The process of medical detoxification, or medical detox, is the first step in substance dependence and addiction which allows for an affected individual to adjust to a life without alcohol and/or drugs.
The process is performed slowly under the care and supervision of a trained and experienced healthcare professional. This is done to allow patients the opportunity to withdraw from their addictive substances without having to experience too severe withdrawal symptoms.
An important aspect to take note of is that every addiction is based on the individual and every withdrawal experience is different. Not everyone goes through the same withdrawal process and the severity of symptoms will depend on factors such as the type of drug used, the frequency of its use, how long the substance was used for, and if there is any underlying pathology.
The following are possible withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced depending on the substance that is abused:
- Alcohol – fever, rapid heartbeat, and confusion.
- Opioids/narcotics – excessive sweating, muscles aches, anxiety, abdominal discomfort, and agitation.
- Methamphetamine – uncontrollable shaking, dry mouth, sweating, fatigue, and insomnia.
- Cocaine – malaise, increased appetite, fatigue, and agitation.
Some other withdrawal symptoms that patients may experience can include:
- Muscle tremors.
Some patients may stop experiencing these issues after a few days or weeks, while others may end up struggling with symptoms that linger on for months. The period of time one may ultimately experience the withdrawal symptoms may last longer than anticipated without medical support and this can lead to relapsing back into bad habits.
Severe withdrawal symptoms that warrant definite medical intervention and support include:
- Severe psychological distress.
- Seizures or convulsions.
In the event of such issues, a medical detox administrator can ensure the safety of a patient and reduce the chances of a relapse.
How Does Medical Detox Work?
The following steps take place during a medical detoxification:
- A trained medical practitioner will take charge over the entire withdrawal process starting with a patient’s history, current health status, and substance use history.
- The patient will be examined and investigated further if required to rule out and manage any acute and/or chronic medical issues. Any fluid and electrolyte imbalances will also be managed here.
- A custom detox process will be initiated for the patient to minimize the side effects of the withdrawal process as well as encourage a permanent state of recovery.
- Depending on the substance that the patient is addicted to, tapering off the drug may be required in order to prevent any severe withdrawal effects from developing. This is especially important for substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and methamphetamine.
- Once the patients have their withdrawal symptoms under control, they will start to take part in other substance rehabilitation services such as psychotherapy and occupational therapy.
Without having to worry about physical and psychological symptoms of the withdrawal process, the patient can then start to focus on their mental health, long-term recovery plan to avoid relapses and to rebuild their lives and relationships with family members and friends.