What You Need to Know About Medical Detox
Written by Joe Wallis
The human body is a true marvel. There is a constant balancing act between the hormones and chemicals that give each system signals to perform their individual functions. Many mental problems are caused by improper balance in those chemicals. This is why drugs and alcohol cause dependence and addiction. When a person uses or consumes these substances, chemicals found in them begin to take the place of naturally occurring chemicals in the body.
The greater problem comes from what happens when those chemicals are removed. Once the body has become accustomed to them being there, it can be extremely unpleasant, even painful to regain homeostasis once they’re gone. Every person is different, and their current health and genetic disposition can have drastic effects on how the body will react to sudden changes. A medical detox program can help keep a person safe while they go through the early stages of finding their own natural balance, or homeostasis.
Withdrawals are different for various substances and from person to person. Again, every person is different, and their bodies will respond differently to changing chemicals. In some cases it’s possible for a person to power through the withdrawal symptoms and quit cold turkey, but it’s often not that simple. How often have you heard of someone who wants to quit, but can’t do it? It’s usually due to the difficult withdrawal process.
The right approach
Getting clean on your own is very difficult, but it can also be very dangerous. Your body can have a number of reactions to the sudden change, and in some cases they can be fatal. So what is a person to do?
This is where appropriate detox comes into play. Detoxification is doing exactly what it sounds like: removing toxins from your body. Withdrawal is going to be difficult no matter what, but going about it with the right approach can ease the process, and make it much more likely to be completed. What is the right approach? It depends on the person and the nature of their dependency, but there are some basic steps to guide the process.
The first step to successful detox is an extensive evaluation. This will include tests to find out what substances are present in the body and in what quantity. It’s also important to determine if there are any co-occurring disorders, including mental health problems. These can cause complications or interfere with the effectiveness of a given treatment. This evaluation should only be performed by a qualified professional.
The treatment itself should be tailored to the needs of each patient, as determined in the evaluation. The treatment often includes an alternative substance being prescribed to ease the body’s transition. This will help reduce medical risks, such as seizures, caused by the sudden absence of the drug. Over time the dosage is reduced until it is safe to stop. This process is called tapering. In other situations treatment could be as simple as monitoring the patient through the withdrawals. For some substances, particularly alcohol, a major side effect is dehydration, so rehydrating and replacing important nutrients in the blood is a critical component.
Preparation for Recovery
Detox is only the first step toward recovery. It won’t take away all the cravings or withdrawal symptoms, and should be followed up with entrance into a recovery program that fits the person’s needs. Before release, a good detox facility will provide each patient (and their families) information about recovery programs available to them. Ideally a patient will go straight from detox into recovery. A center offering both provides an even better solution.
Something to watch for when it comes to detox is how it will be administered. Sometimes you will find a center calling themselves detox, but not offering medical supervision. True medical detox means it is performed under qualified medical supervision. Because there are so many variables, and so many things could potentially go wrong, it’s dangerous to approach detox without a trained medical staff on hand.
Another question to ask yourself when considering detox is the setting. This is another area where individual circumstances make a big difference.
Inpatient detox means the patient is checked into a facility and kept under constant medical supervision. This is the safest approach, and most likely to be completed successfully, especially for more severe situations.
Outpatient detox means the patient comes in for assessments, and is perhaps given a prescription, but doesn’t stay full time at a facility. This approach is far less controlled and usually takes much longer because the doctor must use extra caution. It is also much more likely to be abandoned. This approach should really only be taken in cases of very mild dependence.
It’s also possible to do something in between. Some facilities provide housing and regular medical checkups, but can’t be considered a full inpatient program due to lack of full time medical supervision.
How to Decide
If you are ready to get clean, it’s strongly recommended that you start out with an appropriate medical detox, followed immediately by a good recovery program. There are a lot of facilities out there. Ask yourself these questions to start of your investigation:
● Do they offer combined detox/rehab?
● Is the staff qualified and appropriately licensed?
● Are they flexible enough to accommodate different reactions to the treatment?
● What is the atmosphere like?
● How much privacy will each patient have?
● Will family be able to visit? What are the visitation policies?
● What is their success rate with prior patients?
Entering detox and recovery is a long term commitment. Addiction recovery is never really finished, it’s a lifelong process. Starting it off right can make all the difference.