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What Is Medical Detox and Why Is It Important?



Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, then you know how difficult (if not outright impossible) it is to stop using on your own. The decision to fight an addiction is complex and frightening, and many who want to take that step are unwilling to go “cold turkey” because withdrawal symptoms can be extremely painful, if not deadly. However, getting sober is a worthwhile decision that should be looked upon as the beginning of the journey to recovery and a better, healthier life.

Many types of rehabilitation programs are available, but before any lasting rehab can begin, the physical addiction must be broken. Medical detoxification is the first, best way to get clean. The detox process builds a solid foundation for recovery and provides physical safety and psychological support.

What Is Medical Detox?

Medical detox is the necessary first step on the path to recovery. Detox cleanses the toxic and addictive substances out of the body while managing withdrawal symptoms and overcoming physical dependencies under medical supervision. Medical detox is needed if you are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol, unable to fight the cravings on your own and likely to relapse, or are addicted to a substance that can cause death or serious harm if you stop cold turkey.

Many substances make changes to body and brain chemistry when they are being abused. Removing the substance causes withdrawal symptoms as your body tries to learn to function again without it and heal itself — or at least put itself back into balance. Withdrawal is different for everyone, depending on many things — the substance, the length of time you were (ab)using, general physical condition, age, body weight, etc.

Typical withdrawal symptoms include nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, anxiety, sleep problems, head and body aches, fever, sweating, shaking/tremors, changes in mood and appetite, hallucinations, and intense cravings. While these are not lethal on their own, they can be dangerous depending on underlying health issues.

Why Is Medical Detox Important?

1. It’s Safe

In medical detox, the physical safety of the patient comes first. Doctors and nurses are there 24/7 to offer care. This includes providing medications to manage basic and complex symptoms. Depending on the addiction, they may prescribe specific medications to help reduce physical dependence, some may be used throughout the entire program and beyond if needed.

If you are addicted to alcohol or certain benzodiazepines (e.g. Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax), medical detox is essential, as going cold turkey can be fatal. Stopping alcohol use can trigger high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attack. Quitting benzodiazepines suddenly can cause life-threatening seizures. When in medical detox, these symptoms can be avoided and/or treated immediately. Additionally, opioids such as oxycodone or heroin, and stimulants — both non-prescription (cocaine, crystal meth) and prescription (Adderall, Ritalin) — require medical detox.

2. Access To Mental Health Professionals

During detox, it is common to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety. Usually, these psychological symptoms fade away as the process continues, but if they continue, mental health professionals are available.

3. Helps Prevent Relapse

Medical detox provides immediate physical and emotional support, but, above all, medical detox helps prevent relapse. Withdrawal symptoms are treated, and medical pros will monitor you so you know you will be safe. They will help get you through the process as quickly and comfortably as possible. Also, medical detox takes you away from your home environment and the triggers that may have caused the substance abuse initially. In a controlled environment designed for healing, safety, and breaking free of physical addiction, you are less likely to cave in to cravings because you don’t have access to drugs or alcohol. Once clean, you can focus on staying clean.

What To Expect During Medical Detox?

Medical detox is usually a three-step process that includes:

  • Evaluation
  • Stabilization
  • Preparation for future treatment.

Evaluation involves physical exams, blood tests, and screenings for mental health disorders or other medical conditions. Therapists will determine a person’s psychological state, and a physician will develop a treatment plan.

Stabilization is the actual detox process and typically lasts between one and three weeks.

Preparation for additional treatment following detox is important. Health professionals will educate patients about the importance of beginning therapy, joining a 12-step program or support group, or some other form of long-term treatment to decrease the chances of relapse. They will even offer advice on nutrition, exercise, and living a healthier lifestyle.

The main focus of medical detox is physical stabilization, not to treat the underlying causes of addiction. It is only the first step in the treatment process and must be followed by therapy, mental, emotional, and social support services, and education if you want to stay clean and avoid relapse.

Why Choose Into Action Recovery Centers?

Into Action Recovery Centers takes pride in providing a high level of treatment and a holistic approach to recovery for those who suffer from addiction. Our comfortable, medical detox facility is designed with the client’s needs foremost in mind. Our staff includes master’s level counselors, licensed chemical dependency counselors, 24-hour nursing professionals, a staff psychiatrist, a staff chef, and direct care personnel. Our counseling staff provides individualized treatment and care for our clients with an emphasis on tailoring treatment to the specific needs of each individual. Additionally, our staff provides family counseling, relapse prevention, life skills, and grief and trauma counseling.

Into Action Recovery Centers provides an abstinence-based program and all of our staff members have a strong understanding of the recovery process through personal experience. We are passionate about sharing the process involved in living a drug and alcohol-free life. We offer free aftercare for the men who complete our program and have a strong alumni network that remains active in the community. We also offer other amenities such as dietician-prepared meals, mindfulness-based meditation training, outings, and fitness training.

Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Dr. Saeed is a psychiatry specialist with over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He received training in General Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was selected as the Medical Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently serves as the medical director at Into Action Recovery Centers. Full Bio

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