Alcohol and Drug Detoxification (Detox)


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    Alcohol and Drug Detox and Medically Managed Withdrawal

    Detoxification, or detox for short, is the process through which the body clears itself of alcohol or drugs.  Detox is meant to help individuals manage the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous effects that can occur when drug or alcohol uses stops.  It is often the first step for treating substance use disorders. Detox centers are designed to manage the unpleasant, upsetting, and sometimes life-threatening symptoms that go along with withdrawal.

    Medical detox may include the use of medications prescribed and provided by a doctor, which is called “medically managed withdrawal.” There are medications that can help patients with withdrawal from opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and other sedatives.  Some of these medications also help to prevent drug cravings not only during detoxification but also during treatment—and even beyond treatment. This helps to guard against relapse and also makes it easier for people to stay in treatment.

    It’s important to note that detox and medically managed withdrawal do not address the social, behavioral, and psychological issues connected to addiction, so it should only be viewed as the important first step of treatment.10 

    Following the completion of alcohol and drug detox, it is important to engage in either inpatient or outpatient alcohol and drug rehab addiction treatment.  Outpatient partial hospitalization programs (PHP), or intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are common next steps following alcohol and drug detox.

    Detox can happen in different types of settings with lower or higher levels of medical oversight.  These detox services can be provided at either an inpatient or outpatient provider setting.

    What Alcohol and Drug Detox Isn't

    Alcohol and drug detox is not designed to resolve long-standing emotional, social, or behavioral problems that are associated with substance abuse.  Obtaining and completing alcohol and drug rehab addiction treatment, such as PHP or IOP, following detox greatly improves success at achieving long-term sobriety.

    What Alcohol and Drug Detox Is

    Alcohol and drug detox is a medical intervention that manages an individual safely through the process of acute withdrawal by clearing toxins from the body and minimizing the physical harm caused by the withdrawal process. 

    What is the difference between inpatient and outpatient alcohol and drug detox?

    When you first stop using drugs or alcohol, you may start to experience withdrawal from the substance and go through several mental and physical symptoms such as anxiety, drug cravings, depressed mood, trouble sleeping (or sleeping too much), stomach problems, muscle aches, or bone pains.    The goal of any detox treatment is to help keep you safe through this process and reduce symptoms as much as possible.  The withdrawal from substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.

    At inpatient detox, you live at a treatment center while you go through detox. Treatment centers could be a hospital or other setting that is able to handle severe medical issues, or it could be a standalone center with less intense medical oversight.  Staff is onsite around the clock to check your progress and ensure your safety.  By contrast, outpatient detox lets you live at home and attend treatment appointments at a clinic or doctor’s office while still more or less following your daily routine.

    Detox can help clear your body of drugs and alcohol, but detox alone is rarely enough to kick a substance use disorder in the long term. This is because detox doesn’t address the underlying causes of addiction—issues thaTheher you choose inpatient or outpatient detox, the staff will help you find and shift to post-detox treatment for a substance use disorder.

    How to decide if you need inpatient or outpatient alcohol and drug detox?

    A full comprehensive assessment by a treatment provider, such as PUSH for Recovery, takes each of these factors into consideration and creates a risk score across six different dimensions of the ASAM criteria to scientifically determine the most appropriate level of care.  There are a number of factors to consider when deciding between inpatient or outpatient detox.  These include:

    Are you willing and able to follow a treatment plan?

    It can be hard to detox while living at home, where you may need to face everyday triggers—the people, places, and things that make you want to use drugs or alcohol. Inpatient detox offers a safe place away from these stressors with no access to drugs or alcohol.

    Do you have any other mental health issues?

    Mental health disorders are common among people in detox, and inpatient substance abuse treatment centers are generally able to manage people who have both mental health and substance use disorders (this is called “co-occurring disorders”). Withdrawal may worsen existing symptoms of mental health disorders or cause new symptoms to emerge.

    Do you have any medical problems?

    Existing medical issues may have an impact on how bad withdrawal is and may need extra oversight or specialized care. Heart issues, chronic pain, diabetes, and pregnancy are all medical concerns that may show a need for more intensive care levels that an acute care inpatient setting is more likely to be able to offer.

    Have you gone through medically managed withdrawal before?

    If you’ve tried detox in the past and relapsed (started using again), you may benefit from a more intensive care level. If you’ve been to inpatient detox before, you will most likely need to return for more treatment after detox.

    If you’ve gone through withdrawal in the past, how severe were your symptoms?

    Those who have had severe withdrawal symptoms are more likely to have them again. Severe symptoms can include withdrawal seizures and delirium (intense confusion). Inpatient detox may be a good idea to keep you as safe as possible.

    What is your living environment like?

    Not everyone has supportive relationships at home, or even stable, safe housing. If you that is unstable, unsupportive, or even dangerous, inpatient detox may be a better choice.

    Alcohol and Drug Detox Medications

    The withdrawal management process may include the administration of medications that can significantly reduce withdrawal symptoms or, in some cases, eliminate them.

    Some of the medications used in the withdrawal management process include:11,12

    • Benzodiazepines for withdrawal from alcohol and other benzodiazepines.
    • Opioid replacement medications, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone) and methadone, to lessen withdrawal symptoms and suppress cravings from opioid drugs such as heroin, morphine, Vicodin, and OxyContin.
    • Medications to block the effects of and reduce cravings for opioids, such as naltrexone.
    • Supportive medications that address specific withdrawal symptoms and other symptoms associated with co-occurring psychological disorders or medical issues.

    Medical management of withdrawal may be necessary in the case of long-term abuse for certain classes of drugs, including alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates. Withdrawal from regular use of these substances can result in severe confusion, hallucinations, and the development of life-threatening seizures that may need to be medically addressed. 

    People attempting to stop their abuse of these drugs should first consult a physician and/or licensed mental health care professional before significantly reducing their use or discontinuing the drug.

    PUSH for Recovery Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Detox Program

    The outpatient detox program at PUSH for Recovery lets you live at home and attend treatment appointments at a clinic or doctor’s office while still more or less following your daily routine.  Medications are prescribed to help provide comfort while withdrawing from substances.  Clients are monitored by our medical staff, and necessary adjustments are made to medications as necessary.  PUSH for Recovery also provides the critical next steps following detox with their partial hospitalization program (PHP), and intensive outpatient program (IOP).  Contact PUSH for Recovery today to get started on your journey to recovery from alcohol or drugs.


    Donate to help the Life Recovery Society provide a safe, sober, supportive, and flexible way for individuals to earn an income while in treatment.  Life Recovery Society also plans to add a men's and women's sober living home in the Hilltop Community.