Detoxification (detox)

A structured detoxification period entails a duration of time in which patients going through the withdrawal process are monitored and treated with medications to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Detox can be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis and it is important to remember that detoxification services are not a substitute for treatment and should be followed up with additional treatment services.

Detox can be separated into two types:

  • Medically assisted. This means the treatment is done under the supervision of medical and mental health professionals. Observation is helpful in increasing safety and comfort levels for people undergoing the painful symptoms of withdrawal and sometimes medications can be administered in order to ease the process and reduce the cravings for the substance.
  • Clinically managed. This is a short-term, non-medical strategy for those wanting to end substance use. In some cases, you will only be provided with a room where detoxification can take place and in others you will be provided with professional support throughout the process.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), detox comprises of three stages:

  1. This step will look at a person’s mental health state, assess the presence of alcohol or drugs in their system through urine or blood testing, look into any existing medical issues, and determine the most appropriate strategy.
  2. This will take up the majority of treatment. It starts out by acclimating the person to the detox process and, if needed, providing medical or psychological services to treat symptoms.
  3. Building willingness for further treatment. Detox alone does not constitute a thorough treatment for addiction. As withdrawal symptoms get resolved during the detoxification period, staff will usually begin promoting further treatment to increase the chances of sustained recovery after detox.

There is no specific amount of time that one needs to undertake detox for. For some it may take a few days, while for others it can take weeks to completely clear the body of the drug. The length of the detox process is determined by factors that include the drug that was abused, the detox setting, the patient’s goals, his health condition, any previous detox attempts, and the rate, dose, and duration of drug use. The SAMHSA reports that the average length of detox is fewer than eight days.