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What You Need to Know About Withdrawal & Medical Detox

Posted by on in Drug Addiction
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As you or a loved one decide enough is enough and it is time to recover from an addiction, the first step will likely include a detoxification from the substance. The withdrawal and detox process can be painful, difficult, and even intimidating to navigate. One option to consider is medical detoxification, which involves safely helping an individual withdraw from a substance with the help of appropriate medication, under medical supervision. As you consider this option, take the time to educate yourself on what medical detox involves and how to find the right treatment center for your particular situation.

Medical Detox

Detoxification is the removal of chemicals from the body, in this case a drug or alcohol. Medical detoxification is performed with the help of a medical professional and involves using medication to assist with the withdrawal process. The goal is to help the person eliminate any medical risks caused by no longer using the substance.

Withdrawal and detoxification are difficult and are often accompanied with the following symptoms:

  • abdominal pain
  • anxiety
  • body pain
  • chills
  • diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • sneezing
  • sniffing
  • sweating
  • vomiting
  • general weakness

The duration and length of withdrawal symptoms varies and depends on the length and severity of the addiction, the individual’s physical and mental health, and other factors that may be unique to the individual. When faced on their own, these symptoms can develop into more dangerous complications such as hallucinations, convulsions, heart problems, seizures, insomnia, intense cravings, and anxiety. These can cause the individual to forego recovery, relapse into their addictive habits, and overdose. This process can even lead to death. This makes proper medical detoxification that much more important to provide the best potential for recovery.

Who Should Pursue Medical Detox

When considering if you or a loved one should consider medical detoxification, take into account the following criteria:

  • Do you/they have a physical addiction to certain drugs?
  • Would you/they experience great discomfort withdrawing without assistance?
  • Would you/they put their health at risk by withdrawing without medical supervision?
  • Is the individual in question addicted to/dependent on heroin, prescription pain pills, alcohol, cocaine/methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, club drugs, inhalants, or marijuana?

How Medical Detox Works

An important step in the medical detox process is the creation of a detox protocol, or a plan for how the detoxification process will unfold and what steps will be made. Detox is different for each person due to differences in metabolism, genetics, and current health factors. As risks for certain withdrawal symptoms subside, the protocol should have a plan for the next step in the process. There should also be a plan in place for working through the natural side effects of addiction and detoxification. Dehydration and vitamin and mineral depletion should be part of the consideration for a good detox protocol, depending on the substance from which the person is detoxifying.

Inpatient Detoxification

While it is possible to work with your doctor and detoxify at home, this is much more dangerous. Detoxing at home often leads to a level of discomfort that causes the person to stop the detox and puts the individual at risk for addiction to the prescribed detox medication. The process is also takes much longer than detoxification at a treatment center.

For inpatient detoxification, it is important to find a facility that provides 24 hour medical surveillance. Some recovery facilities simply provide lodging and the only medical supervision that takes places occurs when the person goes to meet with medical personnel. Constant medical supervision can help detoxification to occur more safely, as medications can be updated and serious withdrawal symptoms can be catered to quickly thus prevent them from endangering the individual. In a true detoxification facility, medical detox occurs much faster, sometimes as quickly as 6-14 days.

Questions to Ask When Selecting a Medical Detox Facility

Selecting a detox facility can seem overwhelming, so here are some questions to keep in mind as you do your research:

  • What is the medical protocol for the substance from which the person will be withdrawing?
  • How flexible is this protocol to go along with reactions a person might have to the medication?
  • Is there 24 hour medical supervision?
  • What percentage of people complete their detox through this facility?
  • How long will this particular detox take?
  • What, if any, are the restrictions the person will experience while in this facility?
  • Will the individual have a private room?
  • What is the plan post-detox? Will there be continued medications?
  • Does the facility provide counseling in addition to detox?
  • Does the facility help the individual find the right recovery program after detox?

As you begin the recovery process, you are likely to have more questions. There are a lot of great articles that will give you additional helpful advice in assisting your loved one through detoxification. With the right information and the correct support system, detoxification and recovery are within reach.

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Michael is a Licensed Substance Use Disorder Counselor and has worked in the substance abuse field for over 25 years. He was the co-creator of the successful national chemical dependency treatment programs Cirque Lodge, Summit Lodge Recovery Center, and Therápia Addiction Healing Center. Michael also worked to help create several other addiction programs in Utah, Idaho, and Oregon. Michael worked as the Director of the ACT Chemical Addiction Program at Ogden Regional Medical Center and served on the Mental Health Board for the Utah Hospital Association for many years. Michael brings a wealth of experience and education at St. George Detox. He has devoted most his life to helping people overcome substance abuse addictions.


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