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How Does Medical Detox Work?


Drug and alcohol addicts who want to get clean and sober are too often under the mistaken impression that they have to go cold turkey, suffering through days, weeks, or months of seizures, fits, fevers, pain, and even hallucinations. The forbidding prospect of such suffering often prevents addicts from even trying to overcome their addictions. Even when addicts try to overcome their problems on their own, they often either fail or relapse in a relatively short period of time. Rather than coping with the challenges of addiction alone, addicts have been shown to do much better with a medical detox program. Addicts who enroll in medical detox programs are 20 percent more likely to succeed than those who choose other methods of detox, according to data published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Easing the Discomfort

The reason that the detoxification process is so difficult to successfully complete is that the side effects are so difficult to deal with. Medical detox works in great part because the doctors involved in the treatment can prescribe medications to reduce or eliminate the worst symptoms. Some medical detoxification programs administer the drug being withdrawn from in ever lessening doses, to ease the process and prevent crashing. Additionally, sleeping aids can be prescribed at need, to ensure restful sleep and a healthy mental state.


Medical detox programs include monitoring and supervision by trained nurses. These nurses regularly measure patients’ vital signs. These vital signs can alert them to dangerous detoxification symptoms that require emergency intervention. These vital signs can also help the staff to accurately assess where the patient is in the detoxification process, to fine-tune therapy for greatest effect.


The bodies of addicts are often in bad shape due to poor nutrition and self care. Medical detoxification involves giving addicts vitamin and mineral supplements, along with nutritionally balanced meals, to help restore health and vitality. A healthy body is much more able to bear the strains of detoxification and complete rehabilitation.


Many addicts develop the unfortunate idea that addiction is a matter of having a weak personality or deficient willpower. In order to make up for this, or to prove themselves, they then try to force themselves to “white knuckle it,” go through the detoxification process without help from anyone outside themselves. Other sink into depression, or become mired in guilt. A part of any medical detox program is therapy administered by staff counselors who are well trained in addiction issues.


In addition to medication, monitoring, supplements, and therapy, medical detox involves physical exercise. This serves a number of purposes. By helping to improve physical health, exercise lessens the severity of the detox side effects, and improves the odds of getting through the program. It also serves to keep the mind occupied, so that it does not have as much time to fantasize about drugs. Finally, at the end of a good workout there is a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, which makes the whole process of rehabilitation seem more achievable.


Medical detox is just the first step in a comprehensive rehabilitation program. It is the necessary first step, as the presence of addictive chemicals in the body makes other rehab steps difficult or even impossible to complete. Before seeking any medical detox program it is best to have worked out a whole rehabilitation process, so that the addict can move seamlessly from one stage to the next.

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