Is a Medical Detox Ever Not Necessary for Alcohol or Drug Withdrawal?

do i have an addiction

It’s a fairly easy process to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, but the same cannot be said of quitting your substance abuse habits. By the time you realize that your habit has become a problem, your brain has become accustomed to the regular supply of drugs or alcohol. This creates a condition in which your body needs that steady supply and will produce negative side effects, known as withdrawal symptoms, when you don’t feed that craving. This is why it often becomes necessary to seek help at an addiction recovery center, but does that mean you must always go through a medical detox?

In order to fully understand what a medical detox can do for an addict, it’s important to understand more about the process. Before you can begin participating in therapy to help you cope with your addiction, you first must get clean. This involves stopping your use of the alcohol or drug, which will produce withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, this phase helps to cleanse your system of the lingering traces of the drug, which is why people call it “getting clean”. Sometimes, you can do this without much help, but, if you’ve been abusing substances for an extended period of time, you will very likely need more intensive help.

What is Medical Detox?

Many people often refer to this as the process of cleansing your body, but it’s a much more complex process. Your liver already does a thorough job of cleansing contaminants from the blood, but the problem comes in, when you continue to use drugs and alcohol. As you take more and more of the substance, your liver has to work overtime to keep those poisons out of your blood supply. This can cause a build-up of the substance to remain your system, as time goes on.

The process involved in medical detox is to give you a controlled supply of a drug similar to the one you were taking. Over time, doses are gradually reduced, so you won’t suffer the full brunt of the withdrawal symptoms. When you try to quit “cold turkey,” those withdrawal symptoms may be too much to handle and often result in a relapse. Depending on the severity of your addiction, the withdrawal symptoms may be severe enough to cause cardiac arrest, or other medical complications. As the doses of your medication are lowered and eventually ceased altogether, your liver will be able to finish flushing the rest of those toxins out of your system.

When Medical Detox Isn’t Necessary

For many drugs, the addiction will never become so severe that a medicated detox is necessary. That’s because addiction for certain drugs only has a psychological effect and a medical detox treatment is really only helpful in addressing the withdrawal symptoms of physical addiction. For these drugs and for those that don’t produce severe withdrawal symptoms, it is possible to get clean without going through a detox, or a withdrawal management program. That’s not to say it will be easy to quit using these drugs. It simply means that the risk of a relapse and other dangers produced by withdrawal will be very limited.

Some assume that a drug that doesn’t produce a physical dependency is also physically safe, but this isn’t true. Even though there may not be a physical dependency on the drug, there will still be other health hazards that may be caused by the drug. These may include lung damage and other respiratory problems, heart disease, or kidney and liver damage.
Drugs that don’t require a medical detox include:

  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine

Many Drugs Do Necessitate a Medical Detox

Conversely, there are many drugs, such as alcohol and opiates, that do require a medical detox to manage withdrawal symptoms. If you take one of these drugs, even for a short time, your brain may already be wired to rely on them. As you take these drugs, they stimulate the receptors in the brain, causing it to release neurotransmitters. Those neurotransmitters create a sense of euphoria and, over time, the brain begins to rely on those sensations. When deprived of the drug, the body will produce withdrawal symptoms as an automatic response.
In addition to alcohol, addiction to the following drugs commonly require a medical detox:

  • Opium
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Benzos

While physical addiction poses a larger problem, the drugs may also cause a psychological addiction. The latter can be managed with counseling and guidance, but physical addiction requires a physical solution. A plan of medical detoxification to help control the intensity of withdrawal symptoms is often necessary. In addition to more severe withdrawal symptoms, these drugs produce a wide range of symptoms, often simultaneously.
Common physical withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Headaches, including migraines
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Seizures
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Excessive or unexplained sweating
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Dehydration
  • Delirium

When you attempt to quit using without help in these instances, the previously mentioned withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as eight hours, after the last use of the drug. They usually last three days or more, although they can persist for up to two weeks, before the symptoms begin to subside. Unfortunately, most people have a relapse and feed the addiction long before withdrawal symptoms begin to dissipate.

When you consult with a drug treatment caregiver, your condition will be evaluated thoroughly. This will help determine, if your condition will require a medical detox, before you can begin treatment for your psychological addiction. While it may be preferable to skip medical detox, it’s better to go through the process and increase your chances for a successful recovery. Declining this portion of your rehabilitation can result in relapses that can further endanger your health and your future. Call us today at 866-802-6848.

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.