Drug or alcohol detoxification is the process of removing traces of a psychoactive substance from the body to break the physical hold of addiction. Medical detox is the most common and most preferred method to begin weaning an addict off of the drug of their choice.
Medical detox must take place through an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program and involves administering medications to help prevent withdrawal symptoms. Because some substances of addiction can cause dangerous or fatal withdrawal symptoms, medical detox is essential for ensuring both comfort and safety.
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For some people, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will include delirium tremens, or DTs, a highly dangerous condition that’s characterized by increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. For five percent of those who experience the onset of DTs during unsupervised detox, this condition is fatal.
Withdrawal from sedative benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan can cause dangerous shifts in body functions, and withdrawal from these substances should always be performed under the supervision of a physician.
Medical problems during detox aren’t the only reasons to choose a medical detox treatment program. Because withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings and other uncomfortable conditions, the majority of people who try to detox by themselves will relapse very quickly just to alleviate the discomfort.
There are three main models of medical detox programs:
Different substances of abuse cause different withdrawal symptoms, but not every patient will experience all of the symptoms. The severity of symptoms depends on a number of factors, including the duration of addiction and how much of the drug is in the body when detox begins.
In addition to delirium tremens, alcohol withdrawal symptoms include tremors, hallucinations, depression, insomnia, and seizures. Medications used to treat these symptoms include:
Symptoms of withdrawal from opiates such as heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin include body aches, hot and cold sweats, anxiety and agitation, diarrhea, and vomiting. Medications used to treat these symptoms include:
Withdrawing from stimulants like cocaine and prescription drugs like Adderall is rarely dangerous, but the uncomfortable symptoms will likely include marked depression, lethargy, insomnia, irritability, and suicidal thoughts. While no medications have been approved by the FDA to specifically treat these symptoms, many physicians prescribe drugs like Zyban to alleviate cravings and reduce depressive symptoms.
Withdrawing from sedatives like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium is very dangerous when done “cold turkey.” Medical detox for these medications is a tapering off process over time to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms, which include increases in blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate as well as nausea, restlessness, and anxiety.
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