An Introduction to Medical Detox

March 20, 2023

Medical detox refers to the elimination of drugs or alcohol from the body under the care of licensed medical professionals. Medical detox is typically contrasted to non-medical recovery centers where treatment staff are not licensed healthcare providers and cannot prescribe medications to help with withdrawal symptoms or drug cravings. Do-it-yourself detox performed at home with the aid of friends or family is another form of non-medical recovery. Medical detox is generally considered a superior way of discontinuing drugs (or alcohol) because of the safety benefits of health monitoring by medical professionals as well as the use of evidence-based treatments and medications. 

This article will summarize medical detox with respect to its:

  • Safety advantages
  • Emphasis on comfort and program completion
  • Local availability
  • Cost

Safety Benefits of Physicians & Nurses

Licensed healthcare providers are key to a medical detox facility. Their training and experience help protect the patient through a structured clinical treatment procedure. Most importantly, they are qualified to respond to an unexpected health problem if one emerges during the withdrawal period. The safety advantages of medical detox are generally categorized according to:

  • Medical issues associated with withdrawal symptoms
  • Health problems associated with substance abuse
  • Existing health conditions unrelated to addiction

Withdrawal Medical Issues

Depending on the substance being abused, there are different health considerations. Some substances have withdrawal considerations that are predominantly psychological: cravings, depression, anxiety, paranoia. Others have the potential to damage the heart, the liver, and other organs. For some of these substances, the act of abstinence can risk seizures or other life threatening issues. The review of the patient’s medical history helps our staff craft a detox plan that is customized to the patient’s health circumstances and the specifics of the withdrawal symptoms associated with his or her addiction.   

Clinical research has developed a variety of treatments and prescription medications to assist with the withdrawal process. Only licensed medical professionals can legally provide these prescription medications. This is one of the many advantages of a medical detox. Our detox staff may also prescribe additional medications to be taken after the completion of the program. For example, Disulfiram may be prescribed to make the experience of alcohol consumption unpleasant and reduce the risk of alcoholic relapse. For people withdrawing from oxycodone or heroin, Methadone may be prescribed because it blocks the intoxication effect these drugs cause. 

Health Problems Resulting from Addiction

While addiction can be lethal, the prolonged abuse of alcohol or drugs can also produce a variety of illnesses. For example, chronic use of cocaine can lead to heart inflammation or stroke. Alcoholism can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Abuse of heroin can lead to lung problems, and if injected, there are additional risks around hepatitis and bacteria in the bloodstream. 

The physical exam performed before detoxification seeks out these issues and may require additional lab work such as a blood test. Identifying health problems prior to detox is important because it allows our staff to adjust treatment tactics based on the findings in order to increase patient safety.

Existing Health Conditions Unrelated to Addiction

Since medical detox involves medication and changes to diet and behavior during treatment, doctors must take the patient’s overall health status into consideration. This means looking beyond withdrawal symptoms and addiction-related health issues. Health issues unrelated to addiction (e.g. cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, mood disorders) affect the treatment strategy and monitoring during detox in order to maximize safety for the patient. For example, if a patient has asthma and depends on an inhaler, the facility would ensure his or her inhaler was available during detox.

The Problems with “Going It Alone”

There are several challenges with attempting detox without professional assistance. The main issues are:

  • Successfully overcoming withdrawal symptoms
  • Safety during drug or alcohol abstinence
  • Preparing for a structured recovery plan

With respect to safety when stopping substance abuse, you should strongly consider being monitored by friends or family in the first week of abstinence if you decide not to pursue medical detox. If a health emergency occurs, they can drive you to an Emergency Room or call for an ambulance. Medical detox, in contrast, has healthcare staff at the ready to address such scenarios. For example, severe dehydration can be addressed through the introduction of IV fluids.

Treating Withdrawal Symptoms & Completing Detox

The discomfort caused by withdrawal is a major reason addicts discontinue detox and relapse into addiction. This is why medical detox closely monitors a patient’s detox experience and treats withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Muscle pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

People who undergo a medically-assisted detox have the benefit of medications and other treatments that can reduce withdrawal symptoms and the pain that may accompany them. This can greatly assist an individual in completing his or her detox journey. Our staff our invested in the recovery process for our patients and seek to minimize the obstacles between beginning detox and its completion.

Local Availability

Our facilities are located in middle Tennessee in the town of Brentwood. Brentwood is a suburb bordering Nashville and is 10 minutes away from Nashville International Airport. The area also has many hotel options from which to choose for family and friends who wish to stay in the area during a loved one’s treatment.

Detox Costs

The cost of detox is not fixed. It is affected by several major factors: the facility providing detox services, the number of days needed for successful detox, and the cost-sharing of insurance. Our facility accepts PPO health plans. PPO stands for Preferred Provider Network. PPO health insurance typically allows a member to use out-of-network care facilities. If you have questions about whether our facility accepts your insurance, call us at the phone number located at the top of the page. 

When weighing the cost of medical detox, always consider the cost of remaining in addiction. There is the financial cost of continued use of drugs or alcohol. There is also the emotional cost that addiction brings to personal relationships. There is the professional cost of reduced job performance and the possibility of termination due to the inconsistency that addiction can cause in the workplace. Finally, there are the many health risks associated with ongoing substance abuse, ranging from organ damage and diseases acquired through needles (e.g. hepatitis, HIV) to violence experienced as a consequence of keeping company with people who traffic in illegal substances.


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