Which Drugs Require Medically Assisted Detox?

FAQ: Which Drugs Require Medical Detox?

Medically assisted detox can be a lifesaver for many addicts but do you know which drugs require medical detox?

Do you know one of the biggest reasons alcoholics and addicts avoid getting sober?

To avoid the detox process.

When a person drinks and/or uses drugs heavily on a regular basis, their body develops a physical dependence on these substances. If they suddenly stop using those substances that their body is dependent upon, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Users can experience both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. They range from mild discomforts, such as sweating or nausea, to severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms like delusion or seizures. The intensity of the withdrawals depends on the types of drugs used, the amount used, and the length of use.

Minor withdrawal symptoms, while uncomfortable, can most often be stuck out and managed alone. The user will experience mild unease for a few days but is unlikely to require intensive medical attention.

On the other hand, those experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms may need the assistance of a medical detox center. Are you unsure of what a medically supervised detox entails? Continue reading to learn more about both medical detox and the types of drugs that require a medical detox to ease withdrawal symptoms.

What is a Medical Detox?

Medical detox is the medically supervised process of allowing the body to cleanse the drugs or alcohol from its system. While the user’s body will cleanse itself whether or not they attend detox, medically supervised detox ensures they are safe throughout the process.

Some detoxes (called medication-assisted treatment or medication-assisted detox) use the help of prescription medications to alleviate or entirely remove withdrawal symptoms. Medications used during medication-assisted treatment should be used only with a prescription from and the oversight of a medical doctor.

Is Detox on an Inpatient or Outpatient basis?

There are both inpatient and outpatient detox centers. The type of medically supervised detox an addict attends depends on the severity of their addiction. If they are a danger to themselves or their withdrawal symptoms may threaten their lives, inpatient detox is likely the best option. Inpatient detox in the hospital is common for those who end up hospitalized while on large amounts of drugs.

However, with the increasing popularity of drugs like Suboxone or Naltrexone, outpatient detox is also possible. During outpatient detox, the recovering addict checks in with the doctor at a predetermined time each week or month to receive an assessment from the doctor as well as the next dose of their medication.

Do Only Addicts or Alcoholics Experience Withdrawal Symptoms?

This raises the question of the difference between drug dependence and drug addiction. Someone with a drug addiction does not use drugs due to a need for them. Instead, they use drugs because they enjoy the feelings those drugs produce. Often addicts continue to get high despite the consequences that occur as a result of their using. Oftentimes, addicts will use the loss of these things as an excuse to continue with their behavior.

However, you can still be dependent upon a drug without being addicted to it. For example, someone who takes Xanax for their anxiety every day develops a dependence on that drug. If they suddenly stop taking their medication, they will experience withdrawal symptoms from the drugs they were prescribed.

Because of this, some who are only dependent on a drug but not addicted to it may need to attend detox. This isn’t always the case but for individuals who use heavy narcotics like painkillers or benzodiazepines, attending a medical detox may help ease the process of weaning off their medication.

Which Drugs Require a Medically Supervised Detox?

Now that you are more familiar with what a medical detox is, you might be curious which types of drugs require this type of treatment. As with all addiction treatment, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every individual must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Their course of treatment will depend on the types of drugs they did, how long they used for, and how much they used.

Having a general idea of the types of drugs that require a medically supervised detox, though, will help you determine whether seeking this course of treatment is necessary for your loved one. Detox is beneficial in helping addicts during one of the most difficult parts of early recovery.

Alcohol is everywhere in society. Drinking is part of nearly every television show and movie out today. There are advertisements for beer, wine, and liquor during every commercial break for a major sporting event. Billboards abound, bedecked with flowing streams of liquid courage. When you go out with friends or on a date, the most common invitation is to “go out for drinks.”

With drinking taking such a prevalent place in today’s culture, it’s easy to forget that alcohol is a drug. However, for the families of the 6.2 percent of the population with an Alcohol Use Disorder, they wish they could forget the severe impact that alcohol can have on a person’s life.

Even heavy drinkers put a toll on their bodies with the amount of alcohol they consume. Those who drink every day develop a tolerance to the ethanol, requiring more and more to achieve the same effect as time goes on.

