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Drug Detoxification

By Ken Bachrach, Ph.D.
Clinical Director

The first step in drug addiction treatment is to stop using one’s drug or drugs of choice.  One of the diagnostic criteria for drug addiction is the inability to successfully cut down one’s use or stop it completely.  These failed attempts to stop drug use is due to both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms or the fear of them, if one would actually attempt to cut down or stop drug use.

There are many drugs of abuse, but most people use either opiates, tranquilizers, stimulants or some combination of these drugs.  In addition, alcohol is a common secondary drug of choice for those who abuse drugs.  There are illicit or “street” forms of these substances or prescription medication varieties.  A person may be using heroin or the prescription medications Vicodin or Oxycontin.   

Tranquilizers are primarily prescription drugs used to treat anxiety and sleep problems, particularly the class of drugs known as minor tranquilizers or benzodiazepines.  These include medications such as Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin.  

The most commonly abused stimulants are methamphetamine and cocaine, but prescription medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, are also abused by some individuals.

The first step is to determine whether or not medical detoxification is necessary.  This requires an evaluation by trained medical personnel in the field of addiction, since stopping substances abruptly can be very difficult, dangerous, and even fatal.  When stopping the use of alcohol, opiates, and tranquilizers, one can become very ill or even have seizures that can be life-threatening.  

Physical withdrawal is a real phenomenon that must be assessed and addressed by medical personnel.  Medications are usually prescribed to ease the symptoms of withdrawal and make sure alcohol or drug detox is done is a safe manner.  Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, do not require medically supervised detoxification, but there may be significant psychological withdrawal symptoms that need to be monitored and treated, if indicated.

Medical detoxification is done by substituting the drug of abuse with a medication that is administered according to a specific schedule.  This can be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis, with the determination based on an individual’s intoxication or withdrawal potential, medical and psychological needs, motivation level, relapse potential, and recovery environment.  

To detox on an outpatient basis, one needs to have relatively low medical and psychological needs, be fairly motivated, have not failed detoxification one or more times on a outpatient basis.  They must have structure in their life, and a living environment supportive of recovery. Otherwise, inpatient detoxification is usually recommended.

Medical detoxification is achieved by slowly lowering the amount of medication each day until all medication is stopped and detoxification is achieved.  For opiates, methadone, buprenorphine or even Clonodine can be used to detox the individual.  For tranquilizers, the barbiturate, phenobartital, is often used in decreasing amounts.  

The length of time one will require for drug detox can vary, based on the drug of abuse, the amount used daily prior to entering detoxification, and one’s own idiosyncratic issues.  Generally, most detoxification protocols can be completed within one week, but can be as short as three days or as long as ten days.  Certain drugs or combinations of drugs may take a longer period of time.

Tarzana Treatment Centers in Los Angeles provides drug and alcohol detox in alcohol and drug treatment as part of our commitment to integrated behavioral healthcare.  If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol or drugs, please call us now at 888-777-8565 or contact us here.

Southern California Locations for Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Tarzana Treatment Centers has locations all over Southern California in Los Angeles County. Other than our central location in Tarzana, we have facilities in Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, Long Beach, and in Northridge and Reseda in the San Fernando Valley.

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