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Is Detox Enough?

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Today, many people mistake detox for comprehensive addiction treatment. In this blog, we examine what detox is, what happens during the process, and answer the question: “Is detox enough?”

What is detox?

“Detoxification is a set of interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and withdrawal.” – Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Association

Oftentimes, substance users develop a physiological dependence on the chemicals they use. The sudden removal of those chemicals can cause complications ranging from slight discomfort to extreme physical complications, including seizure and even death in the most extreme cases. In its most basic sense, detox is the medical treatment of the physical addiction to a substance. During this phase of recovery, a patient’s medical team works to assure that physiological dependence and withdrawal symptoms are safely and comfortably managed.

What occurs during detox?

The process of detoxification involves oversight by a professional medical team who are trained to assist in the gradual withdrawal from dependency. Primary components of detox include:

  • Evaluation – Detox begins by assessing the presence of substances in the bloodstream and measuring their concentration. A thorough evaluation will also include a screening for co­-occurring mental or physical conditions, such as depression. These insights are used to develop a plan for stabilization.
  • Stabilization – During this time, doctors and nurses will assist the patient through acute withdrawal. This involves the use of prescribed medications in a safe and comfortable environment.
  • Preparing for entry to treatment – Many detoxification programs stress the importance of following through with a comprehensive continuum of care following treatment.

How long will detox take?

The length of time that a person is in detox varies based on several factors. How long a person has been using, the amounts and types of drugs used, a patient’s overall physical health, patient’s age (the detox process typically takes longer as people age), complicating medical factors and other issues all impact how long acute detox will take. Many patients will continue a detoxification taper while residing at and participating in a primary treatment program.

Is detox enough?

The goal of detoxification is to end the initial symptoms of withdrawal. However, the physical, psychological, and spiritual effects of alcohol or drug use can continue long after substances have been removed from the body. Without proper treatment, those with the disease of addiction are unlikely to stay sober for good. This is why the National Institute of Drug Abuse recommends that detox serves as a single component of a comprehensive approach to recovery. The most successful outcomes occur when patients receive a minimum of 90 days of treatment, which has been clinically proven to improve the chances for recovery.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Detoxification does not constitute substance abuse treatment but is one part of a continuum of care.”

Many people erroneously mistake detox for primary addiction treatment. In reality, detox is but one component of a longer process. As clinicians, we understand that the key to recovery is to learn the means to manage life without drugs. During the early stages of convalescence, it is necessary to work closely with medical and psychological professionals who can provide the ongoing assessment of the factors influencing addiction. These extend far beyond physiological dependence. In order for treatment to be effective, psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety disorders also need to be treated. A holistic treatment plan developed by a true multidisciplinary treatment team provides a launchpad for permanent success.

Successful detox does not guarantee sustained sobriety.

Committing to recovery requires dedication to an ongoing, proactive plan. Detox is only the first step in that plan. Unfortunately, without additional help from trained professionals and effective clinical substance use disorder programming, many people with addiction fail to remain sober following detox. In other words, stabilization is merely a jumping off point for further treatment. Once the struggle with the physical effects of alcohol stops, the person can accept the help that they so desperately need and deserve.

Remember: Addiction is a mental illness.Developing an emotionally and spiritually rich life is key to recovery. When all aspects of a person’s mental, physical, psychological and spiritual well-being are addressed, recovery is possible.