Many drinkers may not even realize the constant morning queasiness or hand tremors are actually alcohol withdrawal symptoms. More often than not, they know that a drink will quickly solve these morning discomforts. But to stretch it to withdrawal symptoms? It’s easier to take the morning drink.

Withdrawals from Alcohol

Alcohol withdrawals, like all other withdrawal symptoms, range from mild to severe. Those who drink large amounts or drank for an extended period of time will tell you they don’t feel the same without a drink in their system. Some drinkers find they can’t go more than two hours without a drink before the tremors begin to set in.

So what do withdrawals from alcohol look like? Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety, nervousness, or feeling “on-edge”
  • Depression or lowered mood
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability or anger
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Noticeable mood swings
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Difficulties forming thoughts
  • Sweating or clammy skin
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Insomnia or other difficulties sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors in hands and other body parts
  • Seizures

Depending on the amount of alcohol your loved one would consume, seizures are a dangerous possibility. They most commonly occur within the first 12 to 48 hours following the last drink. It is important to take them to the hospital immediately if you suspect they may have consumed enough to warrant possible seizures.

While some alcohol withdrawals can be handled alone, it is still smartest to seek the assistance of a doctor to determine the best course to take. They can determine the necessity of a medically supervised detox for your loved one.

Delirium Tremens

A more serious type of alcohol withdrawal symptoms are delirium tremens, more often referred to as DTs. Delirium tremens occur in severe heavy drinkers who drink every day for several months to many years. They can be incredibly dangerous when handled without the supervision of a doctor in a medical detox center.

Signs of delirium tremens include:

  • Delirium, or sudden and severe confusion
  • Full body tremors
  • Difference in mental function or capacity
  • Agitation, irritability, or anger
  • Deep sleep lasting at least one day
  • Excitement or fear
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Sudden bursts of energy
  • Rapid mood changes
  • Sensitivity to lights and/or sounds

Delirium tremens are another potential danger for those heavy drinkers who decide to quit. During delirium tremens, you loved one may likely pose a threat to themselves or others. Set up treatment plans at a medical detox facility ahead of time to ensure they go through withdrawals from alcohol as safely as possible.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

Understanding the alcohol withdrawal timeline can help you realize the importance of finding a detox facility for your loved one. By providing them a safe place to sit out their symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol, you can make the process as easy as possible.

During the first 8 hours since the last drink, alcohol withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and abdominal pain start to set in. These range from minor discomfort to intense and can start taking place as soon as 2 hours after their last drink, depending on their alcohol consumption.

For those who drank heavily, the hallucinations and seizures also take place during the first 12 to 48 hours of the alcohol detox timeline. This is when it is imperative to seek medical attention, preferably from a medically supervised detox center.

In the following 1 to 3 days after the last drink, their body begins to filter out all of the alcohol. They will experience heightened blood pressure and increased body temperature as a result of their system fighting off the toxins.

Their fever and agitation will continue throughout the following week until they begin to subside. Throughout the entire first week, physical cravings for alcohol will be at their peak. By sending them to an alcohol detox center, you can help physically keep them away from any temptation to drink.

This is by no means a hard and fast alcohol detox timeline but provides a general idea of the process. Their symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are a result of their body trying to clear out the poison they put through their systems.

Alcohol Detox Medications

If your loved one attends a medically supervised detox with medication assisted treatment, their treatment will consist of prescribed drugs that aid in the detox and withdrawal process. When used under medical supervision in a treatment facility, the benzos can help lessen withdrawal symptoms or remove them entirely. Medication assisted treatment for symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can ease the detox process.

However, because of the high potential for benzodiazepine addiction, these medications must be taken under direct doctor supervision. Attempting to manage alcohol withdrawals alone with benzodiazepines can lead their alcohol addiction into a more serious benzodiazepine addiction.

Medically supervised detox centers are certified to safely detox your loved one with the help of medications. If their symptoms of alcohol withdrawal warrant the use of drugs that aid in the detox and withdrawal process, take the safer route and find them a certified alcohol detox facility.

Rates of prescription opioid use and abuse have risen dramatically since the turn of the century. Painkillers were prescribed with a light hand following even minor surgeries to help relieve any pain. However, as a result of this, many people who had never been exposed to drugs before found themselves addicted to painkillers.

