The idea of going to detox can be frightening. Even if you know that you need help for drug addiction, you may be scared of what will happen — not only in detox, but also in the days and weeks that follow. Although detox facilities vary in their services, length of stay, and staffing, the following steps can serve as a general guide to what you can expect in medical detox:

INTAKE AND EVALUATION

A gloved hand holding a urine sample.During the intake process, you’ll be evaluated by a professional counselor or admissions specialist who will help determine the level of care you need. You should be evaluated for your substance abuse history and your current level of intoxication, as well as the presence of co-occurring health problems or mental illness. At intake, you will be asked to undergo drug testing to identify the chemicals in your system. This purpose of this process is not to judge you or to implicate you in illegal activity, but to ensure that you get effective, appropriate care. During the admissions stage, you should also be informed of your rights to confidentiality and safe treatment. The type of treatment you’ll receive and the procedures for discharge should be explained clearly to you.

MEDICAL STABILIZATION

The first goal of detox is to make sure you’re medically stable. In medical detox, stabilization typically involves the administration of medications to help curb your cravings and alleviate the discomfort of withdrawal. Depending on your needs, you may receive fluids, medications, or nutritional supplements intravenously (through your veins). You will also be monitored by a nurse or other clinician who will test you at regular intervals for withdrawal symptoms and adverse reactions to medication. Any signs of seizure activity, changes in your level of consciousness, suicidal ideation, nausea and vomiting, or other side effects should be reported and treated.The stabilization process may last for one or more days, depending on the chemicals in your system and your health status. If you’re participating in inpatient or residential detox, you’ll stay at the facility overnight while you’re stabilized. If you’re going through outpatient detox, you’ll come in for treatments during the day, while going home at night. In either situation, you should have the support of clinical staff, therapists, and your loved ones to motivate and encourage you during this challenging phase.

PREPARATION FOR FURTHER TREATMENT

Detox addresses the physical symptoms of withdrawal, but it can’t resolve the underlying psychological issues that drive addiction. In detox, the toxins are flushed from your system so that you can focus more clearly on the deeper work of recovery, including individual therapy, group therapy, family counseling, and 12-step programming. As you finish your detox program, a counselor, social worker, or case manager should work with you to help you get ready for the next phase in your treatment. These professionals can evaluate your needs and help you decide whether a residential treatment program, partial hospitalization, or outpatient program is right for you.

DISCHARGE

Consultation between a doctor and a patient.Getting through the detox phase of recovery is a great accomplishment! You should be proud of yourself for not only reaching out for help, but for overcoming your fears of an emotionally difficult, sometimes uncomfortable process. At discharge, a therapist or counselor should help you plan the weeks or months ahead. If your detox facility is located in a full-spectrum treatment center, you may be transferred directly to a residential rehab setting, where you’ll undergo therapy and receive other recovery services. If you went through detox at a freestanding detoxification center, you may transition to an inpatient or residential facility, or to an outpatient program.

FIRST STEP DETOX

Detox is just the first step in a journey that can change your life. Although the prospect of medical detox can be intimidating, you can make it through this brief phase with the help of a compassionate, caring group of professionals. When you’re choosing a detox center, look for a program that offers a continuum of care — from detox to rehab and aftercare — to make the transitions as seamless as possible.

What to Expect at a Medical Detox Facility
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