What Is Medical Detox? & Other Types of Drug Detox Programs

Last Updated: May 29th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

What Is Medical Detox? & Other Types of Drug Detox Programs

Drug detox is the process by which the body rids itself of toxic substances. Detoxing from drugs and alcohol is never easy, and in some situations, withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and even deadly. Medical detox, also known as medically monitored detox, is the safest way for most people to withdrawal from long-term dependence on drugs and/or alcohol. 

What is Medical Detox?

When you stop using drugs and alcohol after repeated long-term abuse, your body must readjust since it has become accustomed to the substance. Depending on the type of substance abuse, users may experience a variety of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, tremors, fatigue, or flu-like symptoms. 

Medical detox is a type of drug detox program that uses prescription medication to aid in the detoxification process and help with withdrawal symptoms. Although detox is the all-important first step in the recovery process, the thought of getting through withdrawal is discouraging, especially when you aren’t sure what to expect. If you’re worried that withdrawal will be too difficult, a medically monitored detox program ensures that the process is as safe and comfortable as possible.  

How Medical Drug Detox Programs Keep You Safe

The goal of a medical detox program is to ensure withdrawal takes place in a safe, controlled environment. Your vital signs will be checked regularly, and you’ll likely receive medications to help with a variety of withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, nausea, or severe anxiety. If necessary, you’ll receive meds to lower your blood pressure or to stave off the possibility of seizures.

Medically monitored detox often takes place at an inpatient medical detox facility, where you’ll have attention from trained staff around the clock until you get through the worst part of detox. Some inpatient rehabs have on-site drug detox centers, or you may be referred to an independent detox center or clinic. 

If you’re deemed high-risk, a hospital or psychiatric center provides a higher level of medical attention. 

How Long Does Medically Monitored Detox Take?

In general, most substances clear your body in eight days or less. However, there is no predetermined timeline for drug detox, and the length of medical detox varies depending on the type of substance (or substances), how much you’ve used, your health, age, and gender.  Keep in mind that some withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia, may take weeks or months to resolve. 

Once you complete a medical detox, it’s critical to get into a good treatment program. Although detox is a huge accomplishment, it doesn’t address the problems that prompted you to turn to drugs or alcohol in the first place. You may feel great when the toxic substance has left your body, but without treatment, the risk of relapse is high. Look into drug detox centers that offer multiple types of rehabilitation programs and mental health services

What is Rapid Medical Detox?

People who undergo rapid medical detox are sedated under general anesthesia and will be asleep during the worst symptoms of withdrawal. Ultra-rapid detox is similar, but the process of withdrawal is even faster because the patient is given a drug to speed up withdrawal. 

Although rapid medical detox is touted as a quicker, easier method of detoxing from drugs or alcohol, it’s controversial. Many medical professionals feel it is no more efficient than standard detox. They are concerned that the risks may outweigh the benefits, especially for people with liver or heart disease or other health concerns. 

Also, even though rapid medical detox will get you through the worst symptoms, withdrawal doesn’t magically end. You may still experience pain, nausea, or severe cravings. Rapid detox can also aggravate depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

What Is Non-Medical Detox?

You may be a candidate for non-medical detox if you are in relatively good health, and your withdrawal symptoms are expected to be mild to moderate. However, it’s essential that the drug detox center staff is trained in CPR and first aid, and that your vital signs are monitored. If you need a higher level of care, you’ll be transferred to a medical detox clinic or hospital. 

Why At-Home Detox is Usually a Bad Idea

At-home detox without professional help is risky. Detoxing from alcohol is unsafe because you may experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens, high blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures, or heart failure. Similarly, benzodiazepines (benzos) should be tapered gradually with the guidance of a physician. Stopping cold turkey may lead to nausea and vomiting, panic attacks, hallucinations, racing heart, seizures, and other dangerous symptoms. 

Stopping stimulants on your own is also unsafe, mainly due to the risk of anxiety, mood swings, and severe depression. Stopping heroin and other opiates usually isn’t life-threatening, but withdrawal is extremely unpleasant. 

Also, keep in mind that severe withdrawal symptoms may derail your attempts at getting clean. You’re more likely to complete an alcohol or drug detox program if you have professional support.

How to Detox Your Body from Drugs: Detoxing at Home

If your addiction isn’t severe and you think withdrawal symptoms will be mild, talk to your health-care provider before deciding to try detoxing at home. She may prescribe medications to help with vomiting and other difficult symptoms, and will help you determine if gradual detox, or tapering, is safer in your particular situation. 

The following suggestions may help as you detox your body from drugs:

  • Arrange for treatment or rehab before you begin, then get started as soon as you feel able. 
  • It’s critical that you have support from friends or family, and that somebody is with you around the clock. Never attempt to detox alone. 
  • Eat light, healthy meals, especially if you feel queasy.
  • Stay hydrated, as dehydration can lead to heart failure and other serious health complications. 
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar as much as possible; both can worsen anxiety and insomnia.
  • Call for help immediately if withdrawal is harder than you anticipated. Remember that addiction isn’t a sign of weakness, and detox is challenging, even if you’re young, strong, and healthy.

If you’re deciding between at-home and medical detox, determining the severity of potential withdrawal symptoms is a good place to start.

Medical Detox: A Safer, More Comfortable Way to Get Clean

Detoxing from drugs and alcohol isn’t easy and there are no simple answers. However, medically monitored detox ensures the process is as safe and comfortable as possible. Call 1st Step Behavioral Health at 855-425-4846, or contact us here for more information, and we’ll help you decide your best course of action.  

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.