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What's it like: To go through medical detox

People who suffer from addiction might end up in a detoxification facility to rid their bodies of the drug, or drugs, they're abusing. After detox, a person is usually recommended to seek further treatment to remain sober.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: April 7, 2013

Why does a person go to detox?

Addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. People who suffer from addiction might end up in a detoxification facility to rid their bodies of the drug, or drugs, they're abusing. After detox, a person is usually recommended to seek further treatment to remain sober.

Oklahoma continues to see a high rate of mental illness and substance abuse. In 2012, Oklahoma ranked No. 1 in the nation for the nonmedical use of prescription pain drugs. The United Health Foundation ranked Oklahoma No. 12 in binge drinking in its 2012 report on state health rankings.

What happens in detox?

You might be referred to detox through a family member, parole officer or other state agency. To begin, you will be evaluated by a medical staff member, either via telephone or in person.

The amount of days that a detox facility recommends you stay will vary. However, you generally aren't held against your will and can leave at any time, although that isn't recommended.

Your treatment, including the medication you might receive, will depend on what drug, or drugs, you have been using. For example, people who have been abusing alcohol might be treated with benzodiazepines, or anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax.

This is, in part, because alcohol is classified as a sedative hypnotic, and once it is removed from a person's system, they can start to become hyper and nervous. Within 24 hours, they might start to feel other withdrawal symptoms, including depression, fatigue, shakiness, rapid heartbeat and loss of appetite.

Treatment for opiate withdrawal includes supportive care and medications. Clonidine is one of the commonly used drugs and can help reduce withdrawal symptoms. Early symptoms of opiate withdrawal can include agitation, muscle aches, insomnia and sweating. Late symptoms can include abdominal cramping, diarrhea and vomiting.

Does it hurt?

People struggling with addiction likely are experiencing emotional pain that they will have to deal with as part of their substance abuse treatment. This type of therapy likely won't happen at detox but rather at substance abuse treatment after a person has completed detox.

There is some physical pain from withdrawal, especially opiate withdrawal, which can cause muscle pain and cramps. However, the medical staff at the detox facility has medications available to help ease those symptoms.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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