Many people suffering from substance use disorders confess that one roadblock to pursuing recovery is a fear of the detoxification process. Not knowing what to expect causes them to be understandably concerned that detox will be painful, uncomfortable and unpleasant. The truth is, the detox process—especially medically supervised detox—is designed to be as painless and smooth as possible.
To help put things in perspective, it’s helpful to have an overview of detoxification and how it works, so you will know what to expect from the process.
Elements of the Detox Process
Detoxification refers to the process of allowing the body to rid itself of drugs or alcohol while safely managing any potential symptoms of withdrawal. Medically supervised detoxification is the best option and the process normally consists of three essential components:
- Evaluation. When you initially check into a detox center, the first step is to complete an intake assessment. You’ll speak with an intake manager, discuss a variety of issues and complete paperwork. Be completely honest during this process, because it will ensure that you receive the best detox benefits available. The evaluation also includes testing for the presence and concentration of substances in the bloodstream and screening for co-occurring mental and physical conditions. In short, it involves a comprehensive assessment of your medical, psychological and social situation.
- Stabilization. During this part of the detox process, the staff will safely assist you through the acute withdrawal stages, so you can attain a medically stable, fully supported and substance-free condition.
- Fostering entry into treatment. Once the toxins have been purged from your body and you’ve achieved a safe, stable condition, you’ll get help and guidance that stresses the importance of following through with a complete continuum of care. This will ensure you are fully prepared for entry into an ongoing treatment program.
Benefits of Medically Supervised Detox
It’s true that withdrawal from certain drugs and/or alcohol can result in dangerous and life-threatening symptoms, including seizures, vomiting and severe dehydration, choking, high fever, delirium tremens (DTs), hallucinations, irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations and more.
This is precisely why medically supervised or inpatient detoxification is a much better route compared to outpatient or home-based detoxification. Inpatient detox involves compassionate, caring professionals who are specially trained to safely manage any potentially dangerous symptoms of withdrawal.
Medical detox offers the chief benefit of harm reduction. This means you will be far less likely to experience severe symptoms at a life-threatening level. Your emotional state and overall well-being will be less affected than if you try to go it alone.
In some cases, depending on the substance of abuse, detox may actually be accomplished more quickly under the careful supervision of medical professionals. This process is known as “accelerated detox” or “rapid detox” and allows patients' bodies to adjust much more quickly and comfortably and the risks are much lower.
Since the process of medically supervised detox is less severe and safer, it helps to make you better prepared for participation in ongoing recovery treatment.
Detox is Only the Beginning
Medical detoxification safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug or alcohol use. However, it is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detoxification for some individuals is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment, but by itself is rarely sufficient to help people achieve long-term abstinence.
Detox should be seen as a crucial first step in the recovery process and not as a stand-alone treatment option. The most important goal after a safe detoxification is getting connected to the next level of care: residential, sober living or outpatient services.
That’s why one of the three key components to effective detoxification focuses on stabilizing the person and ensuring their transition to a substance-free environment. Once that environment is established, the recovering individual can begin to take responsibility for their own recovery as they enter treatment and are fully empowered with the message that recovery is possible.