What Does Detox Mean?

Learn what Detox is, how it works, what it involves, and how it can be dangerous if not carried out properly at Caron’s blog.

Detox, short for detoxification, refers to the process of abstaining from and ridding the body of unhealthy substances or toxins.

When it comes to alcohol or substance use disorders, many people want to know “what does detox mean exactly?” Detoxing from drugs or alcohol is the process of metabolizing these substances in a person's system to neutralize their toxic effects. The medical term for detox is “withdrawal management”. It is referred to as ‘management’ because when detox is supervised by medical professionals, withdrawal symptoms that are otherwise hard to manage can become less burdensome for many. With some substances, such as alcohol, detoxing without professional assistance can be dangerous, and even fatal.

Detoxing from alcohol or other substances—including both illicit and legal drugs such as painkillers and stimulants like methamphetamines—should always be medically supervised at an inpatient addiction treatment center with onsite medical staff available to provide support for navigating the difficult withdrawal symptoms. Depending on what substance an individual is trying to stop using, there can be very uncomfortable and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. This is why it’s imperative to undergo detox under medical supervision with professionals trained and experienced in addiction treatment.

Often, people wanting to detox from alcohol or drugs will ask, “how do they detox you in rehab?” or “why is it better to detox in rehab?”. Understanding the answers to these important questions is key to safely detoxing and moving forward to find long-lasting recovery and wellness.

What Type of Withdrawal is the Most Dangerous?

While stopping any form of drug addiction cold turkey can result in serious discomforts — such as anxiety, sweating, a disrupted digestive system, cravings, and other difficulties— some drugs can be deadly if proper medical care is not available during the withdrawal process.

Alcohol withdrawal's most serious symptoms include seizures and delirium tremens (DTs), which can result in death. The detoxification process from benzodiazepines (benzos) can lead to harsh side effects including grand mal seizures, which can also be fatal. For opiates, the detox process itself does not cause death; however, the method of detox can cause adverse effects that can be deadly. For example, anesthesia-assisted opioid detox has been known to cause death.

The main takeaway is that the detoxification process should take place in a treatment facility that:

  • specializes in detox treatment

  • staffs qualified medical professionals to oversee the detox process

  • staffs medical professionals who are trained to manage any health issues or side effects caused by severe withdrawal

  • provides a treatment plan with appropriate treatment options for the detoxing individual

Why Is Medically Supervised Detox Important?

Medical detox is a vital first step on the road to recovery. Having a medical staff is critical because they can stabilize and keep the individual who is detoxing safe from dangerous and deadly withdrawal complications (such as altered blood pressure, heart rate, etc.). Additionally, having specially trained and credentialed experts on staff ensures proper supervision and management of the detox process, which increases the likelihood that the person will get through the withdrawal period without relapsing. Relapsing during the withdrawal stage happens frequently. This is especially true when people try to detox on their own or in treatment centers lacking the expertise to effectively manage this process.

On Relapse and Withdrawal During Detox

It is not uncommon for someone who is trying to detox on their own to relapse. The uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms—both physical and psychological—can be more than the person can bear alone. Often, this is the reason the person picks up a drink or drug —to end the painful withdrawal symptoms. When individuals are unable to get through the withdrawal and detox periods because of discomfort, it delays their getting the help they so desperately need and want.

Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the history of the type of substance used and other factors unique to the person but often include anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, fatigue, vomiting and nausea, delusions and hallucinations, irritability, seizures, muscle aches and pains, mental confusion, and more.

Medication Use During Detox

Because of the difficulty of enduring withdrawal symptoms, the use of some medications in detox is helpful. Not only do some medications help ease the withdrawal symptoms, but they can also help the person stay the course and prevent relapse over a longer period of time. Some medications are used only during the acute withdrawal and detox stages. Others can be used for longer periods to help the person maintain sobriety while learning about their addiction and gaining new coping skills.

For example, a person who is detoxing from opioid use may be prescribed methadone or Suboxone®. Either of these medications may be used not only at the beginning of treatment but also for longer management of the addiction. Both methadone and Suboxone® have been found to help aid individuals with heroin addictions to stay sober.

Suboxone® is a registered trademark of Indivior UK Limited. Caron Treatment Center is not affiliated with Indivior UK Limited or its affiliates ("Indivior"), and any reference to it or its intellectual property is for informational purposes only and is not endorsed or sponsored by Indivior.

The Importance of the Healthcare Environment During Detox

Safely navigating alcohol detox and drug detox is a crucial first step in recovery. That’s why it’s so important to be in a healthcare environment with professionals and credentialed doctors who can assist every step of the way. When there are doctors on site, medications (buprenorphine, naltrexone, etc.) can be quickly and effectively adjusted if a complication arises.

Detoxing and the accompanying withdrawal symptoms are different from one person to the next. The symptoms depend on what substance or substances were used, how often the person used them, the time and amount of last use, and other overall health factors. There are several different medications used in the detoxing process. It’s important to have an expert onsite to oversee the process. What works for one person may not work for someone else.

In addition to helping manage the difficult withdrawal symptoms, having onsite medical staff and doctors allows better treatment for an individual with other health concerns. Many times when someone enters detox for drugs or alcohol their bodies are in poor shape or medically compromised. Some may have co-occurring disorders such as diabetes or heart problems. This is another reason why medically supervised detox and onsite doctors are essential.

At Caron, our state-of-the-art Carole and Ray Neag Medical Center is equipped to support the sometimes complex medical and mental health needs of every patient that walks through our doors. Our expert clinicians (most of whom are double board-certified) provide compassionate 24-hour care and supervision to guide patients through the recovery process.

Learn more about Caron’s detox program online or call 1-800-854-6023.

A man and a woman leaning on each other

Take the next step:

Start a conversation

Start with an online form

Contact us