The ongoing drug epidemic plagues the United States. The large variety of addictive drugs propels treatment centers to keep up-to-date on treatment methods, and use those that are only the most effective in treatment.

Unfortunately, many of those that detect and identify their substance addiction refuse to seek treatment. Whether it’s due to the stigma surrounding drug abuse and seeking treatment, or due to the slight inconvenience of participating in treatment, only 10 percent of the substance use disorder population receive any type of treatment.

As addiction and overdose rates continue to climb, it is essential that people struggling with substance abuse disregard the possible stigma surrounding addiction problems and seek help.

Professional substance abuse treatment is the most effective way to combat an addiction problem, and disregarding professional treatment and attempting recovery by yourself is not only ineffective but dangerous.

The first step taken in substance use treatment is to remove any harmful substance, substance residue, or leftover toxins from the body. Doing so stabilizes the client and prepares them to engage further in treatment. Medical detoxification is the most common and effective choice in substance use treatment.

Drug addiction is different for everyone, and one person may find a certain method of treatment more effective than others. Since detox is the first and one of the most important steps in treatment, choosing the right one can make the difference. You may consider private detox to be better for you. However, hospital detox is always an option, and should similarly be considered when it comes down to choosing the right treatment plan.

What is Detox?

Detoxification is the process in which all addictive substances are entirely removed from the body to prevent any further physical or psychological damage caused by chronic drug use.

Medical detoxification is simply detox but with the professional support of medical resources, interventions, and any other method to help a patient better handle the detox phase of treatment. Following the immediate cessation of intake, a number of complications and problems may arise, such as withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are caused by the body attempting to regulate itself as it struggles to cope without the substance it has become used to regularly receiving.

Continued heavy use of drugs and alcohol alter the very chemistry and wiring of the brain and body, and it can often take a significant amount of time for everything to adjust and return to normal. Depending on the substance of abuse, it can be anywhere from days to weeks and sometimes even months.

Why Should I Detox?

Detoxification, for many people, can be difficult and highly uncomfortable and unpleasant. However, it is almost always necessary to ensure that your treatment is a success. As a matter of fact, between 40-60 percent of all people in treatment end up relapsing, so it is important that detox is handled professionally and expertly.

Starting the complete recovery treatment is near impossible if the patient still has any signs of the substance in their system. Detox eases a patient from their current state back to sobriety, ultimately making the transition from detox to post-detox treatment much easier. If someone is not sober during their treatment, they can very easily get distracted by the intense withdrawal symptoms and cravings, pushing someone to relapse.

Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and dangerous, sometimes even proving fatal in severe cases. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms are as follows:

  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Extreme body temperature
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • General mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation

This list includes withdrawal symptoms that are prevalent throughout almost all substance withdrawals. The more severe withdrawal symptoms are caused by alcohol or benzodiazepines, and they can be extremely dangerous and near-impossible to treat without medical supervision. These symptoms include:

  • Delirium tremens
  • Panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Disassociation
  • Suicidal behavior

The likelihood of experiencing more severe and frequent withdrawal symptoms exponentially increases when the patient attempts to self-detox at home.

The Dangers of at-home Detox

Self-detox may sound good on paper at first, but detoxing by yourself creates many unnecessary risks such as an increased risk of severe withdrawal symptoms like the ones listed above.

At-home detox is ineffective and unsuccessful. In detoxing at home, the addicted person has the strong possibility of giving up and relapsing. At-home detox is also associated with higher risks of overdose, as many people will take too much of the substance when they do relapse.

Also, it is much less likely to be successful, as many people find the symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal to be too intense, and will often relapse mid-detox.

Many people will attempt to self-detox by going “cold turkey.” What this term refers to is the sudden, immediate cessation of a drug instead of the common, slow tapering off of the drug. Unfortunately, your body requires time to transition from being under constant fire from drug abuse to complete sobriety, which is why tapering is so important during a detox.

Quitting cold turkey is dangerous because it allows no time for the body to adjust back to being completely sober. This sudden chemical change in an addicted person’s brain and body incurs severe withdrawal symptoms, such as Delirium tremens and seizures.

Drugs That May Need Detox Hospitalization

Some drugs are more dangerous than others when it comes to withdrawal symptoms. While some substances that aren’t chemically addictive like marijuana will cause some mild discomfort when you stop using them, others can cause deadly medical complications. The safest way to go through withdrawal is in a medical setting like detox hospitalization or a medical detox facility. Here are some of the drugs that may cause symptoms that warrant medical detox:


Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means that it works to limit excitability in the brain.

When alcohol enters your brain, it starts to influence a chemical messenger called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This chemical is responsible for activating its receptor and regulating things like excitement, wakefulness, and anxiety. Alcohol increases the effectiveness of GABA, causing more intense nervous system depression. After a while, your body will start to adapt to the presence of alcohol and attempt to balance brain chemistry. Your body might even produce more excitatory chemicals to counteract the depressant.

