Alcohol and drug detox is often the first step in helping a person overcome a drug or alcohol addiction. Medical detox is a process by which a person physically withdraws from drugs or alcohol. Because addiction is a physical and mental disease, the medical detox process serves as the first step in breaking the physical addiction.
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The medical part of the detox process refers to the concept that medications can be used to help reduce the withdrawal symptoms commonly associated with breaking an addiction to alcohol or drugs, such as heroin.
Whenever possible, medical detox involves using a slow and steady approach compared to going "cold turkey" and shocking a person's body abruptly. A detox program can evaluate how much of a drug a person uses, how long the person has been taking the drug and how often it is used. This information can then be used to create a personalized plan for tapering the medication whenever possible.
Medically-assisted detox is considered safer and a more successful approach to withdrawing from a physical addiction to drugs or alcohol for several reasons. First, detoxing at home can cause a person to experience potentially severe and possibly life-threatening symptoms, particularly for severe addictions, such as one to alcohol. Second, detoxing at home could lead to relapse because a person may not be equipped or prepared to deal with severe symptoms.
Detox programs are available to help a person overcome a number of substance abuse addictions. These include addictions to both illegal (street) drugs and prescription medications. Examples of available detox programs include:
Each drug type abused acts on a different part of the body and brain. As a result, when a person withdraws from a particular substance, he or she may experience different symptoms. Examples of withdrawal symptoms unique to a particular drug include:
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved several medications that can be used to help a person with a substance abuse problem withdraw from a drug or discourage substance abuse.
Examples of treatment medications available include:
Substance abuse of any kind is a serious occurrence. To reduce the risks for relapse as well as minimize potential side effects associated with the detox process. Residential drug treatment can provide a person not only with the opportunity to detox, but also with resources for education, relapse prevention and follow-up care, when needed, for rehabilitation purposes.