Which Drugs Generally Require Medical Detox and Why

There are a myriad of reasons as to why drugs like alcohol, opioids (heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone) and Xanax & Valium require medical detox for withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological, and are usually accompanied by drug or alcohol cravings. Oftentimes, stoppings substance abuse abruptly is not recommended and medically assisted detox is the best route. The goal of medically assisted detox is to stabilize the individual physically and should be done in a specialized facility with 24-hour medical care.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimated that in 2015, over 3 million Americans aged 12 and older were addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. While withdrawal symptoms are generally not life threatening, they are uncomfortable and without medical detox, individuals often resort to drug use to ease the discomfort. Symptoms can be managed by tapering off the dosage of the medication or switching to a longer-acting opioid. Opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, norco and hydrocodone are physically safe to detox off of. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times stronger than morphine. It is the only opioid shown to cause seizures during withdrawal, thus the importance of medical detox. In this day and age when street drugs are cut with unknown substances, medical detox is the safest route.

Benzodiazepines are one of the most prescribed psychiatric drugs in America. Benzo withdrawal causes severe discomfort and grand mal seizures. It can lead to coma or death. Seizures can also lead to accidents or falls resulting in brain injury. Benzo detox should never be conducted at home, even if the individual intends to taper down. Medical detox will ensure the taper is monitored and regulated in the correct amounts, as even lower amounts can cause seizures.

Alcohol on the other hand, is a central nervous system depressant and abrupt withdrawal can prove to be fatal. Alcohol dependence can cause seizures or lead to a coma. Withdrawal causes severe tremors, disorientation and confusion, impacting motor skills which leaves the individual relatively dysfunctional. Medical detox not only makes the withdrawal safe, but also makes it more comfortable by alleviating symptoms such as nausea, anxiety and restless legs.

Does someone “need” medical detox to withdraw from drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth and marijuana? Generally no, but some of the reasons these addicts seek medical detox are:

• The feel they can’t stop using without detox.
• They have become psychotic as a result of the use and need medical supervision.
• They feel they are a danger to themselves.
• They have nowhere else to go.

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