Detox for substances use and dependency refers to the removal of toxins from the body of an individual. Detox services seek to reduce the harms caused by intoxication and substance misuse and treat the immediate symptoms that occur post-use. Managing a life-threatening intoxication (e.g. overdose or alcohol poisoning) is not classified as detox and is generally treated in hospital environments like the emergency room.
When someone chooses to attend detox (all entry to withdrawal units in Canada must be voluntary), they have two potential routes: medical or social detox.
Medical detox refers to the most common understanding of withdrawal: individuals enter a hospital-like setting where they are looked over by physicians and nurses while going through withdrawal from alcohol or other substances.
Social detox, on the other hand, avoids the use of medical practices and medication to aid withdrawal. This type of detox offers a therapeutic, non-hospital environment to help ease withdrawal.
Today, most detox units offer a combination of medical and social detox services. Few are exclusively one or the other. For example, social detoxes may deliver medications to help ease withdrawals via non-medical staff instead of nurses or physicians.
Which Detox Type is Right for you?
A person’s withdrawal symptoms and detox needs will dictate which detox he or she should use.
Medical detox is advised for individuals who have been chronically dependent on a substance. It is also recommended for those with a history of complicated withdrawal experiences or other heroin problems. People who chronically use cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids, and alcohol generally require this type of detox. Individuals dependent on opiates such as heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers have become accustom to a certain pattern of chemical (such as Dopamine) release in the brain. Opiate users will, thus, have a wide range of symptoms during detox depending on their length of use.
Severe dehydration, high blood pressure, and pain are common experiences that make withdrawing alone (e.g. going cold turkey) almost physiologically impossible. Most Canadian facilities require patients to be able to care for their own basic needs (e.g. personal hygiene and self-feeding).
Social detox is appropriate for individuals who are medically stable and of no harm to others or themselves. It allows for short-term withdrawal for those who do no require emergency medical care while also avoiding overnight incarceration. Social detox can be accomplished on an outpatient basis for those with mild-moderate symptoms (often associated with shorter-term use).