For most people, detox is the first tangible step in recovery. It’s saying to yourself and to the world, “I’m in this for the long haul.”
But when researching how to detox your body from drugs, you might find there are several options for detoxification. In this article, we’ll break down natural vs. medical detox so you can make an informed decision that fits your situation.
Article at a Glance:
- A natural detox involves removing toxins from the body without medication and trying herbal remedies, massage, acupuncture and other alternative therapies.
- Natural detox is often ineffective and can be dangerous due to the withdrawal symptoms.
- Medically supervised detox can be natural and done safely without medication.
- Medical drug detox manages withdrawal symptoms and typically involves an inpatient program or daily trips to a clinic for an outpatient program.
- Various detox medications are used in a medical setting, while rapid detox under anesthesia is a last-resort option.
Natural Drug Detox
Natural detox focuses on removing the toxic substances from your body without assistance from any medication. This is what most people will experience if they choose to detox at home. Natural detox can also include alternative therapies like massage, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and yoga.
While doing a home drug detox can save money, it’s also recognized as the least effective way to detox. Many people start out with a powerful desire to change their life, only to find the withdrawal symptoms push them into relapse.
Dangers of Natural Detox
Detoxing at home can even be dangerous, as some substances can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Specifically, if you have been a heavy drinker or addicted to benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, or Valium, do not try quitting “cold-turkey.” The shock to your body could be too much.
Opiates such as heroin do not usually cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, but there is still a danger for an extreme response. During the 7-10 days of heroin detox, withdrawal causes many people to feel they’ll do anything necessary to have more of the drug and stop the symptoms. There have also been cases of death during the opiate withdrawal period due to dehydration and malnourishment. Plan ahead. Have a trusted friend stay with you, and do your best to eat wholesome meals.
Medically Supervised Detox
A medically supervised detox can be completely natural (without medication), but still take place in a medical setting. In this scenario, you’ll have access to doctor supervision and, if needed, medical intervention. Medically supervised detox can be done in either an inpatient or outpatient setting and is a much safer way to take the first step in conquering an addiction than going it alone.
The main difference between natural and medical detox is the use of withdrawal symptom-relieving detox medications.
Many people fear that medical detox is the same as substituting one drug for another. This is not the same thing. When the correct precautions are taken and the medications are properly administered, they will not cause a new addiction. In fact, it often helps the patient manage their cravings so they can focus on recovery.
Medical drug detox is ideal for managing withdrawal symptoms from dangerous substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepines. Medical detox can provide symptom relief so you can focus on rebuilding your life, but it’s not for everyone. Medical detox is usually offered as an inpatient program, and if it’s outpatient, it will require daily trips to the clinic. The medications themselves can be addictive as well if abused. The ideal candidate for medical detox is someone who has an addiction to a substance that can be dangerous to withdraw from, and who is highly motivated to recover.
What to Expect During Medical Detox
The first step in a medical detox will be an evaluation. A doctor will ask you about your substance usage, your health history, and your goals. From there you’ll begin a stabilization process, which will involve the medication and monitoring your symptoms. Finally, a good detox program will talk to you about treatment options. Detox is just the first step, and your best chances for recovery come from ongoing treatment. Detox is a physical battle. Lasting sobriety is mental.
For opioid addictions, there are three medications that are approved by the FDA that you may be given:
- Methadone activates the brain’s opioid receptors to prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.
- Buprenorphine reduces the withdrawal symptoms without giving the patient the euphoria. It’s often given in combination is naloxone, which causes the patient to experience a withdrawal reaction if he or she attempts to abuse the buprenorphine and inject it intravenously.
- Naltrexone is often prescribed after detox to help prevent relapse. It inhibits the opioid receptors in the brain, ensuring the user doesn’t feel the euphoria while potentially causing feelings of withdrawal if drugs are present in the body.
For alcohol addictions, patients will often be given the following FDA-approved medications:
- Acamprosate reduces withdrawal symptoms.
- Disulfiram turns off an enzyme that the body needs to metabolize alcohol, making it uncomfortable to drink.
- Naltrexone for an alcohol addiction works the same as for an opioid addiction, blocking the brain’s opioid receptors.
Medical detox medications can be safely taken for extended periods of time. However, be sure to talk to your doctor before stopping use, as some of them must be stopped gradually to avoid potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
In some circles, a new method of detox has become popular. In rapid detoxification, the patient is put under anesthesia while doctors medicate and monitor to help them process the harmful drugs. When they wake, the worst of the detox process is over.
While this sounds like a miracle process, it is highly controversial. The treatment is expensive, risky due to the use of anesthesia, and potentially not as effective for preventing relapse. It should only be used as a last resort.
Which Detox Program Is Right For You?
When figuring out how you want to detox your body from drugs, you have to take into account your substance addiction, how long you’ve been addicted, your financial resources, and your personal commitment to recovery. Get more information on our medical detox program by calling to speak to one of our admissions representatives. You’re not in this alone. Call today. 352.771.2700
Jaffe, Adi, Ph.D. “Alcohol, Benzos, and Opiates—Withdrawal That Might Kill You.” Psychology Today, Jan 13, 2010. Accessed August 3, 2019.
Mann, Cindy, T. Frieden, P.S. Hyde, N.D. Volkow, G.F. Koob. “Medication Assisted Treatment for Substance Use Disorders.” Medicaid.gov. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Jul 11. 2014. Accessed August 3, 2019
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.