Detox | 4 min read

What to Expect During Medical Detox

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On September 3, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On March 4, 2019

medical detox
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The term detox is short for detoxification. In instances of drug dependence, the substance is considered a toxic invader and needs to be eliminated from the body before the patient can regain proper functioning. Even substances considered to be legal –  or prescribed –  can result in this type of physical dependence, and the side effects of withdrawal from such may require medical intervention. Improper withdrawal from substances can be uncomfortable and even lethal.

Most medical detox facilities follow a standard procedure regarding admission and treatment. The largest variance between facilities is likely to consist of quality of care during and after the medical procedures have been completed. Ideally, the patient will want to ensure that members of the treatment staff are highly trained and qualified, that the treatment environment is conducive to wellness, that both medical and psychological needs are met, and that there is a plan for continued support following the initial detoxing.

Admissions & Orientation

A quality medical detox facility will ensure that the patient’s needs are a good fit for the unique treatment program before accepting a client. Initial conversations between potential patients and the facility should address the basics surrounding the involved substances, the severity of the addiction, expected treatment times and methods, financial concerns, and patient expectations.

Following this screening process, a trained evaluator will ask an admitted patient a series of questions. These assessment questions are designed to determine the best course of action for treatment and are an enhanced version of the initial screening procedure. In the case of medical intervention, the patient’s primary care physician is often included as the initial treatment referral source and is made available for ongoing consultation during and after detox treatment.

Before beginning the medical procedures, a patient must be helped to feel comfortable with their surroundings. The physical and psychological stress of detoxing can be lessened in an environment designed to provide this comfort. Privacy is another important concern for some patients, and a reputable facility will also strive to provide such patients with discretion during the treatment. Some treatment facilities provide access to visitation with friends and loved ones during this time, as well.

Medical Detox Treatment

During medical detoxification, the body is assisted with adjusting to functioning without the effects or consequences of ceasing usage. During the development of physical dependence upon a drug, aspects of the brain and central nervous system lose the ability to function naturally. They learn to wait for input and direction from the foreign substance before operating. When the instructions from the foreign substance aren’t delivered, the result can be that the body experiences withdrawal. This withdrawal can take the form of flu-like symptoms, uncontrollable shivering, hot and cold flashes, insomnia, digestion issues, and, in some cases, violent seizures.

Medications to relieve withdrawal symptoms may be delivered orally or intravenously during the treatment. While some medications are intended to address physical ailments, such as nausea or body aches, others are designed to help the system more gently reduce its dependence on the actual substance. Often, additional fluids or liquid nutrients are also introduced during this time as a means of helping the body to recover as quickly as possible.

Different drugs require different types of treatment, which is why it is important to have discussed the intricacies of any drug usage with the provider during the assessment. Detoxification from opiates or benzodiazepines, for example, often involves the introduction of a tapered dosage or a substitution drug. Some of these medications carry their own side effect and dependency concerns, so due diligence on the behalf of the patient to research the medications utilized by the facility is recommended.

Psychological Support

There are several types of substances that contribute to psychological and emotional distress during withdrawal. For those recovering from central nervous system depressants – such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opiates – common psychological effects are anxiety and agitation. Those detoxing from “uppers” – such as methamphetamines – are likely to experience episodes of severe depression. There may also be a loss of emotional regulation, with the patient experiencing wild fluctuations in mood. In severe cases of withdrawal, the patient may even experience a break from reality in the form of delusions, hallucinations, or psychosis. These psychological conditions accompanying detox necessitate the presence of treatment staff who are knowledgeable, empathetic, and well-trained in meeting the psychological needs of those in recovery.

Not only are there direct side effects of withdrawal that can negatively affect the recovering person’s emotions and psyche, but the idea of the removal of dependence on a substance for psychological regulation can also present its difficulties. Many who become dependent upon substances have used the drug to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression in their daily lives. Once the decision to get –  and remain –  sober has been made, the patient is left with the task of learning how to manage these unpleasant experiences in more healthy ways. These ongoing struggles with psychological adjustments to a life of sobriety highlight the importance of continued care following medical detoxing.


There are many studies that demonstrate that detoxification is only the beginning of the successful road to recovery. Following detox, patients who receive ongoing support are most likely to successfully maintain sobriety. A good treatment program will include a discharge procedure that encompasses a focus on the future of the patient.

Before committing to a medical detox treatment facility, find out how the center intends to assist the patient upon exit. Do NOT be afraid to ask questions: Is the patient provided with a summary of the detox treatment? Are there provided instructions for continued maintenance of physical and psychological care? Is there follow-up with the patient’s doctor? Are there networks in place to receive further treatment through outpatient services? It is never too early to consider your future regarding receiving the quality care.

If you or a loved one are seeking drug or alcohol addiction treatment in New York, Ascendant is here to help. We offer both outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment. Reach out today to learn more about our detox and treatment programs.

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