Multiple government bodies in the US have described the country’s drug and alcohol abuse levels as an epidemic. A national survey conducted in 2017 revealed that 19.7 million Americans aged 12 and above were fighting substance abuse disorder. The figure rose to 21 million in 2021.

The survey further revealed that one in eight adults was battling both alcohol and drug dependency simultaneously. Despite the grim statistics, medical detox programs give hope to people battling alcohol and substance dependency. In this article, we examine medically assisted detox and its role in managing drug and alcohol dependence.

What is Medically Assisted Detox?

To detox medically is cleansing the body to rid it of toxins like drugs and alcohol. A medically assisted detox is a detox process supervised by licensed medical practitioners, including nurses and psychiatrists in a sanctioned facility. It is the first step in substance dependence disorder recovery.

Medically assisted drug and alcohol detox services are for any person with drug and alcohol dependence, including teenagers. The telltale signs that a person battling substance dependence needs detox include; increases tolerance for the substance in question, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms often include; headaches, nausea, depression, anxiety, lethargy, mood swings, insomnia, and even hallucinations.

The advantages of medically assisted drug and alcohol detox services are that it helps reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. As a result, the patient’s body makes a safe and less uncomfortable transition to functioning without the substance in question. There is no standard description for how a medically assisted detox feels because the experience is unique to each individual.

Some people peddle at-home detox kits purportedly designed to help people with alcohol and substance dependency detox at home. Note that detoxing from alcohol and substance abuse is a dangerous process; do not attempt it without a licensed medical professional present.

There are inpatient and outpatient medical detox services available in most sanctioned addiction facilities. Most private health insurance providers and some public healthcare schemes cover medically assisted detox services.

Medically Assisted Detox Process Step-by-Step Breakdown

The medically assisted detox program involves three crucial steps. Check them out below to gain a better understanding of the process.

1.   Evaluation

Evaluation is a preliminary stage that forms the basis for individual medically assisted detox therapy programs. Evaluation involves a screening process whereby the medical practitioners check the patient’s physical and psychological state to determine a course of treatment.

It involves drawing blood to determine the toxicity levels in the patient’s body system along with a standard medical history checkup. The doctor also checks for drug use history and mental health issues to diagnose co-occurring dependency issues, if any. They also assess the risk of withdrawal because different substances have varying risk levels.

The mental health checkup also reveals the root cause of substance dependency for each patient. Once they have the required information, the medical professionals then tailor a treatment program and commence treatment.

2.   Stabilization

It entails medical and psychological therapy to help the patient achieve stability. The supervising doctor may prescribe addiction treatment medication to prevent complications and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction treatment medications mimic the effects of the substance abused, consequently relieving withdrawal symptoms and curbing cravings. Doctors may adjust doses accordingly during stabilization. The end goal is for drug dependency to taper off.

Some of the addiction treatment medications used include;

  • Naltrexone: It is mainly used to treat alcohol dependency disorder and is also viable for opioid dependency. It curbs the pleasurable feelings associated with alcohol or opioid use, hence eliminating cravings.
  • Vivitrol: It is also used to treat alcohol and opioid dependency disorders and helps prevent relapses.
  • Acamprosate: It is for treating alcohol dependency disorder. It relieves negative emotions like anxiety and depression that often trigger alcohol cravings.
  • Methadone: It is a potent medication used in treating opioid dependency. It blocks the “high” from opioids.

The above are the most common dependency disorder medications used in the medically assisted detox process. However, the list is not exhaustive; doctors may prescribe other medications on a case-by-case basis.

Both the doctors and the treatment facilities have a license to prescribe any dependency disorder medication. Some medications even require that the administering physicians undergo training beforehand.

The method of administration and length of use vary according to individual treatment plans.

3.   Pre-treatment Preparation

Once patients are stable, the doctors should prepare them to begin treatment. Note that drug and substance dependency is a condition that causes both physical and psychological harm. Therefore, a complete treatment process involves examining both aspects.

Licensed healthcare professionals familiarize the patients with the psychological treatment process and prepare them for challenges during treatment. They also emphasize the importance of seeking psychiatric help or other long-term solutions such as a 12-step program.

Bottom Line:

The medically assisted detox process is only the first step toward living a substance-free life. However, research studies suggest that drug and alcohol dependency patients who begin the recovery process with medical detox have a higher chance of completing treatment. They also enjoy more extended sobriety periods.

Note that medically assisted detox is not a cure for dependency disorders. Managing dependency issues is a lifetime commitment.