal & Detox
Chronic misuse of opioids can result in withdrawal symptoms that—while seldom life-threatening—cause severe discomfort that can make a person highly vulnerable to returning to opioid use.1,4 Detoxing in a medical facility can provide oversight and allow for titration of an opioid agonist (e.g., buprenorphine or methadone) to alleviate and even eliminate some of the discomfort for patients. Common withdrawal symptoms from opioids include:1
- Runny nose.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Bone and muscle pain.
Stimulant Withdrawal & Detox
Because withdrawal from stimulants (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine, Adderall) is less likely to result in severe, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms compared to alcohol, opioids, or sedatives, hospital-based detoxification is less common. Currently, there are no medications approved by the FDA to treat stimulant addiction.1,5
Stimulant withdrawal symptoms may include:1
- Drug craving.
- Hypersomnia or insomnia.
- Slowed physical movement.
- Difficulty concentrating.
Patients with addiction to stimulants often begin addiction treatment with intensive outpatient care or other form of rehab.1
Cannabis Withdrawal & Detox
Medical detox for a patient that has been using cannabis (without using other substances in conjunction) is rare. There are no FDA-approved medications for treating withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping the use of marijuana.1
Cannabis withdrawal symptoms do not typically involve serious medical or psychiatric complications but may include:1
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Difficulty concentrating.
Hallucinogen Withdrawal & Detox
Hallucinogens are not typically associated with withdrawal symptoms and medical detox is seldom necessary.1 However, there are some reports of experiencing symptoms after discontinuing regular use of dissociative drugs like PCP and ketamine, including:6,7,8
Getting Admitted to Medical Detox in Florida
If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from drugs and/or alcohol, Recovery First Treatment Center, a drug and alcohol rehab near Miami, is here to help. Our facility offers several effective levels of treatment, including inpatient medical detox, residential rehab, and various types of outpatient care.
You can also verify your insurance coverage using the confidential .
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