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8 Common Misconceptions About Drug and Alcohol Detox Programs

Perhaps because much of the public hears only about the horrors of withdrawal and the occasional scandal involving corrupt detox centers, many people who could be helped by drug and alcohol detox are afraid to try it. It’s time to set the record straight. 

Misconception #1: Detox programs treat you like a commodity.

The truth: Any good drug or alcohol detox center will consider your needs as an individual, and will listen to your concerns. They may even refer you to an alternative treatment facility if their own program isn’t quite right for you. Talk with prospective treatment centers and see how well you connect with the staff, whether they are good listeners, how well they understand your personal values and philosophies, and if they can accommodate special dietary/mobility/allergy needs. Ask about prescribed length of stay and what it takes into consideration; daily schedules and their flexibility; and how many patients come from backgrounds similar to yours.

Misconception #2: Detox programs isolate you.

The truth: Only if you define “isolation” in the narrowest terms. The typical drug detox center will encourage you to remain onsite for at least 90 days of medical treatment and therapy (though some intensive outpatient programs allow patients to live at home and work full-time while coming to the center daily for counseling). There are sound reasons for the 90-day detox treatment recommendation: longer stays provide extensive practice in sober living, keep you away from familiar drug-use triggers until they’re less familiar, and significantly reduce your risk of relapse. And you’ll have plenty of human contact, with staff and fellow detoxers, during therapy sessions and down times.

If you have strong preferences about having visitors, or about being able to keep up with your regular work, ask the detox center for advice (keeping in mind that your initial preference may not always be the best thing for you). And if you’re worried about taking a long leave from your job, be assured that detox treatment qualifies as a reasonable accommodation for a health condition. Chances are your employers will be understanding once you explain how recovery will solve many of your job-performance problems.

Misconception #3: Detox programs force you to see out the experience.

The truth: The only time medical detox centers will physically prevent you from leaving will be if your body or mind becomes so disabled by withdrawal symptoms it would be a real physical danger to let you go unsupervised. Beyond that, they’ll encourage you when you feel you can’t stand the withdrawal symptoms another second, and they may apply a little tough love—but they won’t stand in your way if you insist on checking out. Even if you’re there under court order, they’ll probably refer the matter back to the court rather than restraining you themselves.

Misconception #4: Detox programs aren’t necessary: they provide no significant advantages over on-your-own cold turkey detox.

The truth: If you believe that, you may literally be risking your life. Attempting home detox, without the immediate access to medical treatment you’d have in a drug or alcohol detox center, is gambling that no life-threatening withdrawal symptoms will develop or that you’ll have time and presence of mind to summon help if they do. (Unsupervised withdrawal is particularly dangerous with alcohol and some types of prescription drug rehab.) Even with a non-fatal overdose, chances of permanent damage to body or brain increase every minute medical treatment is delayed. And even if you do get through acute withdrawal with no serious problems, you’ll remain at increased risk for relapse—and possibly a worse withdrawal experience next time—without the therapy and moral support of long-term follow-up treatment.

Misconception #5: Detox programs offer guided withdrawal and nothing else.

The truth: If you’ve read this far, you already know that’s wrong. Committed detox centers get you started on all the essential elements of long-term sobriety: therapy to uncover the reasons behind addiction; medical treatment for any mental or physical problems that may be contributing; counseling in planning for your most effective future; and access to a support network.

Misconception #6: Detox programs won’t take you until you hit rock bottom.

The truth: You can be admitted to a drug detox center at any stage of addiction. If anything, detox professionals—like anyone who provides treatment for any sort of illness—would rather you come in the earlier stages, when accumulated damage will be less, withdrawal less dangerous and the recovery journey easier. Talk to a treatment professional if you have the faintest suspicion you may be developing an addiction—and if it hasn’t actually become a physical illness, you’ll still be glad you got help before it did.

Misconception #7: Detox programs are prohibitively expensive.

The truth: Although high-profile addiction cases involving wealthy celebrities may give that impression, you can get effective drug and alcohol detox treatment on a working-class budget. For one thing, all the money may not need to come from your own pocket: “substance abuse disorder” is among the mental-health-related conditions automatically covered under most health insurance plans, and it also qualifies you for disability assistance in many jurisdictions. For another thing, not all medical detox centers are fancy health resorts: it’s entirely possible to find a bare-bones option that offers excellent treatment. The only essential elements are medical certification or affiliations; a sound reputation; nutritious meals; comfortable temporary-living quarters; and qualified counseling.

(And if you still aren’t convinced, remember what you’re already spending to feed your addiction—and what it could cost you in additional medical bills down the road.)

Misconception #8: Detox programs are all alike.

The truth: As you’ve probably already gathered from the above information, nothing could be further from the truth. Besides variations in facilities, costs and basic philosophies, drug and alcohol detox programs comprise an enormous range of options in counseling styles and sobriety-program templates (they aren’t all classic 12-Step). In addition, there’s a program for you somewhere that fits your preferences in:

  • Tough love vs. kid gloves
  • Alone time vs. group time
  • Privacy vs. camaraderie
  • Free time vs. guided time

Of course, all good detox centers do have certain core elements in common: concern for patients as unique individuals; a solid understanding of addiction and related issues; a strong sense of mission regarding health and sobriety; and encouraging patients to stretch their comfort zones.

That last item leads into a bonus misconception that keeps many people too long in addiction: the idea that “detox treatment is for the weak; I can handle my own problems.” As a human being, to become your best self you need genuine self-confidence and the support of a caring community. Going for detox is a solid step toward both—and a decision that shows you’re strong where it counts.

Inland Detox, the top drug and alcohol detox center in southern California, is located in the Temecula Valley. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, please call (888) 739-8296 to arrange a visit.