Detoxification is essentially the first step in recovery from addiction, especially that from opiates. Many individuals battling addiction often underestimate the importance of undergoing detox in an inpatient setting.
In fact, patients undergoing detox endure physical pains of various intensities and extremely uncomfortable, or even life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms.
If you or a loved one is planning on detoxifying from a drug addiction, you need to be aware of what to expect from this process.
What is Detoxification?
Detoxification helps deal with the severe physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug use.
It is a systematic process that aims to wean patients off of psychoactive substances in a safe and stable environment, typically under the close supervision and care of a physician.
Withdrawing from certain addictive substances may require medication and a hospital or a residential treatment center may be the best option for the detox. This solution is often preferred for patients who have been using for a long time and have developed a heavy dependence.
Most common medications used are methadone and buprenorphine. Both medications help with detox and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Patients can be on these medications for years. Naltrexone can help prevent relapse.
Long-term abuse of alcohol or drugs leads to an eventual physical dependence. Any attempt to halt or control usage of such substances can result in acute withdrawal symptoms in the dependent individuals.
This is why the process of detoxification is specifically designed to treat the physical effects of withdrawal and to gradually remove toxic residue in the body, resulting from the chemicals found in drugs and/or alcohol. 
Each patient experiences the process of detoxification differently. These differences are largely based on how differently specific symptoms are experienced: when the withdrawal symptoms are initiated, the duration of their continuity and the intensity of these symptoms.
Commonly experienced withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Extreme fatigue
- Intolerable cravings
- Insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns
- Profuse sweating
- Weakness of the body and the muscles
- Spasms or jitters (can affect part or all of the body)
- Facial tremors
- Emotional turmoil characterized by pain or guilt
Most of the time, treatment centers often have their own detoxification facilities. Some, however, may arrange for their patients to use detoxification programs at nearby sites, including hospitals and clinics. There exist licensed detoxification facilities in most areas of the United States.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient
Detoxification can be conducted at either an outpatient level (such as in a mental health center or an addiction clinic) or an inpatient level (such as that in a hospital or a residential treatment center).
Inpatient detoxification allows the patient to be closely monitored and is understood to be able to speed up the process of detoxification.
Outpatient detoxification is considered less disruptive to the patient’s life and more cost effective.
The choice between the two, however, largely depends on several factors such as the drug of abuse, the intensity, and duration of abuse, accompanying psychosocial issues, patient’s age and co-occurring physical and/or mental conditions.
It is important to keep in mind that medical detoxification is only the first step of addiction treatment and does not hold the potential to treat long-term drug use that affects the patient at a much more deeper, psychological and emotional level.
Even though detoxification alone is insufficient to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence, for some individuals it may prove to be a significant indicator and predecessor for the effectiveness of the following drug addiction treatment.
Many people confuse detoxification with rehabilitation, but this is most definitely not accurate. Recovery from addiction is an all-inclusive approach that helps patients deal with addiction at all mental, physical, social and psychological levels.
After all, addiction and its negative influence seep into all aspects of the patient’s life, rendering them incapable of living a healthy and fulfilling life.
Detoxification does not exert any influence on the fundamental psychological, social and emotional hold of addiction on the patient’s life.
It focuses solely on easing the physical symptoms of withdrawal.
“Detoxification is the initial stage that allows a person to stay clean,” explained Dr. Nora Volkow of National Institute on Drug Abuse. “But that’s just the beginning of the road. And then the rest is what we’re going to call treatment and recovery – that process by which the person who has been addicted is reintegrated into society without the need of drugs.”
Despite its difficulties, detoxification is an essential first step toward recovery. Yet, this process alone cannot get the patient’s addiction under control.
Right after the detoxification, it is highly recommended that the patient must begin psychotherapeutic treatment that directly addresses their dependency, co-occurring mental health problems, and allow them to be able to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
About the Author:
A journalist and social media savvy content writer with wide research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana Ahmed has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute focusing on mental health and addiction recovery, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.
Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. The art of using words to educate, stir emotions, create change and provoke action is at the core of her career, as she strives to develop content and deliver news that matters.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on August 26, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 26, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com