Casual observers often think of drug detoxification as a one size fits all approach. This perception has resulted, in part, from media stories related to celebrities and luxury detoxification. With all the focus being concentrated on such detox programs, few realize just how diverse the field of medical detoxification truly is. There are several types of detoxification, and unfortunately, not all are equally effective. The following are a few of the most common types of detox, along with research related to their rates of recovery and relapse:
In rapid detoxification, practitioners aim to condense the withdrawal period into a period of, at maximum, a few days. The reasoning behind this approach is that patients are often likely to relapse before they’ve even made it through the withdrawal period, mostly as a result of intensely uncomfortable or even painful withdrawal symptoms. In order to minimize such discomfort, rapid detox patients are often placed under anesthesia.
A Potentially Deadly Detox?
Perhaps the most controversial form of medical detoxification, rapid detox has seen decidedly mixed results in the past several years. The media generally focuses on a few cases in which rapid detox patients have overdosed, but this certainly does not represent the majority of patients’ experiences in such programs. Research suggests that, while not as dangerous or ineffective as media reports may imply, rapid or ultra rapid detox is also not necessarily any more effective than other detoxification programs.
A study conducted by the United States National Institute of Health found that ultra rapid detox patients suffered physical withdrawal symptoms every bit as severe as those taking part in more traditional detoxification programs. Additionally, research suggests that treatment retention rates are not generally boosted by participation in rapid detox programs. Thus, while patients do not necessarily need to avoid this treatment approach at all costs, they should keep in mind that it is not the “miracle” treatment that some detox facilities have suggested.
Self-Administered Drug Detox
Some drug abusers are indeed able to get over their addiction problems all on their own, but often, such attempts can be both uncomfortable and dangerous. This is especially true when the at-home detoxification process is accompanied by illicitly obtained detox medications. It is surprisingly easy for drug abusers to overdose on such medications, and while overdoses on drugs such as buprenorphine may not be particularly dangerous, overdosing on methadone or similar medications could lead to severe injury or even death.
Dangers of Overdose
The danger of overdosing is not the only problem related to self-administered drug detoxification. This approach tends to have incredibly high relapse rates, due, in part, to its lack of emphasis on psychological treatment. While treating the physical symptoms of drug withdrawal can indeed boost recovery rates, such an approach is rarely effective unless combined with some sort of mental health treatment. Those taking part in self-administered drug detoxification are often on the hunt for a quick fix, and thus, not likely to invest in long-term psychological care. Unfortunately, the ultimate result is a relapse rate far higher than what is seen in more traditional inpatient treatment centers.
In less severe circumstances, medical professionals may suggest that drug abusers pursue detoxification in an outpatient setting. During this time, medications may be prescribed in order to assist in the easing of physical withdrawal symptoms. However, for these patients, constant monitoring has not been deemed a necessity. Instead, the patients are provided access to licensed psychologists, as well as group therapy environments in which they can share concerns with others who have been in their shoes.
Outpatients detoxification has the potential to help patients along the road to recovery, but in more severe instances of drug dependency, it may not be as effective as inpatient treatment. According to one study conducted by the United States National Institute of Health, patients randomly assigned to inpatient facilities were far more likely to make it through the full treatment regimen than those assigned to outpatient programs. Treatment completion is often viewed as a key component of lasting recovery, which is why the results of this study suggest that inpatient may ultimately be the more effective method of detoxification.
Medical Detox Combined With Psychological Treatment
So far, the overwhelming consensus among researchers is that medical detox proves most effective when combined with some sort of psychological counseling. After all, addiction rarely is solely a physical problem — patients falling into addiction typically struggle from co-morbid mental health disorders, and, even if they don’t, addiction experts point to a definite mental component in long term drug abuse.
The Stats Don’t Lie
One of the most promising studies related to combination detox treatments comes from the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). According to SAMSHA, patients taking part in psychological treatment for at least one month following drug detox took 40 percent longer to relapse. And many patients were able to completely avoid relapses, which is an impressive feat in and of itself. Relapse rates are expected to continue to decrease as research derives more effective pharmacological treatments along with better psychological therapies. The combination of these two approaches may be the key to a drastic lowering of addiction rates in the future.
All Detox Centers are a Bit Different
It is important to note that, even among the treatment types listed above, it is rare to find two detoxification centers that are exactly the same. This is especially true of combination centers in which psychosocial treatments are pursued. In addition to one-on-one counseling and group therapy, such facilities may also offer alternative treatments such as art therapy, massage, relationship counseling and acupuncture, among other treatments. Efficacy rates of these supplemental programs vary greatly, which is why it is important for prospective patients to do their research before joining any treatment program.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment. The appropriate detoxification method will depend on the type of drug abused and the severity of the addiction, as well as several other factors. In order to ensure full recovery, drug abusers need to find detoxification programs that meet their individual needs.