Drug and Alcohol Detox Programs: How to Find a Safe One

Drug and Alcohol Detox Programs

It can be hard to find the top drug and alcohol detox program near you. The top the substances of abuse that most drug and alcohol treatment facilities detox patients from are alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines. The reasons why these are the top substances people need to detox from vary. For example, abruptly stopping alcohol consumption, opiate or benzodiazepine use can result in not only painful, disorienting side effects, it can also result in death. In one case of death from benzodiazepine withdrawal, a patient was initially thought to have died from an overdose, however, upon further investigation, it was found the the deceased actually died from withdrawals from alprazolam, that is, Zanax. As Merideth Lann and Kiberly Molina explain in the American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology, “The deceased presented to the hospital with hypertension, elevated temperature, worsening bizarre behavior, and movement irregularities. While in the hospital, the decedent developed seizure-like activity and died approximately 15 hours after admission.” Rapidly discontinuing use of alcohol can have similar to worse effects including seizures, delirium tremens and in some cases, death as well. Some people believe that withdrawals from opiates cannot result in death but a group of researchers at UNSW Sydney have shown that it is possible due to dehydration and, in the end, heart failure. Ultimately, the need to safely detox from the most common substances of abuse aren’t simply for life saving purposes, it helps the individual suffering from substance use disorder transition to sobriety. In many cases, those that want to end the cycle of addiction but don’t have access to a medically supervised detox program continue using simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

What High Quality Medically Supervised Detox Programs are Like:

Medically supervised detox programs are typically located in inpatient settings like hospitals or in licensed residential treatment facilities. They typical length of a medically supervised detox is 7 days, sometimes lasting 10 days or longer depending on the substance of abuse. Within these programs, an entire treatment team responds to the needs of the patient. These treatment teams consist of medical professionals licensed to prescribe FDA approved medications to help taper patients of their substance of abuse. The medical professionals are typically M.D.’s, D.O.’s or Nurse Practitioners with the ability to prescribe controlled medication like suboxone. The care team also consists of clinical staff such as psychologists, Master’s level therapist or Master’s level social workers as well as counselors and/or medical assistants. A well-rounded treatment team consists of this wide variety of specialists because detoxing from alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines isn’t simply medically dangerous, it is clinically dangerous, meaning, the psychological impact of ending a long period of substance abuse can be traumatizing. These programs monitor their client’s vital signs around the clock to make sure that prescribed medications are working as they should and they also monitor their patients for psychiatric warning signs.

What High Quality Medically Supervised Detox Programs are Not Like:

Often times, some people confuse a medically supervised drug and alcohol detox program with 3 different types of treatment, namely, (1) a short-term emergency room stay; (2) Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT); and (3) so called “online drug and alcohol detox” programs, some forms of outpatient detox and “holistic” detox. Short term emergency room visits to alleviate the symptoms of overdose or withdrawal do not address the chronic nature of addiction, only the acute symptoms of addiction. For example, patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal at the ER are typically given a benzodiazepine, a saline drip and, perhaps, anticonvulsive medication. While this may help the addict in the moment, their withdrawal symptoms will continue once these medications wear off placing the patient in the same dangerous state as they were prior to the visit. Medication Assisted Treatment has been around for some time. MAT is a program where the treatment team believes that long-term use of controlled, FDA approved medications like methadone or suboxone are preferable to abstinence. This is a major controversy in the American substance abuse treatment industry as there are plentiful studies showing abstinence is superior in many ways to replacing substances of abuse with prescription medications. As the New York Times explains, “Anti-craving medications are not a silver bullet; relapse is common even among people who take them, and some in fact do better with an abstinence approach.” This controversy isn’t merely fact based, it is also philosophical as many treatment programs throughout the country follow the tenets of 12-step based programs that keep, as a foundational belief, that abstinence is the right path towards long-term sobriety. The last category of treatment options that some people believe are qualified substitutes for medically supervised detox is online, outpatient or holistic detox programs. Online detox programs are often nothing more than scams. Here’s why: the most effective medications to taper patients off of alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines are FDA controlled medications themselves and are prone to being abused by addicts. Before 2020, the prescription of medications such as buprenorphine, commonly known as Suboxone, required an in-patient visit with a medical doctor or qualified Nurse Practitioner. Now, telehealth practitioners are allowed to prescribe buprenorphine without an inpatient visit. The reason why this practice is controversial is because the addict may abuse buprenorphine at home and the likelihood of this happening at an inpatient facility is greatly reduced because medical staff only give the patient the prescribed dosage at intervals their doctor advises. The potential for patient abuse of detox medications is just as high in outpatient facilities. Patients should also beware of any detox program that lists themselves as “holistic.” Some of these programs are completely opposed to the used of prescription medication and may only give their clients high doses of vitamins, other supplements or advise their clients to spend unusually long periods of time in sauna’s to “sweat out” their substance of abuse. This flies in the face of existing medical research, knowledge and practice.

What to Look for in A High-Quality Medically Supervised Detox Program:

High quality detox programs are typically located in a residentially licensed treatment program or in a hospital-like setting. These programs feature medical staff licensed to prescribe controlled medicines to taper their patients safely off of substances of abuse. These medical professionals may hold specializations in Addiction Medicine or in Psychiatry. In addition, these programs have a Treatment Team consisting of more than just medical staff, they also have psychologists, Master’s level therapists and counselors as well because addiction isn’t simply a medical disease. They should have round the clock monitoring and, at maximum a 3:1 patient to staff ratio. A focus on nutrition and hydration is also typical in high quality detox programs. You should also look up 3 critical things about the facility: (1) their license status; (2) if they are LegitScript certified on their website; and (3) if they are accredited with 1 of the 2 more common accreditation bodies for drug and alcohol detox programs: The Joint Commission accreditation or CARF International accreditation. If you or a loved one is in need of treatment for a substance use disorder, you can call SobrietyOptions.com 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at (855) 485-0071.


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