What Is Medical Detox?

client at medical detox

Updated on August 7th, 2020

What Is Medical Detox?

It may sound scary but it’s the safest, most effective way to get sober.

The term “medical detox” may sound scary, intimidating, painful, or some combination of all of the above. But in reality, it’s the safest, most effective way to get sober.

In Texas, the most commonly abused drug is alcohol, followed by marijuana and methamphetamine.1 In fact, since 2013, methamphetamine has been the most common drug identified by Texas forensic laboratories and is ranked by the DEA as the #1 threat in the Dallas area, #2 in the Houston area, and #4 in the El Paso area.2

Medical detox is the safest way to detox from any and all drugs or alcohol, especially those listed above. If you are addicted to alcohol, methamphetamine, or any other drug, you should always seek professional assistance when attempting to detox. This is especially true for those who abuse multiple types of drugs and/or alcohol simultaneously because withdrawal in these cases can be very unpredictable.

What Is Medical Detox?

Medical detox (detoxification) is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a process that “safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug use.”3

Medical drug detox is also sometimes called residential detox, and it takes place under the supervision of medical professionals who are trained to recognize and treat the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal. The detox process can be difficult and uncomfortable, but this type of detox incorporates the use of medications to both increase the comfort of the client and reduce the uncomfortable physical symptoms of withdrawal.

What Happens During Detox?

Briarwood’s medical detox in Houston and Austin is a three-step process which includes:

  1. Comprehensive assessment – This first step is a complete physical evaluation that assesses the presence of drugs and alcohol in the client’s body, their psychological health, and any other existing health issues. This also gives our treatment team the information they need to create a personalized detox program.
  2. Supervised detox/stabilization – Throughout this portion of treatment, the client begins the detox process and the treatment team treats physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal with medical interventions.
  3. Individual and group counselingThis step addresses the emotional aspects of drug and alcohol detox, which can be quite challenging without the aid of recovery support specialists. It also helps prepare the client for ongoing treatment in drug rehab.

It’s also important to note that the NIDA stresses the importance of continued addiction treatment after medical detox is complete. Detox alone is not an effective way to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

What Is a Medical Detox Center?

A medical detox center is a facility that provides comfortable rooms and beds for people who are completing medical detox for alcohol or drugs. Inpatient detox programs are completed at medical detox centers and clients live at the clinic during the process, which can last four to seven days or longer. At a medical detox center, clients have round-the-clock access to medical and clinical professionals who help them through the detox process.

What Medications Are Used in Detox?

Medical detox programs for drugs often include the use of prescription medications, which are used to relieve the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal and help make the client more comfortable.

Certain medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat substance abuse and dependency during medically supervised detox and residential rehab. Other types of medications are effective in treating the symptoms of withdrawal.

Currently, there are no medications approved by the FDA to treat stimulant withdrawal or benzodiazepine withdrawal. However, certain medications may help reduce cravings and symptoms of these drug withdrawal syndromes.

The chart below lists some of the most common medications used for various types of drug detox programs. However, it’s important to note that the types of medications used during detox vary, and they are determined on an individual basis depending on the client’s overall health, circumstances, and treatment needs.

Detox Medications Used During Alcohol Detox
  • Acamprosate
  • Anticonvulsants (Depakote, Tegretol)
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Benzodiazepines (diazepam, chlordiazepoxide)
  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone
Detox Medications Used During Sedative Detox
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Clonidine
  • Flumazenil
Detox Medications Used During Stimulant Detox
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics (olanzapine)
  • Benzodiazepines (diazepam)
  • Modafinil
Detox Medications Used During Opioid Detox

Doctors may also recommend herbal supplements, vitamins, and minerals to help clients recover from substance use disorders during detox. Ongoing clinical therapy is also an essential part of treatment that will help clients maintain long-term sobriety.

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    Is Medical Detox Necessary?

    Although it may seem easier or more convenient to detox at home with popular methods like The Thomas Recipe, it’s actually much more dangerous to forego a medical detox program. Unassisted detox is especially dangerous for those who have existing health problems, people who have had negative experiences with withdrawal before, or people who lack sober support at home.

    Detoxing from alcohol, benzodiazepines, and illicit or prescription opioid drugs at home is especially dangerous because it may cause physical and mental effects that are very uncomfortable. Detox can even be fatal in some instances. Detoxing from other drugs that do not cause severe withdrawal effects may be less dangerous, but should still take place in a medically-assisted environment, just in case the client experiences any unexpected medical complications.

