Substance Use

Substance Abuse Medical Detox

Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Hu, MD on 09/10/2022
Dr. Hu is a nationally licensed psychiatrist with 21 years of experience treating mental and behavioral health.

Dr. David Hu
Medically Reviewed InfoBox

TABLE OF CONTENTSTable of Contents

Alcoholic hold in hand empty bottle at doctor reception office closeup. Grief and despair intoxicated change life drunkenness lifestyle sobriety and temperance bad habit dependence concept

Substance abuse, including alcoholism, doesn’t discriminate and can happen to anyone. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that dependence on any substance can adversely affect every part of your life. From how you interact with your family and friends to your performance at work, you may notice that you’re not yourself anymore.

Detoxification (also called detox) is a necessary step on the road to sobriety and freedom from substance abuse. The quick definition of detox is the elimination of substances from your body following a pattern of use and abuse. It may sound simple enough, but it is multi-faceted and requires commitment and guidance. A properly conducted detox eases the symptoms associated with withdrawal and is carefully monitored to ensure the safest and most comfortable transition. 

Detoxification is only one component of a thorough addiction treatment program. It does, however, significantly impact how the rest of your withdrawal and recovery will go. Unfortunately, addiction treatment isn’t as simple as ceasing to use and letting your body rid itself of toxins. There are numerous psychological and physical factors that need to be considered as you move through the different stages. 

Each individual experiences a different range of symptoms and durations of detox, making individualized care extremely important. There is no one-size-fits-all program that works for everyone. 

What is the difference between natural detox and medical detox?

You may be surprised to learn that there is more than one mode of detox; sometimes, people assume they can quit using, experience the uncomfortable side effects and symptoms, and then they’re free from the hold of the substance(s). In the excitement of getting through the initial phase, it’s easy to forget that detox is only the first step. The psychological impact of addiction is easily the most challenging aspect to address once the withdrawal period is over. 

Natural detox

Natural detoxification may sound like a great option. No doctors, no facilities, no additional medications. There is a perception that getting clean at home is less expensive; you can do it on your terms without having to take more drugs, miss work, or participate in therapy. Studies have shown that this detox method has a significantly higher rate of relapse

Many individuals that choose this route will also use alternative means such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, sweats, massage, and meditation. While some of these treatments can complement medically managed detox, they do not address many of the other underlying physical and psychological issues present with addiction. A large percentage of people that use natural detox will relapse, finding themselves back in the addiction cycle. 

One of the biggest hurdles you may face is the discomfort caused by withdrawal symptoms as your body rids itself of whatever substance you have become dependent on. It’s not uncommon in an uncontrolled environment to take “just a little” to relieve the symptoms, only to fall back into the old patterns of use rapidly.

Unfortunately, natural detox can also be a dangerous route to take. Particularly with substances that cause strong physical dependencies, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol. Abrupt removal of these substances without medications and proper observation to help manage the side effects can cause frightening symptoms such as seizures, respiratory and cardiac failure or even death. 

Apart from the physical toll natural detox can have, the mental and emotional impacts must also be considered. Professional and peer support is vital for continued success once the detoxification process is completed. 

Medical detox

Medical detoxification is done through the use of pharmaceuticals that not only ease the physical but also the psychological impacts of withdrawal. One concern you may have is that you will become addicted to other drugs during treatment. While this is a valid concern, if medical detox is planned and managed by an experienced team of addiction specialists, the chance of developing additional addictions is very low.

Most medical detox is done in a facility where you have access to 24-hour support and care. This is especially important in instances when certain medications are being used to help your body transition from depending on a drug to functioning without it. In addition, constant monitoring can help prevent serious problems such as delirium tremens from occurring. 

In-patient detox and treatment provide a robust support system of care professionals and camaraderie with individuals in substance abuse recovery. It has been found that this interaction with others facing the same challenges is vital to continued sobriety.  

Are you ready to take your life back? Zinnia Healing can help. Our experienced and compassionate teams will guide you and be by your side every step of the way. Call us today at (888) 714-6215. You deserve to live a life free from the struggles of addiction.

What drugs and substances require a detox program?

Many substances can cause both a physical and psychological addiction, making detox and withdrawal best managed by an experienced medical team. While some substances cause a great deal of discomfort during the withdrawal period, others are dangerous to withdraw from without medical supervision. 

Stimulants

Stimulants cause the release of excess norepinephrine and dopamine, the “feel good” brain chemicals. These drugs can be either prescribed or illicit, making their abuse even harder to prevent. Some of the most common stimulants that require withdrawal include:

Opioids

Opioids are common prescription drugs frequently used for pain relief. They are also highly addictive and find their way into the illegal drug market. One exception is heroin, a morphine derivative and popular street drug. Here are the opioids that are regularly abused, both with a prescription and illegally obtained:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines (often called “benzos”) are a group of depressant drugs prescribed primarily for anxiety but are effective in the short-term treatment of insomnia,  seizures and nausea. They’re also effective when used as a pre-medication before inducing anesthesia in surgical or medical procedures patients. These are the most used (and abused) benzodiazepines:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

Alcohol

Alcohol is both a stimulant and depressant, making it a complex substance to withdraw from. It is also legal for purchase by individuals over the age of 21 in most states in the US, making it readily accessible. In severe cases, the detoxification and withdrawal from alcohol can cause delirium tremens (also known as “DTs”), a very serious and potentially life-threatening condition. 

