What is the Role of Medical Detoxification in Addiction Treatment?
Medical detoxification helps the body rid itself of drugs or alcohol while treating the withdrawal symptoms. Freed of the substances’ immediate impact, the patient can begin to work on controlling drug cravings or ongoing desires to drink .
As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHAS) notes, medically supervised detox by itself is not treatment; it is a first step that can prepare a person for comprehensive treatment programs.
Medical detoxification can be done through inpatient and outpatient programs.
Inpatient detoxification happens in medical detox units of some hospitals or in a specialized inpatient detoxification facility that is part of a residential drug or alcohol addiction treatment center like La Hacienda.
In the latter situation, inpatient detox in an on-campus specialized facility eliminates the need to transfer the patient to a separate drug or alcohol addiction treatment center following detoxification.
In this medical model for supervised detox a medical professional monitors the patient’s progress through a series of regular appointments. Because there is less oversight, outpatient detox is best used when the patient’s drug addiction or alcoholism is less severe.
What are the Elements of Medical Detox?
There are three parts to a medical detox also known as the medical detoxification process: evaluation, stabilization, and transition to addiction treatment.
Prior to medical detox, the patient is given a physical and mental health assessment which includes:
- Initial medical assessment by health professionals
- Evaluation of predicted withdrawal severity
- Co-existing psychiatric disorders
The assessment helps to determine how to medically supervise the detox process and the patient’s substance abuse treatment program.
Different substance abuse treatment centers use varying methods to remove the substance from the user’s system. These include, but are not limited to, gradually diminishing the amount of drug entering the user’s system or making the patient more comfortable by administering medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
How long it takes to stabilize the patient and complete the detox process depends on the drug being used, how much and how often it was used, and the user’s condition.
Transition to Addiction Treatment
When the medical team approves, the patient starts participating in the addiction recovery program. Licensed substance abuse counselors will teach them how to deal with addiction’s psychological aspects. If they are in a treatment center with an inhouse detox center, this may start before they leave the detox center.
Why is Medical Detox Better Than DIY?
Drug addiction is a complex disease and quitting usually takes more than will power and good intentions. Some people do it themselves, but they gamble against the odds.
An obvious advantage to medically assisted detox from drugs or alcohol is that trained medical professionals observe and assist the patient through substance withdrawal which can cause severe depression and other critical symptoms. Medical detox programs also consider the impact of the use of other drugs and co-occurring disorders.
The certified addiction treatment physicians on the medical staff can diagnose and prescribe medications to ease the withdrawal symptoms. And in the event of a medical emergency–which happens when patients seeking to recover from alcohol and drug abuse are involved–they can provide life-saving care.
What are Detox Withdrawal Symptoms?
Many patients will experience withdrawal symptoms that are either short-term and mostly physical or long-term and primarily emotional and psychological that can last up to two years. The severity of these symptoms depends on the extent of a user’s drug use and their drug of choice.
Withdrawal Symptoms for Sedative/Hypnotics
Depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety and to treat insomnia. Minor symptoms often experienced by depressant users include restlessness, sweating, and disruption of sleep patterns. More serious symptoms are hallucinations, tremors, and seizures, alongside elevated blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.
An increased heart rate and fever accompanied by confusion may indicate delirium tremens (DTs), in an alcohol detox which can be fatal if not appropriately treated.
Withdrawal Symptoms for Stimulants
Stimulants include, among other drugs, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Detox withdrawal symptoms experienced by stimulant users can include depression, fatigue, anxiety, and strong cravings. They may also experience emotional and psychological disturbances such as paranoia, acute psychosis, or even suicidal thoughts or acts.
Withdrawal Symptoms for Opiates
Morphine, codeine, heroin, and prescription opioids Vicodin and Oxycontin are examples of opiates. During a medical detox the withdrawal symptoms of these substances can range from minor to very severe. Some symptoms associated with opiate withdrawals include, runny nose, sweating, yawning, anxiety drug craving sleeplessness, depression, dilated pupils, rapid pulse, rapid breathing, high blood pressure, abdominal cramps, tremors, bone and muscle pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
What Happens to the Brain During Detox?
After detoxification, the brain gradually returns to how it was before substance abuse, but the brain cells may not be the same as they were before the onset of a dependency on drugs or alcohol.
Some parts of the brain will start recovering within a week of the last drink of alcohol. Other areas of the brain take several months or longer to recover. Damage due to drug abuse can take longer to repair.
What Medications are Used in Medical Detox?
Medical personnel may use sedative-hypnotics, anti-hypertensives, or seizure medications to treat symptoms of withdrawal.
One side effect of the medications is that they may cause drowsiness as the patient enters further treatment. Staff medical care professionals can help the patient if this causes a problem in the patient’s recovery effort.
Should Pregnant Women Enter Medical Detox?
If approved by her obstetrician, it is recommended that a pregnant woman suffering from alcoholism or abuse of cocaine or amphetamines should go through medical detoxification and a clinical substance abuse treatment program. This is for the protection of the unborn child.
The opposite is true for opioid users. Because of the high miscarriage rate for pregnant women during opioid withdrawal, a medical detox is often deferred in favor of maintaining the woman’s opioid use through the prescribed doses of methadone or buprenorphine until she gives birth.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society of Addiction Medicine support such maintenance treatment for pregnant women with opioid use disorders.
Drug and Alcohol Detox at La Hacienda Treatment Center
La Hacienda Treatment Center functions as a residential treatment program providing a Special Care Unit for medical detoxification, individual therapy, daily 12-Step meetings, total wellness counseling, therapeutic activities and fellowship, and long-term recovery planning and follow-up.
Upon admission, our medical and clinical staffs, under the direction of La Hacienda’s medical director, comprehensively assess each patient’s condition–including co-occurring medical conditions– and prepare an individualized treatment plan for them.
We are committed to the concept that each patient is different and requires individualized levels and modalities of care.
Medical Detox at La Hacienda Treatment Center
The minute you arrive at La Hacienda, you will notice the love, care and attention that you receive. Our medical and clinical staff members are carefully chosen for their expertise in addiction treatment and for their compassion for our patients.
Many detox centers do not have onsite addiction treatment doctors and around-the-clock licensed nursing staff. Medical supervision is provided 24/7 in the Special Care Unit by ASAM ADM certified addiction medicine physicians, a licensed psychiatrist, registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and dedicated support personnel.
A Detox Facility in the Hill Country
La Hacienda Treatment Center has been helping people find their way through the withdrawal process and providing treatment that results in recovery for 50 years.
If you or someone you know needs help with drug addiction or alcoholism, call (800) 749-6160 and talk with one of our helpful, onsite admission specialists today.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within eight hours following the last alcoholic beverage but can happen days later. While they normally climax in 24 to 72 hours, the symptoms may last for weeks.
Also called alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD) or abbreviated as DTs, delirium tremens is a severe response to ceasing the intake of alcohol. It can last a couple of days to a week for the patient trying to end alcohol abuse.
Based on the principles of the first such program, Alcoholics Anonymous, these programs aimed at recovery from substance use disorders or habit like gambling involve achieving 12 “steps” that include admitting lack of control, finding strength in a higher spiritual power, admitting past errors, learning to live by a new code of behavior, and helping others who suffer from the same addictions or impulses.