Addiction Recovery: What is Medical Detox?

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Medical detox from drugs or alcohol is a common first step towards managing substance use disorders. Removal of a substance from a body that has become dependent on it can trigger strong physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. Medical detoxification offers a safe, comfortable, and supportive space for withdrawal from drugs or alcohol under strict medical guidance.

The symptoms of withdrawal and their frequency often vary for each person. You may experience:

  • Shaking
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating

In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can even be life-threatening. It can cause DTS or delirium tremens which is characterized by sudden and alarming changes in the brain and nervous system. This can result in seizures and severe changes in heart rate. Alcohol withdrawals can also result in hallucinosis, a condition that triggers hallucinations similar to those experienced during schizophrenia.

Effective alcohol and drug rehab centers offer medically supervised detoxification in their overall treatment approach.

Sometimes, doctors may prescribe medication to relieve serious symptoms associated with detox. This can make the process safer and allow your body to adjust easier.

The entire process is overseen by a caring team of nurses, physicians, and clinical staff with vast experience in the safe treatment and management of addiction. Withdrawal from several substances often trigger fluctuations in one’s vital signs including temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. As such, these are closely monitored by nursing staff throughout the detox.

When is medical detox necessary?

Common candidates for medical detox are those who:

  • Have been using a substance regularly in large quantities and over an extended period
  • Need higher amounts of a substance to attain the usual effect
  • Experience unhealthy cravings when they do not have access to the substance
  • Tried to quit in the past but was unsuccessful and may require professional help
  • Face the effects of withdrawal from addictive substances.

Before committing to medical detox, remember to manage your expectations. Medical detox may not solely help you evade all of these symptoms, but it can dramatically decrease their intensity. Detox alone is usually insufficient for a healthy recovery. It does not relieve you of the root cause(s) of addiction, nor provide specific steps you have to take to fight addictive behaviors. Rather, it aims to purify your body of addictive substances instantly and sets the stage towards long-term treatment.

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How long does medical detox take?

The duration may depend on various factors such as the frequency of drug use, length of addiction, and the type and quantity of substance used. Individual factors such as genetic makeup, body weight, chemistry, and metabolic rate may help determine the body’s response to withdrawal and in turn, the necessary type and length of treatment. Other recurring disorders and the severity of withdrawal symptoms may also impact how long the detox may last.

That said, in most cases, duration may span from a few days to two weeks. Every person is different and detox may take as long as needed to achieve a totally drug-free state.

What happens after detox?

Successful drug and alcohol rehabilitation is concerned with both the physical and psychological parts of addiction. Medical detox involves managing only the physical consequences of addiction. Hence it is most productive as part of a wider treatment plan that also examines the emotional and behavioral causes of addiction.

Individuals in detox are often advised to transfer to residential or partial hospitalization treatment. They are also advised to undergo counseling, join support groups, or enter an inpatient rehab program.

Whether you have struggled with dependence on alcohol or other drugs, it’s never too late to pursue recovery. Medical detox can help start your sobriety efforts and provide an opportunity to establish new and healthy habits.

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