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What is Medical Detox?

The anxiety of experiencing withdrawal is a significant barrier to seeking addiction therapy for many individuals. For example, quitting drinking or taking drugs after prolonged usage may be daunting since withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant. In addition, a person's will to attend treatment and make an effort to stay clean may be derailed by the fear of experiencing withdrawal.

Medical detox is crucial as the initial step toward overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Detoxing medically from alcohol is essential since severe alcohol withdrawal may be fatal. Detoxification from drugs medically is recommended for anybody who has developed a physical or mental tolerance to a drug.

What Do We Mean By A Medical Detox?

The word "detox" is often used to refer to the process of eliminating harmful substances from one's system. Detoxing from addictive drugs medically involves removing toxins from the body with the help of trained medical personnel. They include medical professionals such as doctors, pharmacists, and counselors who work together to provide care.


In addition, advanced clinical experts, including registered nurses and allied health professionals, during detoxification are sometimes offered at specific institutions.


When it comes to long-term medical care, medical detoxification serves a similar purpose as urgent care for those struggling with substance abuse. Medical detox for addiction, like going to the emergency room for bronchospasm, stabilizes the patient during an intense burst of a chronic ailment but does not alter the patient's overall prognosis.

Usually, patients who enter a hospital or residential rehab center for substance abuse first undergo medical detox. Detox is not a therapy for addiction enough in itself. Still, people who experience a medically supervised detox seem more prone to continue their recovery and maintain more prolonged periods of abstinence.

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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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How Does the Medical Detoxification Process Work?

Detoxification from drugs or alcohol often entails three stages:

1. Evaluation


Testing for co-occurring mental illnesses and other medical ailments, as well as a physical assessment and blood testing, are all standard parts of any evaluation. In addition, their clinician will evaluate an individual's mental health and social network quality. Finally, a doctor will use such data to formulate a treatment strategy.

2. Stabilization


When people reach stabilization, they have stopped using drugs and are receiving support from medical specialists to become sober and stabilized. In addition, certain substances, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and opioids, have medications that may help with withdrawal.


How long the withdrawal lasts and how bad the symptoms are will vary according to the nature and degree of the dependence. The stabilization process usually takes anything from one to three weeks to complete.

3. Preparation


After the detoxification process, patients should be ready for further therapy. Detoxification may alleviate some of the most unpleasant physical symptoms of withdrawal. Still, it offers nothing to help patients cope with the emotional obstacles they'll encounter in the days and weeks that follow. Therefore, therapists, 12-step facilitators, and other medical experts should stress to their patients the value of starting a long-term treatment plan.

What to Expect During Medical Detox

Care for medical detox is individually based on each patient's requirements with the support of professional personnel. In-depth examinations are performed on each patient to check for the following conditions so that everyone's demands may be fulfilled:


  • Substance abuse problems.

  • Conditions that have primary and secondary diseases must be treated.

  • Physical Illnesses.

  • Influencing psychological variables.

  • Withdrawal risks.


After an assessment, patients may start the detox process under medical supervision.

How Long Does Medical Detox Last?

How long and how intensely you detox is determined by several variables, such as:

Type of Substance


The specifics of a person's withdrawal symptoms will largely be determined by the substance(s) they were abusing. For example, alcohol withdrawal symptoms might appear only a few hours following the last drink and may need a tapering of a replacement drug over many days.


Since the body has to adjust to a greater quantity of substances when there is heavy usage, tolerance develops more rapidly.

Duration and Frequency

Physical dependency on a drug is more likely to occur among long-time users. As with any other drug, the likelihood of developing a physical dependence on it increases with the user's frequency of usage. For example, substances like benzodiazepines and opiates may cause physical dependency after as few as 6 to 8 weeks of consistent, frequent use.

Personal Factors

Initiation of withdrawal symptoms and responsiveness to therapy are both affected by a person's unique body composition, weight, metabolic activity, and genetic variation.

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Is Medical Detox a Risk-Free Option?

Medical detox has been proven to be a safe and efficient way for those going through withdrawal to rid their bodies of drugs. Physicians oversee a staff of nurses and other clinical professionals that have received specialized training in addiction care and management and regulate all elements of the procedure.


For example, staff nurses monitor the patient's pulse, blood pressure, and temperature since these might fluctuate during withdrawal from numerous drugs. The withdrawal process can be considered safe only at a medically supervised detox center run by trained professionals.

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What are the Advantages of Medical Detox?

Most people with withdrawal symptoms may be helped without medication, and the condition is hardly ever fatal. However, withdrawal from certain drugs, such as alcohol and sedatives, may be dangerous. Medical detoxification is a lifesaver in these situations.


Getting through detox with medical assistance may reduce withdrawal symptoms and set you up for success in addiction treatment and recovery.

What are the Possible Risks or Drawbacks?


Some people get relief from alcohol withdrawal symptoms while using benzodiazepines. However, consuming an excessive amount of them, particularly if you're still drunk, might be deadly. In addition, these drugs are very addictive. Thus they should be used only when prescribed by a medical professional.

Methadone and Buprenorphine

A combination of methadone and buprenorphine is used to ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Similar to opiate painkillers, these medications may cause high risks of respiratory depression and cardiovascular issues. Thus, it is more difficult to overdose on buprenorphine than on methadone. However, there is a potential for addiction to both medications.


As with any opioid, these drugs may have undesirable side effects, including sweating, constipation, and libido issues. Methadone is not safe for those with respiratory conditions like asthma. Compared to methadone, buprenorphine has fewer and less severe adverse reactions.


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Follow-up After Medical Detox

Recovering from addiction takes more than just medical detox. Even after detox, your mind and body will continue craving the substance. The addictions counselor and your primary care physician will work together to develop a strategy that best addresses your needs. There are a few different ways to become better, such as:


  • Substance abuse treatment, mental health diagnostic treatment, and co-occurring disorder treatment may occur in individual or group settings.

  • Interventions in the form of 12-Step Programs.

  • Rehabilitation programs that place patients in a residential setting.

  • Medication therapy, such as methadone maintenance for opiate abuse.

  • Nutritional supplements and dietary shifts to aid in healing.

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What do we mean by a medical detox?

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How does the medical detoxification process work?
What to expect during medical detox
How long does medical detox last?
Is medical detox a risk-free option?
What are the advantages of medical detox?
What are the possible risks or drawbacks?
Follow-up after medical detox
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