When you stop drinking, those excitatory chemicals will all of a sudden be unimpeded by the depressant. For that reason, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as a result of an overexcited nervous system which can cause tremors, seizures, delirium, and death. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs during withdrawal and quitting cold turkey on your own can be deadly. The safest way to detox is in a medical program or a hospital.

Prescription Depressants

Alcohol isn’t the only depressant people encounter on a daily basis. A variety of psychoactive depressants are taken as prescription medications. Drugs like barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and sleeping pills are prescribed to treat seizures, anxiety disorders, and insomnia. These drugs work in a way that’s similar to alcohol by affecting GABA and increasing its effectiveness. They may also be intentionally or unintentionally mixed with alcohol, which can be extremely dangerous.

Depressants also cause a phenomenon called kindling. Kindling is a neurological condition in which repeated withdrawal phases cause more intense withdrawal symptoms. In other words, if you have gone through alcohol or prescription sedative withdrawal once or twice before, you are more likely to experience intense withdrawal symptoms the next time. People that experience dangerous symptoms like delirium tremens are likely to have gone through withdrawal before. Though it can happen during your first time detoxing, medical detox is ideal.


Opioids are sometimes called depressants because they also cause some hypnotic, sedating effects, but they are a category all on their own. They work differently in the brain by affecting opioid receptors directly (instead of increasing the efficiency of other natural chemicals). Opioids are potent and dangerous in heavy doses, but they aren’t as dangerous as depressants when it comes to withdrawal.

Opioids cause symptoms that are similar to the flu, like fever, nausea, vomiting, and runny nose.

Many people that go through opioid withdrawal describe it as the worst flu they’d ever felt. Though it can be extremely unpleasant and a significant barrier to recovery, it’s not often fatal. It can be dangerous in some of the same ways the flu can be dangerous.

It can cause dehydration, heart palpitations, and changes in blood pressure, which can all be dangerous for people with other conditions like heart disease.

Still, going through opioid withdrawal on your own can be extremely difficult, and you’re more likely to relapse.


Stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine cause some physical symptoms during withdrawal, but the most intense symptoms will likely be psychological. Stimulants flood the brain with dopamine in a way that increases excitement, reward, and motivation.

When you stop using them, you may experience depression, anxiety, and a condition called anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. Stimulant withdrawal isn’t usually physically dangerous for an otherwise healthy person. However, it can cause deep depression and thoughts of suicide. If you start to experience suicidal thoughts, speak to a professional as soon as possible.

Hospital Detox or Private Detox

There are two main types of detoxification programs: outpatient detox treatment and inpatient detox treatment. Depending on the patient, each program can benefit the detox client in their way.

Outpatient detox treatment involves a patient attending regular appointments with a doctor or at a treatment center, but the patient continues their normal life outside of treatment and will live off-site.

Outpatient treatment is generally effective for those with less severe addictions and has a stable living environment at home.

Since you will not be under medical supervision 24-7, it is important that you only participate in outpatient treatment if your withdrawal symptoms are mild at most.

On the other hand, inpatient detox involves a patient setting outside their regular life to treat their substance abuse disorder. In inpatient detox programs, patients are placed in an environment in which doctors and nurses monitor you around-the-clock to ensure that your withdrawal symptoms are in check.

Those with a history of relapsing should consider inpatient detox, as the likelihood of relapsing in a controlled environment is significantly lower than outpatient detox. Inpatient treatment allows for a smoother transition into post-detox treatment as well, so patients commonly choose inpatient detox over any other one.

Private detox and hospital detox are both forms of inpatient detox, and choosing between them may seem difficult, as both have their pros and cons. The main difference between the two is pretty much self-explanatory: Hospital detox takes place in a hospital, and private detox takes place at a private, independently-operated facility.

Private centers, unfortunately, are generally more expensive, and private detox centers are usually not entirely covered by insurance companies. However, the benefits of engaging in private detox centers are as follow

  • Private detox offers a wider variety of resources than hospital detox, such as semi-private rooms.
  • Private detox centers are privately owned and run, meaning more money is being used to provide higher quality treatment.
  • Private detox centers are dedicated to addiction treatment and only that.

Conversely, hospital detox is a more institutional approach to detox. Those that suffer from extreme, even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms require expert-level support and help that can only be provided at a hospital. Private detox centers may not offer the support and medications needed to successfully manage your detox.

When hospitalized for detox, the patient is put in a sort of “lockdown” mode. The rules and parameters are much more strict in hospital detox, and those that find themselves distracted and not focusing on becoming sober during detox would benefit significantly from hospitalization.

Hospital detox is also hugely beneficial to those who have a history of self-harm. Anything that can be plugged into a wall is generally prohibited while a patient is in detox, and almost all contact with friends and family will be limited.

While the point of hospital detox is to keep the patient under constant surveillance, the feelings of discomfort during hospital detox discourage a patient from relapsing and having to go through the whole detox process over again. Though it is important for a patient to be comfortable in treatment, being “too comfortable” is one of the most common reasons that patients end up relapsing. Hospital detox eliminates the chances of a patient becoming overconfident and not staying vigilant during treatment.

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