Detoxification is a process in which the body is allowed to free itself of a drug. During this period, the symptoms of withdrawal are also treated. Detoxification is the primary step in any drug treatment program, and is used as the initial phase in treating alcohol, heroin, inhalant, sedative, and hypnoticaddictions.
The goal of detoxification is to clear the toxins out of the body so that the body can adjust and heal itself after being dependent on a substance. In order for the recovering person to stay abstinent on a long-term basis, detoxification needs to lead into long-term community residential program treatment or outpatient drug treatment lasting three to six months.
When individuals are physically dependent on a substance, they experience withdrawal symptoms when they abstain from the drug. Withdrawal symptoms vary with each drug of abuse, but can be severe, and even dangerous. Patients who want to overcome their dependence need help managing the withdrawal symptoms. The patient's medical team strives to get the patient off a substance on which he or she is physically dependent, while treating the withdrawal symptoms.
Pregnant women cannot be detoxified from opiates (also called narcotics, including morphine, heroin, and similar drugs) because strict detoxification can increase the risk of spontaneous abortion or premature birth. These women are treated with methadone as an alternative. (Methadone acts as a replacement for the heroin in the woman's body, but the methadone does not provide the "high" that the heroin provides. In addition, methadone is safer for the fetus than heroin.)
In order to be an effective first step of treatment, detoxification must be an individualized process because patients have varying needs.
Susan Hobbs M.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,