What factors affect the outcome of detox?

As stated above, no two individuals experience detox in the same way. How you move through the steps will depend on various things, including:

  • Your physical health status. Are you getting enough sleep? Do you eat regularly? Do you have any other underlying medical conditions?
  • Your mental health status. Do you have any other mental health issues that might affect your reaction the detox process? 
  • How long you’ve been using substances. Have you been a casual user and recently increased the amount and frequency of use? How many months/years have you been using substances?
  • Your commitment to following through with treatment. Are you ready to get sober? Are you willing to stay focused on the continued effort to stay sober? 
  • Your support system. Do you have friends or family that will encourage you to stay clean? Will you utilize support groups and programs once you have completed initial treatment? 

A detox specialist here at Zinnia Healing will carefully assess these and other factors to develop an individualized plan just for you. 

How long does detox take?

The duration of your detox will depend on many things, such as:

  • What type(s) of substance(s) you are detoxing from
  • If there is more than one substance being used at the same time
  • How long you’ve been using 
  • How much of a substance you’re using
  • How frequently you’re using
  • Underlying medical conditions 

The detox process typically takes three to five days for the substance(s) to leave your body. However, in some instances, it may take a little longer, particularly in cases with underlying metabolic conditions such as diabetes. 

During this time, the withdrawal symptoms will emerge, making it essential to have proper physical and psychological support. 

What symptoms can be experienced during detox?

There are both physical and psychological symptoms that may accompany the detox process. Not everyone will experience every side effect but it’s helpful to understand what you might encounter during your healing. Here are a few common symptoms that are experienced once detoxification has started:

Headaches

Headaches are one of the most frequently reported symptoms during detox, and can range from mild to extreme, migraine-like pain. They’re prevalent during alcohol withdrawal but can also be present with withdrawal from many other types of substances. 

Brain fog

Brain fog or a feeling of detachment from your surroundings is not uncommon and may leave you feeling like you’re living in a haze. This will begin to dissipate as your body eliminates the substance(s) you’ve been using.

Muscle and joint aches

Muscle and joint aches are also typical symptoms during detox. Many people find warm baths or gentle massage and exercise can help alleviate some of the discomfort of detox-associated aches and pains. 

Lethargy

Detox is a whole-body process and takes a lot of energy, both physically and mentally. Experiencing fatigue and lethargy is prevalent during drug and alcohol withdrawal.

Nausea and vomiting

As your body rids itself of the toxic substances coursing through it, you may feel nauseous or even vomit. Anti-nausea drugs are available to help with this transition, as vomiting can affect your ability to take in and absorb proper nutrition. It can also rapidly cause dehydration if not addressed.

These symptoms and more can slow the recovery process if you use again to make them go away. However, in a medically managed environment with proper support, you can take advantage of both the physical and psychological management tools available.

What to expect at detox intake

Intake may sound frightening and even intrusive, but it will provide your care team with vital information to help develop a treatment plan just for you. While each facility will have its own intake process, there are some standard procedures the majority will use.

The intake process should be looked at as an opportunity for your care team to learn more about you and vice versa – you can ask questions and learn more about how your detox center operates. 

It’s helpful to have these items ready when you arrive to expedite the initial paperwork. 

  • Your ID
  • Insurance card or information
  • Necessary financial information
  • Emergency contacts
  • A comprehensive medical history, including allergies and any medications you are taking

You will be asked to turn over restricted items. These may include:

  • Drugs and drug paraphernalia
  • Weapons
  • Toiletries containing alcohol
  • Certain electronics such as cell phones or tablets

Your intake professional will give you an assessment to learn more about your current needs and what might be the best course of treatment as you move through the program. In addition, a physical exam, bloodwork, and breathalyzer may be required prior to admittance. 

Your home away from home

Television and movies can shine a rather biased and unflattering light on detox and rehab. While it is not an easy process, it is rarely as dramatic as the film industry depicts it.

The majority of clinics have abandoned the institution-style of treatment and created warm, inviting and home-like environments to help make your stay more effective. Private rooms, nutritious food, and comfortable furnishings and amenities are all very useful in helping you maintain a positive attitude during detox. 

Are you looking for a welcoming environment for your healing journey? Zinnia Healing can provide you with the perfect setting for your detox. With locations across the country, you can find the peace of mind you need to focus on the most important thing – your healing. Give us a call today at (888) 714-6215 to find a location just right for you.