At-Home vs. Medical Detox: The Pros and Cons

Updated on December 11, 2020

Diving headfirst into the deep end of sober living can shock even the most prepared substance-use disorder sufferers. For those who have fallen victim to addiction, taking the first step down the road to recovery is no small feat.

If you are suffering from drug addiction, admitting that you need help can shake you to your core and catalyze a long-awaited reality check. Fortunately, you aren’t alone in your substance-abuse-related trials and tribulations. 

Research shows that about 22.7 million Americans annually need treatment for substance abuse but only one percent successfully receive it. With these devastating statistics in mind, if you or your loved one notice signs of strained relationships, drug-related health conditions, anxiety disorders, or a budding desire to stroll down the road to recovery, it’s time you considered undergoing the detox process.

The detox process: step by step

While detox facilities in New York City will differ from the facilities in Tampa and New Port Richey, there are typically standard guidelines most facilities follow. Below is a rundown of the step by step process of detoxification.

The first step is evaluation. Here the detox facility aims to determine the following:

  • Type of drugs taken
  • The duration of the drug abuse
  • Last time the patient abused the drugs
  • Number of times the person has tried getting sober in the past
  • Challenges faced in the past sobriety attempts

After evaluation, the detox team devises a medical detox strategy consisting of thoughtfully-customized medication treatments, nutrition plans, mental health services, and alternative medicine options. The person suffering from addiction has the option of accepting or declining any part of the treatment plan before it begins.

During the detox process, a team of medical professionals keenly observe the patient for any signs of mental or physical discomfort. The presence of any uneasiness means that the procedure isn’t working as it should be, signifying that the treatment needs tweaking. For such reasons, there is always someone present to monitor and adjust your treatment procedure when necessary.

How long is the detox process? Ordinarily, there isn’t a predefined period. However, the end phase occurs when the patient is no longer taking drugs and readily welcomes the idea of therapeutic programs. 

Methods of detox

Different people react to drug withdrawal differently. Given this challenge, there are several detox methods to help mitigate the risk of life-threatening symptoms. 

Research has shown that “cold turkey,” or abrupt stoppage of using drugs, can be pivotal in the treatment process. Rather than using medication to wean the patient off their drug-of-choice slowly, physicians can allow the substance use sufferer’s body to adjust to this state of withdrawal. 

Patients who opt for cold turkey detox methods agree to halt all drug intake, pushing their body system into sudden withdrawal. This method is likely to work when paired with medications chemically engineered to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

While the cold turkey method may seem simple, it can have adverse effects on the patients involved. Some drugs are far too dangerous to stop using immediately. Other illicit substances are associated with intense withdrawal cravings that substance-use disorder sufferers can’t just wish away.

With this in mind, experts often recommend tapering methods over cold-turkey alternatives. By definition, tapering involves taking smaller and smaller doses of the drug (and eventually stopping), allowing the body to grow accustomed and gradually reach the drug withdrawal phase. For tapering to work, patients must agree to undergo this process for an extended period, as research shows that speeding the process increases the chances of relapse.

Rapid detox is an inpatient procedure where substance-use disorder sufferers are put under general anesthesia. Once these surgeons administer the anesthesia, a patient’s medical team flushes these illicit substances (especially opioids) from their system. Comparatively, rapid detox is a faster method of detoxification. However, healthcare professionals don’t typically recommend this method, as patients can develop a severe reaction that can even lead to death.

Deciding to seek treatment for drug abuse is a courageous decision towards achieving sobriety. However, before you catapult into sober living, there are a few decisions you need to make, including your preferred detox location. There are numerous ways to go through the detox process, but the most popular options include at-home or medical detox.

At-home detox

By choice, some people may willingly choose to detox at home. For other substance-use disorder sufferers, at-home detox is a last resort, given their compromising financial situation. Whichever the reason, there are some pointers to consider before opting for at-home detox.

At-home detox is inexpensive but also the least effective and the riskiest alternative. Detoxing from home means withdrawing from illicit substances without proper medical support. Like many loved ones of substance-use disorder sufferers know, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening to the patient in question. For example, seizures that can make the body to slide into shock. Without adequate medical support, in some cases, a person can die from the withdrawal symptoms.

Other cons of at-home detox 

Risk of relapse

There are triggers for drug abuse (like peer influence) looming around every corner that can easily lead to relapse. Again, coping with withdrawal symptoms is uncomfortable, prompting one to use drugs to escape the emotional anguish induced by withdrawal.  

Lower completion rate

It’s easier to skip doctor appointments and therapies while detoxing from home.

Pros of at-home detox

While the apparent advantage of outpatient detox is cost, other pros include:

  • Less disruption to daily life
  • It’s safe and effective for persons with mild withdrawal symptoms
  • One can maintain family and friends relationships, even as they detox

Medical detox

Given the debilitating drug withdrawal symptoms, medical detox (inpatient detox) serves the patient’s best interests. During medical detox, professionals assess the general well-being of the victim before beginning the process. The individual is moved into a facility where healthcare professionals monitor the patient for any withdrawal symptoms.

Where withdrawal symptoms are present, the medical team can suggest remedies like:

  • Prescription replacement medications
  • Massage
  • Over-the-counter medications

In life-threatening conditions, medical teams can perform life-saving procedures like resuscitation, should the situation progress to a dangerous level. To some, medical detox is the only safe way to help some people recover from drug addiction.

Other pros of medical detox 

Suitable for people without sturdy support systems

If you don’t have a reliable support system in your life, medical detox is the preferred approach when striving for sobriety. Without support, one can easily relapse without loved ones nearby to motivate them towards sober living or dissuade them from giving in to temptations and cravings.

In an inpatient facility, you’re never alone. A medical team supervises substance-use disorder sufferers around the clock and devises craving-control strategies. Additionally, in these medical facilities, your peers will coach you through your low points. 

Reduced chances of relapse

You can rest assured that temptations are far out of reach in an inpatient facility due to their strict zero-tolerance drug policies. In the comfort of a medical detox facility, you are less likely to use drugs, even when the urge comes hard and fast.

It’s the only way

Most people turn to medical detox when at-home detox proves unsuccessful. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the relapse rate is 40-60 percent. And when relapse happens after or during a home detox, persons with a strong will to recover often consider medical detox.

Demerits of medical detox

Although medical detox is a reliable option for managing withdrawal symptoms, it has potential cons like:

  • It’s more costly than at-home detox alternatives
  • Pries you away from your family and friends during the treatment process

As you can see, the pros of medical detox significantly outweigh the cons, given that intervention offers around-the-clock medical supervision during an emotionally and physically trying time. 

To summarize

Detox is a critical process for drug recovery. If you or your loved one struggles with addiction, reach out for help by contacting your doctor. That way, you can pinpoint the detox method best suited to your needs. 

Take the bold step of starting detoxing today to reclaim your life from the grip of substance-use disorders. But remember, detox is just the start towards the path of recovery. Pursue continued treatment through rehabilitation centers to increase your chances of maximizing sober living’s unparalleled benefits. 

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.