Prescription opioids refer to a variety of drugs such as:

  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Methadone
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (Percocet and Oxycontin)

In 2012, more than 5 percent of the United States population over the age of 11 had either tried or used prescription painkillers non-medically. This means outside of the prescribed dosage for the healing process or without a prescription at all. Deaths due to prescription opioids skyrocketed 3.6 times more for men and 5 times more for women between 1999 and 2010.

Thankfully the spikes have lessened somewhat with the awareness surrounding the misuse of prescription opioids. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) helped turn prescription opioids into a Schedule II drug with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This legislation has made it more difficult to acquire painkillers on a regular basis. Honest doctors are also more hesitant to hand out prescriptions for opioids as a result.

Withdrawal from Prescription Opioids

However, there is still a significant portion of the population addicted to prescription opioids. Like alcohol, the body develops a tolerance for painkillers as well. The more painkillers someone takes and the more often they take them, the more reliant their body becomes on these drugs.

When your loved one suddenly removes the drugs from their system, symptoms of prescription opioid withdrawal start to set in. Prescription opioid withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly dangerous if your loved one’s addiction is severe enough.

What are some of the withdrawal symptoms from prescription opioids?

  • Agitation or frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches or spasms
  • Increased tear production (from eyes)
  • Insomnia or other difficulties sleeping
  • Runny nose
  • Excess sweating
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Since prescription opioids function as pain relievers, body aches are incredibly common during the prescription opioid detox period. With the drug cravings already in place, relapsing on prescription opioids is all too common. Placing your loved one in a detox will help manage the pain in a supervised environment, decreasing their chance of relapse.

Prescription Opioid Detox Timeline

The prescription opioid detox timeline peaks quicker but also lasts longer than the alcohol detox timeline. Opioids take an extreme toll on the body due to the receptors they act upon, causing prescription opioid detox to be an intense experience.

Prescription opioid withdrawal symptoms commonly begin between 6 to 12 hours after taking the last dose. Still, some find withdrawal symptoms taking hold in the first few hours. The symptoms of prescription opioid withdrawal peak around the 72-hour mark following the addict’s final dose. The remainder of the physical symptoms last for the remainder of the week.

Due to the intensity of prescription opioid withdrawals, detox is highly suggested for anyone abusing painkillers. It is better to jumpstart your loved one’s recovery with a stay in detox rather than risk them relapsing during this pivotal period. Cravings for opioids are overwhelming at the beginning. Coupled with the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms, relapse is common for those addicted to painkillers.

One of the most significant factors in prescription opioid detox is the psychological aspect. The anxiety and potential depression last anywhere from that first week up to a month. The drug cravings last even longer. Continued support following detox is important; without a follow-up or aftercare plan, relapse tends to be inevitable.

Prescription Opioid Detox Medications

If your loved one attends a medication assisted detox, their treatment will be accompanied by a medication regiment to help manage the withdrawal symptoms. These medications, like those for alcohol, should be used only under a doctor’s ongoing supervision.

You must remember that medication will only be effective if the addict in early recovery actually wants to get clean and sober. If they have no desire to get clean, medication assisted treatment may prove more dangerous than helpful. Some drugs block the effects of prescription opioids, meaning some addicts will take more drugs to try to find that “high” but end up overdosing because they will never achieve it. Medication assisted treatment should not be taken lightly.

There are a number of different medications used for prescription opioid detox. There are positives and negatives to each of the medications; some are better for short-term use while others function better as long-term solutions for relapse prevention.


Methadone is one of the original drugs for prescription opioid detox treatment. It can be used as both a short- and long-term treatment for opioid dependence and addiction. It works by acting on the same opioid receptors as prescription painkillers do. This helps relieve the withdrawal symptoms of prescription opioids while neglecting to provide the same “high” as the painkillers do.

Despite the lack of a high, methadone is still habit-forming and the user can become dependent on it. For this reason, it is best that your loved one has a plan to wean off the methadone unless they need to remain on it for longer. It is most often taken orally every day. This leads to complications for those who have a difficult time remembering to take daily medications; skipping even a single dose can complicate treatment.


Subutex is the brand name of a drug called buprenorphine, an opioid agonist. This means it also acts on the same receptors as painkillers do, helping ease the withdrawal process. The brain believes it’s receiving the drugs it received before which helps the prescription opioid detox, but it doesn’t block the user from getting high.