    When taking all these things into consideration, a medical detox program is absolutely necessary and will ensure the safety, comfort, and efficacy of treatment.

    How to Know If You or a Loved One Needs Medical Detox

    If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, medical detox is not only a good idea but a necessity. Addiction can present itself in many different ways and no one is immune. Although recognizing the signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one can be difficult, it’s important to understand what addiction looks like so you can get help immediately.

    The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) cites the following signs of addiction.4 If you or a loved one is displaying one or more of the following signs, you should consider enrolling in a medical detox program for drugs and alcohol.

    • Being unable to control drug/alcohol use
    • Neglecting hobbies and other interests
    • Taking unnecessary risks to obtain drugs/alcohol
    • Suffering from relationship problems
    • Hiding one’s activities or lying about them
    • Deteriorating hygiene and physical appearance
    • Having close family members who suffer from addiction
    • Developing a tolerance to drugs/alcohol
    • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when drugs/alcohol wear off
    • Continuing the drug/alcohol use despite negative consequences

    Drug and alcohol addiction is recognized by medical and clinical professionals as a chronic disease. As such, it will not just go away on its own. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol will need ongoing medical and clinical treatment to manage the disease and maintain long-term sobriety. Much like with other chronic diseases, the more a person adheres to his or her treatment plan, the more sustainable recovery will be.

    Medical detox is the first step in achieving lasting recovery and it is an essential part of the addiction treatment process.

    How to Choose a Medical Detox Program

    If you’re searching for a medical detox program, the best place to start is by considering your treatment needs. Meet with your doctor or counselor to get recommendations and consider your history with substance abuse.

    For example, if you have struggled with alcohol use disorder for years and you’ve tried multiple times to get sober without any luck, perhaps a residential detox program would be best. Or, if you have co-occurring mental health disorders such as PTSD or depression, you’ll want to make sure you find a medical detox program that can provide adequate treatment.

    It is also important to consider the quality and cost of a medically assisted drug detox program. An excellent alcohol and drug detox program will provide:

    • Affordable high-quality care
    • Experienced and qualified staff
    • Evidence-based and research-based detox treatment methods
    • Comfortable and safe environment
    • High success rate

    If you find a medical detox center that you like, you may also want to prepare a list of questions that can help you determine if it’s the right fit. Examples of great questions to ask include:

    • Can you verify that you accept my health insurance?
    • What type of qualifications does your staff hold? Are they licensed medical professionals or addiction treatment professionals?
    • Do you offer any clinical therapy services, recovery coaching, or counseling?
    • How does your staff help prevent relapse?
    • What happens after detox? Do you offer aftercare services or referrals to rehab?

    Will My Health Insurance Pay for Drug Detox?

    Before you commit to a medical detox program, you will likely want to know if your health insurance will pay for detox. If you have health insurance, many alcohol and drug detox services will be covered. However, the extent of your coverage will vary depending on your health insurance policy and the drug detox program you choose. Your plan may also cover a variety of types of addiction treatment, including residential detox and inpatient or outpatient rehab.

    The best way to find out if your health insurance will pay for inpatient drug detox is to call your provider directly or verify your insurance benefits with a detox program of your choice. The staff at the detox center will contact your health insurance provider on your behalf to verify your benefits before relaying the information back to you.

    You may also want to ask your insurance provider about your coverage for aftercare services, as you will need to continue your addiction treatment after you complete detox to prevent relapse.

    Start Your Addiction Treatment with Medical Detox in Houston or Austin, Texas

    Without a complete understanding of medical detox, it may seem scary at first, especially for those who have never experienced detox in a medical setting. However, as this blog explains, medical detox is actually the safest and most comfortable way to overcome addiction and begin your journey to lasting sobriety.

    If you’re searching for medical detox in Houston or Austin, Texas, look no further than Briarwood Detox Center. Our experienced team of medical professionals can help you get sober with a detox program that is specifically designed for you. All of our detox programs take place in a safe, comfortable environment that fosters healing and personal growth.

    Contact Briarwood Detox Center today at (888) 857-0557 to learn more about our programs or to enroll yourself or a loved one in medical detox in Houston or Austin, Texas.


    1. https://ndews.umd.edu/sites/ndews.umd.edu/files/u1424/texas_scs_drug_use_patterns_and_trends_2016.pdf
    2. https://socialwork.utexas.edu/dl/files/cswr/institutes/ari/pdf/trends/trends615.pdf
    3. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
    4. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/signs-and-symptoms/signs-and-symptoms

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