What is a Detoxification Treatment?

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  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 February 2019
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A detoxification treatment is used to clear the drugs or alcohol out of an addicted person's system. This is generally the first step in the person's treatment to get and stay off of the substance. The process is usually very physically intense, as withdrawal symptoms will normally set in and may last several days as the body rids itself of the drugs.

In order for a detoxification treatment to be effective, the patient needs to be removed from his or her normal environment so that the substance he or she is addicted to is no longer obtainable. Most plans require the patient to be admitted to a hospital or treatment facility where he or she can stay safely during the treatment. There are typically support staff and medical professionals available at all times to support the patient and help him or her through withdrawal.

As the body reacts to the drugs or alcohol leaving, a detoxification treatment can become very painful and even dangerous. Patients typically experience nausea and vomiting, tremors, and an accelerated heart rate. In severe cases, they may have seizures, delirium tremens, or can even die. Prior to undergoing the treatment, a patient should be assessed by a doctor to understand any potential risks or issues. This can help the doctor determine the best course of action for the treatment and provide assistance to the patient.


Due to the potential severity of withdrawal symptoms, it is usually best for a medical professional to oversee the entire detoxification process. The doctor may prescribe drugs to ease the withdrawal symptoms or possibly a medical substitute such as methadone. He or she may help the patient wean off of the drug over a period of time or the detoxification treatment may be done quickly. If the physical effects become dangerous, the doctor will be able to perform life-saving procedures.

Once a person completes a detoxification treatment, it is important that he or she seek further help to stay clean. Clearing the body of drugs or alcohol starts the process, but without addressing the psychological and social aspects of addiction, it is difficult or impossible for a person not to relapse. There will also likely be continuing physical impacts of quitting for some time after the initial treatment, and the patient will probably require assistance finding ways to cope with them. Many programs offer both the initial detoxification treatment and also continuing support services afterward.



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