Medical detoxification is an intervention aimed at managing the symptoms associated with both intoxication as well as withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs. This form of detoxification is seen as the safest way to cleanse the body of the toxins that have built up in the body due to drug and alcohol use and abuse. Medical detoxification is done in an environment that is safe and closely monitored. The main goal of a medical detoxification is to minimize the physical harm cause by the use and abuse of substances, whereas those individuals that attempt to withdraw “cold turkey” may be extremely dangerous without the proper medical supervision and care.
According to information concerning detoxification and substance abuse provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), prior to the 1970’s public intoxication was commonly treated as a criminal offense. If people were arrested for public intoxication, for example, those arrested would be held in “drunk tanks” where there was no medical intervention and the withdrawal from alcohol was done alone and without supervision. Medical detoxification falls under the medical model of care and evolved as society in general moved to more humane and compassionate views towards care.
Medical detoxification has three main objectives in the earliest stages of recovery. These stages are as follows:
Evaluation-in this stage there is testing for the presence of substances of abuse in the bloodstream. There is also screening for any mental and physical conditions that are co-occurring. There is also an evaluation of the patient’s medical, psychological and social situation.
Stabilization-assisting the individual through acute intoxication and withdrawal symptoms to a state where there is stability and the absence of substance in the patient’s environment.
Entry into Treatment– the third stage involves preparing a patient’s entry into treatment
It is important to note, however, that medical detoxification alone does not qualify as sufficient treatment and rehabilitation.
The medical detoxification process, as stated above, addresses the immediate crises of both medical issues associated with withdrawal as well as any mental issues that may be accompanying the obvious medical symptomology. In regards to medical issues, some symptoms and signs that require immediate medical attention include increasing anxiety and/or changes in mental status, insomnia, abdominal pain and hallucinations, among other symptoms.
There also may be co-existing mental issues, such as suicidal thoughts and aggressive tendencies that may also be diagnosed and addressed during the medical detoxification process. The medical detoxification process also allows flexibility in regards to dealing with adolescent patients, as well culturally diverse patients and those who are victims of domestic violence.
Ultimately, the medical detoxification process acts as a bridge to start the recovery process. Detoxification is just the beginning of the process and providing the patient information regarding intoxication and withdrawal symptomology as well as treatment options is essential.