To begin, we should clarify terms. What is detox, and what do we mean by “professional care”?
Detox, short for detoxification, is the process of eliminating toxins—in this instance, primarily alcohol and drugs—from the system, with the aim of restoring normal metabolic and mental function. Professional care can simply mean a doctor’s supervision or even the ER (best not to let things go that far), but ideally it involves care in a facility dedicated to alcohol and drug treatment, where the personnel are specifically trained in the field of addiction.
Many alcoholics and addicts attempt to avoid acute withdrawal symptoms by trying to wean themselves of their substance of choice. Generally, self-regulated tapering is unsuccessful, as it requires controlling the amount ingested, which by definition addicts are not capable of doing. The approach with the better chance of long-term success is to submit to a treatment facility that can do the following:
- medically supervise the detox process, such that the patient is isolated from access to substances subject to abuse, and that withdrawal symptoms are managed in terms of both safety and discomfort
- transition the patient to the treatment process, in which a setting is provided and counseling given in order to facilitate ongoing recovery
- prepare the patient for discharge and aftercare, emphasizing the importance of maintaining attitudes and habits cultivated during treatment
The detox phase is critical
[pullquote] It is estimated that only 10-20% of problem-drinkers get supervised detox.[/pullquote]Alcohol and drug withdrawals can be life threatening, and at the very least are extremely uncomfortable. Symptoms may include seizures, cramping, disorientation, memory and cognitive problems, disorientation, and nausea, depending on the substance in question. Co-existing conditions, including the possibilities of diabetes, liver or cardiovascular disease, and possible concurrent mental disorders may also require attention. Hydration and electrolyte replacement, as well as appropriate nutrition, are important considerations.
Under appropriate supervision in a qualified treatment center, these issues can be addressed for maximum safety and with the goal of minimizing patient discomfort.