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Most people who struggle with substance use will build a tolerance to and become physically dependent on their drug of choice. Stopping cold turkey can be difficult and, in some cases, life-threatening. A medically supervised detoxification is often the first step in treating addiction.

What Is Medical Detox?

In medical detox, physicians and nurses carefully supervise the patient as they are gradually weaned from the substance. Certain medications are used to temporarily prevent or ease the symptoms of withdrawal, which can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, fever, and more. Patients often see improvement after medical detox. Nevertheless, without continuing treatment at a drug rehabilitation facility, as well as further education and counseling, patients may relapse into addiction.

What are the different kinds of detox?

“Detoxification” means to remove harmful substances from the body, primarily with the help of the liver. A detox can be metabolic, requiring a person to fast and then add back in a strict diet of clean foods and water; however, there’s little evidence to suggest that detox diets actually work. Medical detoxes are frequently used to treat people with addictions. Supervised by medical professionals, these detoxes allow individuals to reduce their withdrawal symptoms long enough for their bodies to adjust to life without alcohol or other addictive substances.

How does a medical detox work?

In a medical detox, physicians supervise a patient’s withdrawal from alcohol or another addictive substance, either on an inpatient or outpatient basis. They watch closely for withdrawal symptoms, which they manage with medications and various supportive therapies. A medical detox can reduce the dangers of withdrawal from a substance the body has grown dependent on or addicted to. Medical detox is the first step in addiction treatment, and it should be followed by education, therapy, and other long-term support measures.

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Who Needs Medical Detox?

Not everyone with a substance use problem requires medical detox before entering a drug rehabilitation program, but those who have a physical dependency on a drug, or who would be risking their health to attempt to quit on their own, may benefit from beginning their addiction treatment with it.

While detoxification helps to eliminate the physical symptoms of addiction, most patients will need additional medical and psychological assistance. Quitting a substance doesn’t address the underlying causes of the initial addiction, which could be genetic, environmental, or behavioral. Also, there may be changes in brain chemistry as a result of long-term substance abuse that need to be addressed. Recovery usually involves treating the patient's mind as well as their body.

Why should you detox?

Medical detox clears the alcohol or drugs from your system so that your body can begin healing. While stopping cold turkey at home on your own may sound like the easiest solution, it’s usually not the safest or most effective option. Detoxing ensures that trained medical staff are monitoring your withdrawal process and can step in to alleviate your discomfort and treat more severe symptoms before they endanger your life.  

How can you prepare for detox?

Asking for professional help, getting informed about your addiction and treatment options, seeking out people who support you, and having a hopeful attitude are key to your recovery. If you’re aware in advance of how the withdrawal could negatively affect you physically and emotionally, then you will be more likely to follow through on it and come out the other side. Most people who are in recovery have a more positive attitude and feel like they lead fuller, healthier lives.

What More to Expect When Detoxing

A medical detox clears the body of all traces of the substance it has grown dependent on to function normally. As a result, the person detoxing will experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms that may last several weeks. Afterward, they will need to follow a clear treatment plan that provides ongoing support and resources to ensure that they don’t slip back into old habits. Detoxing can be a fresh start on the way to establishing healthy goals and reconnecting with loved ones.

Should I tell people I am in the midst of detoxing?

In many ways, connection is the opposite of addiction: Secure, supportive relationships can be a protective influence against becoming addicted in the first place, and they can also play an important role in recovery. Start with a small group of people you can trust to be empathetic and helpful; these may include other addicts in recovery who understand what you are going through along with a select group of friends and family with whom you are comfortable.

How can I locate a good facility to help me detox?

Finding a good addiction treatment program can be difficult. Seek out programs that offer a comprehensive assessment, which includes looking for co-occurring mental health problems, an integrated treatment approach, a clean and respectful environment, evidence-informed practices, qualified and supportive staff, and significant other/family involvement in treatment. High-quality programs also often have outside accreditation and the ability to connect you to longer-term resources and ongoing support. Visit Psychology Today’s Treatment Center Directory to find a medical detox facility near you.

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