The Basics on Drug and Alcohol Detox Programs

The Basics on Drug and Alcohol Detox Programs

If you have alcoholism, prescription drug addiction, cocaine dependence or any other chemical habit that’s taken over your life, you’ve probably heard hints that you’d do well to get help at a professional drug detox center. In your more sober moments, you likely agree. Still, the prospect can be unnerving, and not just because withdrawal sickness is no fun or because you can hardly visualize yourself coping with life through any means except drugs. Most people get their ideas about drug detox programs from the general media, which tend to either focus on the negative or talk mostly about celebrities whom few of us can relate to.

Here are the basics of what you can actually expect at an effective alcohol and drug detox center. (Check our archives for tips on making sure the center you choose is reputable and a good personal fit. There would be fewer negative stories if fewer people signed up for treatment on the basis of online directory listings, hard-sell tactics or third-hand referrals.)

1. Medically supervised withdrawal is always safer than “home detox.”

While some forms of withdrawal are more dangerous than others—a lot depends on the substance involved, the duration of the addiction and the detoxer’s overall physical condition—it’s never possible to be sure you won’t suffer serious physical symptoms or that your judgment won’t be affected to the point you do something life-threatening. (The absolute worst-case scenario is attempting to detox in complete isolation without even one trusted friend handy to watch for trouble: “no one else needs to know I ever had a problem” is the sort of pride that goes before potentially fatal falls.) A well-managed drug detox center will have immediate access to licensed medical treatment; experience in spotting trouble signs and reassuring patients; and the facilities to make you as comfortable as possible—not to mention counseling and follow-up to ensure your newfound sobriety proves more than a temporary victory.

A few caveats:

  • Don’t automatically trust the first place that calls itself a “medical treatment center”: drug detox programs are loosely regulated in many areas, and it is possible to obtain a license with minimal staff training and low organizational competence.
  • Beware of “rapid drug detox” and other unconventional treatment approaches: they are of unproven effectiveness, can be dangerous, and often encourage the idea (the last thing anyone recovering from addiction needs to have reinforced) that a “magic bullet” is preferable to taking full personal responsibility.
  • If you’re considering a program that treats heroin or prescription drug addiction with replacement opiates, discuss with the treatment providers, carefully and in advance, the potential risks of developing a new addiction and what measures they will take to prevent that.

2. Inpatient drug and alcohol treatment centers are similar to “regular” hospitals in both medical and leisure facilities.

In other words, you needn’t worry that your room in an alcohol/drug detox center will resemble the stereotypical filthy cot. You’ll be assigned a real bedroom, solitary or shared, cleaned and maintained by staff. (If you get really sick, you may be moved to an intensive-care-style room that provides for 24/7 supervision and intravenous hydration.) And after the worst of physical detox is over, you’ll have access to communal facilities such as dining halls, recreation rooms and outdoor sitting areas.

Also as in a general hospital, there will be visiting hours for outside family and friends, plus rules on what they or you can bring onto treatment center grounds. For other patients’ protection as well as your own, anything that could encourage relapse cravings, trigger nausea or be used as a weapon will be banned. So will most personal electronics and sports equipment—don’t worry, the center will have its own leisure-time gear.

3. Therapy is part of the mix.

While addiction disorder is a recognized disease, it’s a behavioral disease, which means that how badly it hurts you is largely dependent on your own choices of action and reaction. That doesn’t mean you should get stuck in a shame-and-blame rut, any more than someone hit by a car should substitute “Why didn’t I look both ways before crossing?” guilt trips for physical therapy. It does mean that willpower alone is unlikely to keep you sober for long, unless you understand what problems you were trying to solve with drug use and how you can better cope with them in the future. For that reason, a good detox program won’t stop with “detox” alone, but will provide several weeks of individual and group therapy to help you get at the reasons behind your addiction. Some centers even provide for including outside family members in therapy sessions. (At any rate, do all you can to persuade the rest of your household to join you for therapy as soon as possible—chances are everyone had some role in reinforcing the addiction, and should learn new habits for reinforcing your future sobriety.)

Note: If a center is short on licensed and experienced therapists, or offers only group counseling, or has more than ten patients per staff member, cross it off your list—you won’t get the full benefits of rehab without individual attention. But don’t try to dodge group therapy, either: it may be your best source of new ideas, it reduces self-pity and feelings of isolation, and it warms you up for long-term regular peer support that will help you stay permanently sober.

4. Detox centers use a variety of facility styles and treatment approaches.

While all the above applies to every qualified detox treatment center, there is considerable variation in secondary areas—which is a good thing, as it leaves more room for finding a center that suits the unique person you are. Some points you may want to consider during advance research and interviews:

  • Is their treatment approach based on any religious tradition? If not, how would they define their general philosophy toward human responsibility and spiritual needs?
  • Is their overall approach “tough” or “tender”? (“Tough” means an emphasis on personal responsibility with a prodding to constructive action—not a shame-based approach that insinuates, “You’re a loser with no hope for redemption.”)
  • Do they follow (or draw from) any classic treatment approach such as “12 Steps”; use their own template; or custom-design their approach for each individual patient?
  • Do they accommodate specific diets and other personal lifestyle preferences?

Whatever your own preferences, there’s a detox center that’s right for you. Don’t wait any longer to start seeking out your best option!

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