Do I Need a Medical Detox?

If you are thinking about a detox, you have already accomplished one of the hardest parts of recovery – recognizing that your drug or alcohol use is a problem and committing yourself to change.

Now you’re ready to start the recovery process, and the obvious next step is to rid your body of the substance you have been taking. However, you may be wondering, “can I do this on my own, or do I need to check into a detox facility?”

The answer is that in most cases, medical support is crucial to ensure you detox safely. However, the level of care you require may vary, and inpatient and outpatient options are available. In the United States today, there are thousands of different rehab facilities and treatment programs so you can find the best one for you.

When Do I Need a Medical Detox?

You usually need a medical detox when you have developed a physical dependence on a substance. When you repeatedly use a substance over some time, you begin to develop a tolerance.

Your body adjusts to the presence of the substance and reduces its production of chemicals in response. You need to take more and more of a substance to feel the same effects and will eventually become dependent on it just to feel normal.

If you suddenly stop taking the substance, you experience a series of withdrawal symptoms until your body readjusts. Acute symptoms tend to last one to two weeks and can be very uncomfortable and even dangerous.

Medically-assisted detox provides professional medical support to ensure you are safe at all times. Licensed medics help ease withdrawal symptoms, manage your cravings, and prescribe medication to make the process as comfortable as possible.

Do All Drugs Require a Medical Detox?

For some drugs, withdrawal without proper medical support can be extremely dangerous. However, there are a few substances that may not require a medical detox – you may be able to begin addiction treatment sessions as soon as you enter a rehab center. These are drugs are:

  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine

You must, however, seek medical advice before detoxing in all circumstances. Everyone’s experience of addiction is different – while it may be safe for someone else not to attend detox, it could be dangerous for you.

Do I Need an Inpatient or Outpatient Detox Program?

Many people think that a medical detox always involves giving up your life for a few weeks or many months while you stay in an inpatient detox center. However, in some circumstances, outpatient detox is an effective and cost-efficient option.

During outpatient detox, you attend regular medical check-ups at a facility to ensure you are safe and making positive progress but continue to live at home. You can often go to work or continue your daily life throughout the detox process.

That said, outpatient detox is not an option for everyone, and a medical professional or treatment facility will be able to advise you on the right choice for you. They may consider:

  • Underlying medical or mental health conditions
  • Emotional, behavioral, or cognitive conditions
  • Readiness to change
  • History of relapse
  • Recovery environment

In particular, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) recommends inpatient detox for withdrawal from opioids, alcohol, and sedatives like benzodiazepine due to their severe acute withdrawal symptoms.

What Happens in a Medical Detox?

Everyone’s experience of addiction is different, and effective detox programs offer an individualized treatment plan. These typically involve three stages.


In order to design a detox plan, licensed medics perform an in-depth assessment of the client’s addiction. They screen each client for mental and physical health issues so they can keep them safe during the detox process. They use blood tests to assess the level of drugs in their system and determine which medicines to prescribe.


The stabilization stage guides the client through detox safely and as comfortably as possible. Medical professionals are on hand to provide medical and psychological treatments as necessary, and they may also prescribe medications to help manage acute symptoms.

Preparations for Treatment

After the client is stabilized, they are ready to enter long-term addiction treatment. Staff will usually work alongside them to create their personalized treatment program and help them progress through the next steps. Ultimately, detox should pave the way for long-term addiction recovery.

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