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The Safest Way to Go Through Medical Detoxification

by Landmark Recovery

March 26, 2020
Two individuals holding hands


If you or your loved one has chosen to detox from alcohol or drugs, it’s imperative to educate yourself about the safest way to go through medical detoxification.


When you’re making the first vital step to recovery, you don’t want to move ahead alone.


If you’re a heavy drinker about to stop drinking, you can die if you don’t take medication to help ease withdrawal. Safe detoxing means going through the entire process under close professional supervision by medical staff and counselors.


Why Is It Dangerous To Detox At Home?

A woman thinking about why it is dangerous to detox at home

Sudden withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal if you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time. Going cold turkey without proper medical attention can send your body into shock and cause death from a heart attack or kidney failure.


Withdrawing from opiates is not as dangerous, but people can still die. Medication for opiate detoxification has the potential for abuse so it must be administered under medical supervision.


Whether you are detoxing from drugs or alcohol, a medical detoxification program will increase your chances of sustained recovery and keep you safe while your body is expelling toxins and normalizing.


Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you stop drinking abruptly after prolonged heavy drinking, the chemicals in your brain become imbalanced and play havoc with your neurons. This unsettling process produces mild to severe physical symptoms including:


  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Delirium tremens
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Tremors


Symptoms can begin from around 48 hours after your last drink. Depending on how severe your drinking problem is, symptoms can last from 24 hours to five days. If your alcoholism is severe, delirium tremens and seizures are possible.


Delirium Tremens

The neurological syndrome caused by sudden alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens or DTs. DTs are caused by heightened activity in the nervous system.


Delirium tremens occurs in people who have stopped drinking after years of sustained alcohol abuse. It’s easy to mistake delirium tremens for drunkenness. Someone may not have had that much to drink but their behavior presents as if they’ve overdone it.


Look out for the following symptoms…


Symptoms of Delirium Tremens


  • Agitation
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting



Seizures are spasms that occur in the brain.


When a person has been drinking heavily over a long time, the central nervous system adapts to cellular changes caused by alcohol.


Abruptly stopping alcohol suddenly unmasks the nervous system causing sudden bursts of electricity in the brain.


What Medications Are Used For Alcohol Detoxification?

Disulfiram, Acamprosate, and Naltrexone are all used to treat alcohol use disorder but they are not effective in reducing symptoms of withdrawal.


Alcohol withdrawal symptoms require medication that relaxes the nervous system.



Benzodiazepines are typically given to patients detoxing from alcohol as they are most effective in preventing seizures.


This tranquilizer works by targeting GABA receptors. These are part of the membrane of the brain and central nervous system.


When a person is withdrawing from alcohol, benzodiazepines sedate the central nervous system which reduces excitement of the neurons and helps prevent seizures.



In some cases when benzodiazepines aren’t available, barbiturates can be effective in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.


Barbiturates are a form of sedative originally used as a sleeping pill. The calming effects of barbiturates reduce spasms, anxiety, induce sleep, and prevent seizures.


Withdrawing from Opiates Safely

Withdrawing from opiates is not normally considered potentially fatal. But people can die from withdrawal symptoms.


Death can occur from serious dehydration caused by excessive diarrhea and vomiting with opioid withdrawal. It has also been known for some people to suffer heart failure as a result of withdrawal.


Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Goosebumps
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Vomiting


Medication For Withdrawing From Opioids

Medical-assisted treatment for opioid withdrawal typically includes these FDA-approved drugs:


  • Buprenorphine is sold as Suboxone or Subutex and it’s used to treat chronic pain and opioid use disorder. It’s taken under the tongue, by injection, or by skin patch
  • Methadone works in two ways. It reduces the symptoms of opiate withdrawal while blocking the euphoria associated with heroin
  • Naltrexone stops opioids having an effect when they are taken. As the reward effect is removed, so is the desire to take the drug
  • Lofexidine was the first drug to be approved by the FDA for opioid withdrawal. In 2018, the FDA approved a drug to mitigate opioid withdrawal for the first time
  • Clonidine is mainly prescribed for high blood pressure but is also used to treat menstrual cramps, Tourette’s syndrome, symptoms of menopause and alcohol and drug withdrawal


Medical-assisted treatment programs incorporate group counseling and cognitive behavior therapy. In combination, this type of treatment is considered to be the most effective approach for aiding a successful recovery.


What Is Medical Detoxification?

Medical detoxification is the process of the body clearing drugs or alcohol from the system with the support of drugs approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).


Medical detoxification is typically done in an inpatient program. The most suitable type of program depends on the severity of your addiction.


Addiction treatment programs that incorporate medication with cognitive behavioral therapy have the highest abstinence success rates. This type of treatment plan is called medication-assisted treatment.


What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

A group of individuals meeting during MAT

Medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based treatment program that combines medication with cognitive behavioral therapy.


MAT programs can either be on an inpatient or outpatient basis depending on the severity of the addiction. Medical staff are on hand around the clock to provide emotional support and monitor for any problems.


A resident on a MAT program would typically stay in a residential for around 30 days while they detox away from the triggers that lead them to relapse.


Counseling and Group Therapy

In medication-assisted treatment, group therapy is an important part of the detox process as it builds resolve and motivation to start lifelong recovery. Stopping drugs takes guts and determination so psychological preparation for the challenge helps cement the foundations of a successful recovery.


Cognitive behavior therapy encourages the patient to analyze their behavior and develop strategies to build resilience.


What To Do Next

If you’re concerned about drink or drug abuse and you feel you might benefit from supervised detox, you’re in the right place.


Call our admissions hotline on 888-448-0302 and one of our friendly team can help you arrange the most suitable program for medical detoxification right away.


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We're here 24/7 to help you get the care you need to live life on your terms, without drugs or alcohol. Talk to our recovery specialists today and learn about our integrated treatment programs.

About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.