Medical stability is necessary prior to entering any type of treatment program. You will recall the significant effects and changes that drugs and alcohol have on a person's body and brain. The consequences of withdrawing from the use of drugs and alcohol can be serious and sometimes life-threatening. Safely getting drugs and/or alcohol out of a person's system is called detoxification.

Detoxification is achieved by gradually reducing the dosage of the drug or by temporarily substituting another, similar drug that has less-severe side effects. During the process of detoxification, a person's vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, and temperature) are monitored, emotional support is available, and medications are administered if necessary.

Not everyone needs medically supervised detoxification.

An individual with a severe, longstanding addiction will likely require medical detoxification. Someone addicted to heroin, methadone, hydrocodone, OxyContin, Xanax, Vicodin, or Lortab will also require medically supervised detoxification.

Other categories of individuals who should always undergo detoxification with medical supervision are the elderly, pregnant women, individuals with co-occurring psychiatric illnesses, someone who has recently consumed excessive amounts of alcohol, an addict who has no support system, and those who have previously experienced withdrawal seizures or delirium tremens.


Don't mistake detoxification for addiction treatment. Detoxification is only the beginning. It is the preparatory phase of treatment and recovery, ensuring that the addict is medically stable and able to safely engage in the treatment and recovery process. For an addict to stop treatment after detoxification is to set himself up for relapse.

The physical effects of withdrawal may include sweating, shaking, headaches, cravings, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, loss of appetite, hyperactivity, convulsions, sleeplessness, confusion, agitation, depression, anxiety, delirium tremens, and in extreme cases, death. The effects one may experience will depend on the addictive substance and the length and quantity of use.

Detoxification treatment is designed to ease the discomfort of these symptoms as much as possible. Medications may be used to relieve symptoms of detoxification. Klonopin may be used to reduce physical symptoms. Anti-convulsants such as Buprenophex and benzodiazepines to treat anxiety may also be used. Medically monitored supervision of detoxification may take three to seven days for substance addictions and three to 14 days for alcohol addiction.

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