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What Is Detox?

Detox, which is short for detoxification, is the process of ridding the body of toxic substances. In casual use, the term can mean a short-term healthy diet or cleansing fast, but when used in reference to addiction therapy, detox is the initial treatment stage in which the patient stops using the addictive substance and goes through medically supervised withdrawal. Although detox is almost exclusively used in the context of an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, recently it has also begun to be used to mean withdrawal from other addictive things, such as video games.

Detox can take as little as a couple of days or longer than a week. It is a medically supervised process, but depending on the type and severity of the addiction and the associated withdrawal symptoms a patient experiences, that supervision can be on either an inpatient or outpatient basis.

Did You Know?

Detox is only the first step in addiction recovery; you have a much better chance of avoiding relapse if you participate in a full treatment plan that includes counseling and after-care. For example, a Johns Hopkins study of opioid addicts found that those who had access to day treatment programs and drug-free recovery housing after detox were 10 times more likely to stay clean than those who didn’t.

Outpatient Detox Programs

If withdrawal symptoms are mild — such as slight tremors and insomnia — alcohol and drug detox can often be completed on an outpatient basis. The patient is required to attend treatment sessions at a hospital, clinic or addiction center, usually every day, for the duration of the detox, and on a regular basis (e.g., twice weekly) for a period of time afterward.

Outpatient detox offers the considerable advantages of costing less and causing less disruption to the patient’s life than inpatient detox, but for some addicts it may increase the chance of relapse, especially if they choose to neglect their post-detox appointments with their doctor and/or therapist.

Inpatient Detox Programs

Many hospitals and addiction and detox centers offer inpatient options. The doctor overseeing your addiction recovery may want you to enter an inpatient program if you are undergoing detox for certain types of drugs or if you also suffer from another mental illness, such as clinical depression.

Severe alcohol-withdrawal symptoms include convulsions/seizures and hallucinations, so if you have severe alcoholism or have experienced severe withdrawal symptoms during a previous bout of alcohol detox, an inpatient program is necessary in order for you to receive the amount of daily supervision and care needed to maintain your personal safety throughout the detoxification stage of your addiction recovery.

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