Medical Detox: What Is Medical Detox and How Does It Work?

Medical Detox: What Is Medical Detox and How Does It Work?

It’s a lot easier to get addicted than unaddicted, as anyone who has survived multiple “just quit” attempts knows all too well. Most people who swear “that’s my last drink” after a bad night give up that resolve when their bodies and emotions start complaining again—which may actually be a safer response than sticking out the full course of “home detox,” which is dangerous if not deadly in most cases.

The safest course is medical detox, undertaken at a professional detox rehab center under expert supervision. Treatment centers understand the risks, provide for the patient’s maximum comfort, and respond quickly to any medical emergencies. They also have long-term inpatient care and counseling to reduce the risk of relapse.

If you need medical detoxification for an addiction, here are the top things you should know. (For additional tips on planning for and coping with medical detox, see our article, “8 Simple Ways to Avoid Detox Damage.”)

1. Make sure you choose a reputable treatment center.

Detox rehab centers are often loosely regulated compared to other health services; in many areas, profiteers and fly-by-night operators are a real problem. Look for a center that has been in business at the same location for five years or more, maintains professional ties in the medical and social-services communities, and is generally well spoken of. Get referrals from a doctor you trust or a respected sobriety-network representative. Review the detox center’s online presence, then visit the facilities and talk to the service providers, before making your decision. Never choose a center based solely on its own advertising—and if anyone offers you “perks” such as free rent, run the other direction.

2. Verify that the center can accommodate any special needs you have, and that they are equipped to ensure the safety of all patients in case of extreme circumstances.

Some smaller centers aren’t equipped to provide for every special need that might manifest among patients. Ask about their experience and provisions in advance if you have:

  • Allergies
  • Physical disabilities that need special accommodations
  • Physical or mental inability to tolerate certain light levels, noise levels, textures, temperatures or levels of confinement
  • Ethical or religious objections to any common medication, food or technology

Plus, ask for details on how they will respond if there’s a major emergency such as a power outage or fire, or a natural disaster requiring evacuation.

3. Know if they treat “drugs with drugs,” and make sure both sides understand the risks involved.

Growing addiction statistics involving the heroin treatment drugs methadone and suboxone have raised public awareness about the dangers of substituting one habit-forming drug for another—your addiction may even be to a substance that was originally prescribed as opiate addiction treatment medication, or to ease you off dependence to alcohol or methamphetamines. Or you may have heard about patients who died as a result of “rapid detox” that involved putting the patient under general anesthesia and then administering extra-high doses of drugs intended to speed up the dissipation of physical cravings. In which case you may be tempted to avoid any medical detox center that uses drugs in addiction treatment under any circumstances.

Nevertheless, there are many situations where administering a drug to ease physical withdrawal symptoms—or giving a sedative to reduce panic, or tapering off the substance of addiction rather than stopping it cold—can save a patient from potentially lethal withdrawal effects. During your preliminary interviews with medical detox centers, find out under what circumstances they would administer medication—and be sure that medication would be prescribed by a licensed doctor after full review of the patient’s individual situation.

(Note: Inland Detox does not offer long-term methadone or suboxone as heroin treatment drugs, nor as any other form of opiate addiction treatment medication. We do use medication, when a licensed MD judges it the best approach, to reduce risk of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in patients detoxing from alcohol or benzos.)

4. Make sure you can accept the center’s philosophy and treatment approach.

While the term “medical detoxification” technically applies to care received during physical withdrawal, you aren’t really in full recovery until your mind and habits are “detoxed” from the reflex of responding to stress with self-medication—and your treatment center should provide intensive therapy and a period of inpatient care to help you through that. Choosing the right place is as important here as for the purely physical stage. Even excellent detox rehab centers may employ counseling approaches too tough for your taste, inadvertently encourage you to feel like a victim by focusing on the “disease” aspect of addiction, or embrace a spiritual philosophy incompatible with your religion. You don’t want to compound the discomfort of detox by getting into constant arguments with your providers or starting to question yourself in the wrong ways.

That said, don’t be too quick to reject an approach you aren’t sure about: a major part of detox, not to mention recovery in general, is learning to leave behind old comfort zones and open up new horizons. If a center looks promising but you have some doubts about its overall philosophy, be candid about your reservations during initial interviews. If they’re professionals who understand about individual needs, they’ll be able to resolve your difficulties or help confirm that you and they aren’t the best fit; they may even recommend other detox rehab centers that might suit you better.

5. Don’t expect medical detox to resolve all the problems that led to your addiction.

The primary reason doctors recommend a long post-medical-detox period of inpatient care and counseling is that rushing back to your old life would mean rushing back to the old stresses and temptations that triggered your drug abuse—and you’d be ill-equipped to think of any alternative response. Don’t kid yourself, the world is not going to reward your detoxing achievement by making life in general easier for you. And the people who’ve suffered from your addiction-related behavior aren’t going to just forgive and forget everything right away.

While entering medical detox is a courageous and decisive step, it’s a first step. The full recovery journey—complete with implementing healthier coping habits, making amends to those you’ve wronged, and learning to live in ongoing progress of self-development—will take the rest of your life.

Inland Detox, the top medical 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.