Because of this, Subutex and other buprenorphine-based drugs have a high potential for addiction. Like methadone, it is most often taken orally on a daily basis. The same danger exists if a dose of Subutex is skipped. If using Subutex during the prescription opioid detox process, your loved one should stay in close contact with their doctor.


Suboxone is a newer drug, an opioid antagonist, made from a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. After seeing the high potential for addiction in strictly buprenorphine-based medications, naloxone was added to help block the feelings of being “high” provided by traditional opioid medications.

Suboxone is traditionally administered weekly via an oral strip placed in the mouth. Because of the naloxone, Suboxone can be used as an outpatient detox drug. This allows more freedom for those who feel comfortable remaining in their usual living environment during the detox period.

However, Suboxone still has a high potential for addiction despite the precautionary measures provided by adding naloxone. Even if taken on an outpatient basis, addicts in early recovery need to remain current with their doctor and all other care staff who are a part of their treatment team.


Naltrexone is the newest medication created in response to the potential for abuse of methadone, Subutex, and Suboxone. Naltrexone is revolutionary in that it is offered as a monthly shot rather than an oral medication taken daily or weekly. Once an addict in recover receives a naltrexone shot, they can essentially forget about the medication aspect of treatment until the following month.

Naltrexone blocks the euphoric high provided by prescription opioids, essentially rendering it useless to try to get loaded. Because of this, though, the potential for overdose increases if your loved one relapses. Since they can’t get high, they may try to use more and more until their body cannot handle it anymore. Naltrexone should only be used for individuals looking to get clean and sober.

Suboxone is also an opioid medication. It functions similar to prescription painkillers and other opiates in order to help relieve the withdrawal symptoms from opioids. The irony of using Suboxone as a treatment plan for prescription opioid detox is that many addicts then find themselves addicted to the Suboxone. Some addicts begin using Suboxone the same way they used prescription painkillers or harder opiates like heroin.

It is important to take Suboxone under the direction of a doctor because of its high risk for dependence. When working closely with a doctor, they can supervise your loved one’s use to limit the potential for starting a new addiction. They can also encourage tapering when the time comes to remove Suboxone from their treatment regimen.

Suboxone can be a miracle treatment for some. When used as prescribed and under the direction of a medical professional, Suboxone has helped thousands of addicts find long-term sobriety. It becomes the foundation for a brand new life free from the bondage of drug addiction.

However, some still find themselves clean from heroin or prescription painkillers but with a fresh addiction to Suboxone. If your loved one becomes addicted, they will experience withdrawal symptoms from Suboxone just as they did with the opiates they used in the first place.

Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms

Since it is also an opioid medication, the Suboxone withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of prescription opioids and opiates. Withdrawal symptoms of Suboxone addiction include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches or spasms
  • Insomnia or other difficulties with sleeping
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulties with the digestive system
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation, irritability, or frustration
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Difficulties concentrating

Unlike traditional prescription opioid withdrawal symptoms, the chances of experiencing seizures during Suboxone withdrawals are limited. Still, seeking the assistance of a medically assisted detox can help your loved one find a treatment regimen that encourages sobriety. Cross-addiction is a very real problem and can be addressed through the proper program.

Suboxone Detox Timeline

The Suboxone detox timeline is also similar to the prescription opioid detox timeline. Withdrawal symptoms from Suboxone begin to show around the first 6 to 12 hours following the last dose and peak around 72 hours. The muscle aches are most significant during this period of time.

As the addict’s body continues to cleanse itself of the Suboxone, the detox period drags out through the remainder of the week. The psychological aspect of Suboxone withdrawal symptoms, such as drug cravings, can take up to a month to begin subsiding.

Remind your loved one of the importance of following through with their initial treatment regimen to avoid developing a Suboxone addiction. The point of attending detox is to minimize withdrawal symptoms; there is no point in going just to develop another addiction.

Finding a Medical Detox Center

There are thousands of detox centers to choose from throughout the United States. The detox center you choose depends on a number of factors, such as your budget or whether or not they offer medically assisted treatment. You can speak with the admissions office for a number of different centers to find out more information before making your decision.

No one deserves to struggle with drug addiction, much less become a victim to their disease. Through medically assisted detox, your loved one can have the opportunity to live a new life.