The Benefits of Medically-Supervised Detox

The benefits of medically-supervised detox include treatment for painful withdrawal symptoms and co-occurring medical and psychiatric conditions.

What Are the Benefits of Medically-Supervised Detox?

Detox, the process of clearing the body of toxic substances, can be a painful, strenuous, and even life-threatening process. Moreover, undergoing detox without medical care increases the risk of an unsuccessful detox. It also reduces the likelihood an individual will try detox again in the future. However, mitigation of withdrawal symptoms and treatment of co-morbid conditions are just some of the benefits of medically-supervised detox that contribute to a greater likelihood of successful recovery.

It’s the First Stage of Successful Addiction Treatment

For many individuals who successfully complete addiction treatment, the first step was entering medically-supervised detox.The first stage is detox because you have to free the body from the toxins of the addictive substance before you can really therapeutically analyze your behaviors and learn a healthy, sober new way of life. Detox is not a replacement for treatment, but the crucial first stage of a process of recovery. For the benefit of those in recovery, many inpatient and outpatient rehabs offer detox as the first phase of their treatment program. This allows individuals to receive round-the-clock care throughout painful withdrawal symptoms before moving on to an addiction treatment and therapy program.

It Can Be Life-Saving

Because of the various negative effects on the body and brain caused by substance abuse, medically-supervised detox is vital to detecting and treating any alcohol- or drug-related medical emergencies. These medical emergencies can be a result of active use or can appear during the detox phase.

For those who choose to detox without professional care, symptoms of withdrawal can be fatal. For instance, many people experience tremors during withdrawal. However, some may experience more severe symptoms of brain damage like seizures and delirium. Life-threatening detox is most closely associated with alcohol, benzodiazepine, and barbiturate withdrawal; however, complications can potentially arise with other drugs depending on whether or not there is medical or physical co-occurring disorder.

Withdrawal symptoms will vary from individual to individual depending on various factors, such as:

  • Length of time a person has been using the substance
  • The average dose they regularly took
  • How frequently they took the drug
  • The person’s mental health and medical history
  • Whether they mixed the substance with alcohol or other drugs
  • Gender
  • Body weight
  • How the individual administered the substance

Relying on willpower or quitting “cold turkey” without medically-supervised detox is not recommended due to potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms and the high risk of relapse.

The pain of withdrawal symptoms makes people in medically-assisted detox much more likely to complete it than those who attempt detox at home. Following a failed detox attempt, an individual’s odds of relapse skyrocket. Additionally, the sense of guilt or failure, coupled with how agonizing withdrawal can feel, prevents some from trying detox again. For those who never complete detox, the probability of fatal overdose and permanent bodily damage is high.

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Prescription Medications Can Ease Uncomfortable Withdrawal Symptoms

In one study of detox facilities, addiction treatment medications were used in nearly 80% of all detoxes. The widespread use of treatment medications is due to the severity of a wide array of withdrawal symptoms that range from mild to fatal. The primary reasons medications are used during detox are to help the brain stabilize, reduce withdrawal symptoms, keep the patient safe, keep the patient comfortable, and to reduce the likelihood of relapse.

Because the type and severity of withdrawal symptoms that appear depend on a number of factors, they will vary significantly from person to person. Common withdrawal symptoms and the medications typically used to treat the varying symptoms include the following:

Substance Type
Common and/or Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
Detox and Treatment Medications
Alcohol
Anxiety, confusion, fever, hallucinations, increased heart rate, insomnia, irritability, nausea, nightmares, seizures, sweating, tremors, vomiting, depression, fatigue, mood swings, cold or clammy skin, rapid heart rate, shaky hands, delirium tremens Librium, Valium, Ativan, Serax, Clonidine, Halperidol, Atenolol, Phenytoin, Acamprosate, Phenobarbital, Buspirone, Klonopin, Melatonin, Seroquel, Trazodone, Naltrexone, Tegretol, Gabapentin, Trileptal, Valproic Acid
Benzodiazepines (Benzos)
Lack of appetite, anxiety, change in mood, delirium, hypersensitivity to loud noises, hyperventilation, insomnia, muscle spasms, panic attacks, seizures, sweating, tremors, weight loss, irritability, tension, weight loss, heart palpitations, headache, muscular pain and stiffness, rebound symptoms, psychotic reactions Phenobarbital, Buspirone, Tegretol, Klonopin, Valium, Tofranil, Melatonin, Seroquel, Trazadone, vitamins, dietary supplements, Clonidine, Gabapentin,
Opioids (including Heroin)
Abdominal cramping, anxiety, diarrhea, dilated pupils, frequent yawning, goosebumps, high blood pressure, insomnia, muscle aches, nausea, rapid heart rate, restlessness, runny nose, sweating, teary eyes, vomiting Clonidine, Lofexidine, Imodium®, Hydroxyzine, Methadone, Suboxone, Buprenorphine, Naltrexone, Thorazine, Librium, Gabapentin, Lucemyra, Melatonin, Trazodone, Seroquel, Meclizine, Dramamine, Benadryl, Tylenol, Motrin, Advil
Stimulants
Anxiety, depression, fatigue, increased appetite, insomnia, irritability, panic attacks, slowed thinking, suicidal thoughts, unpleasant dreams There are currently no government-approved medications to treat withdrawal from drugs like Cocaine, Meth, or Adderall.

May Uncover and Lead to Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders or Diseases

A number of individuals with substance use disorders also have co-occurring mental illnesses or medical issues. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of peripheral health problems because symptoms may be suppressed by the abuse of certain substances. For example, an individual who abuses Heroin is unlikely to feel the abdominal pain associated with Hepatitis. The presence of underlying health conditions is often revealed during medically-supervised detox.

Likewise, prolonged abuse of drugs like Meth and alcohol can cause serious brain damage. Drugs like Heroin and Cocaine often contain materials like sugar, starch, or powdered milk that can clog blood vessels and damage organs throughout the body. Intravenous drug use (“shooting up”) is also a major cause of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission among those with drug addictions.

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The danger and discomfort associated with the detox process can be successfully mitigated with proper medical care. Medically-supervised detox not only increases the likelihood of successful transition to rehab, it facilitates a safe and supportive environment during a potentially dangerous time.

To get the benefits of medically-supervised detox for your own recovery, reach out to a treatment specialist today for more information.

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