Which Drugs Require Supervised Detox?

Because drug detox is such a difficult process, it can be difficult to know which drugs require supervised detox and which do not.

As the video clip below shows, detox can look scary even when it is not particularly life threatening. However, some drugs and cases of addiction require medical supervision in order to make sure that the detoxification process is both safe and effective.

When someone stops using drugs after using them for more than a few weeks, detox is sure to follow. Sometimes this happens at home out of necessity, other times it can occur in jail.

However, the best way to go through withdrawal symptoms is with supervised detox with the help of a drug rehab or treatment center. These facilities offer a safe environment where individuals are medically monitored during the withdrawal stage of recovery. This lets those going through addiction treatment to be more comfortable in this stage, sometimes with the help of medication. But what is detoxification - and which drugs require supervised detox?

Drugs and Supervised Detox

What is Detoxification from Drugs?

Over time, drug abuse leads to a dependence on those drugs in your body. When you stop using those drugs, your body tells your brain that it 'needs' the drugs in order to feel normal. This is essentially the drug detox process - going through the few days that it takes for your body to realize that it does not need the drugs at all. As the name implies, drug detoxification is your body ridding itself of the toxins associated with drug use.

Along the way, drug detox leads to a host of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal usually begins within eight to twenty-four hours of last taking the drug. Depending on the substance and how long it has been taken, withdrawal can least anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. While many withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug, some of the most common withdrawal symptoms across all substances include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An intense craving for the drug
  • Depression or anxiety
  • An increased or irregular heart rate
  • Increased irritability
  • Confused thinking or difficulty with concentration
  • Sleeping problems (such as insomnia)
  • Muscle soreness or stiffness
  • Headaches, sweating, or fever
  • Seizures or panic attacks (only in extreme cases)
  • Hallucinations (only in extreme cases)

While drug detox may sound scary, it is the first step toward other important parts of the recovery process. Enduring through this first stage (either in drug rehab or with medically supervised detox) can help put you on a better path toward recovery.

Which Drugs Require Supervised Detox?

This is somewhat of a trick question, since not all drugs within a specific type always require supervised detox. Instead, medically monitored or medically managed detox is necessary in some cases and with some types of drugs. That said, the two most common drugs requiring supervised detox are heroin, prescription opioids, and alcohol.

  • Heroin: This type of opioid drug is extremely strong and volatile, resulting in equally strong withdrawal symptoms. Because of the intensity of the withdrawal process, many professionals recommend using medically supervised detox for the first stage of recovery. This is particularly true for individuals who have struggled with heroin addiction for a long time and use a large amount of the drug on a daily basis. With heroin, supervised detox usually requires a slow tapering off of the drug rather than quitting cold turkey.
  • Prescription Opioids: While most people do not necessarily think of prescription opioids as dangerous, this could not be further from the truth. Once someone becomes addicted to legal opioids, they will most likely continue to take increasingly larger doses of the drug for a long period of time. Supervised detox ensures that the withdrawal symptoms from these drugs do not become overly severe. If the symptoms become too much to bear, sometimes other medication is used to either slow down the process or mask the uncomfortable symptoms. Sometimes medication like methadone is used from the very beginning of treatment to avoid withdrawal symptoms altogether.
  • Alcohol: When someone has struggled with alcohol addiction for a long time, supervised detox may be necessary. In some cases a medical professional will administer a medication like naltrexone to help them stay sober during the detox stage. At the very least, withdrawing from alcohol in these cases requires supervised detox.

What is Supervised Detox?

Otherwise known as medical detox, supervised detoxification essentially provides a safer means of withdrawing from alcohol or drugs. In some cases this simply requires medical supervision during the withdrawal and detox stage, though in some cases supervised detox will also involve the introduction of other medications to mitigate the effects of withdrawal.

"Medical detoxification safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug use. However, medical detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use. Although detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence, for some individuals it is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment."

~ National Institute on Drug Abuse

More often than not, the withdrawal symptoms associated with drug detox are extremely uncomfortable. However, only in some cases do these symptoms become dangerous if they are not medically supervised and managed. This is where supervised detox comes in for those starting withdrawal. In fact, some professionals recommend that drug detox should never be undertaken alone at all.

Supervised detox offers those looking at the possibility of withdrawal as the first stage of recovery a safe and professional environment to undergo the symptoms described above. There are two major elements of medically supervised detoxification:

  • Medically Monitored Detox: This simply means that an individual goes through the withdrawal stage of detox in a supportive medical facility or treatment center. In this environment, medical staff is able to monitor the intensity of the withdrawal and intervene when necessary.
  • Medically Managed Detox: With medically managed detox, medical staff uses legal medication to mitigate the most uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. This is the next step after supervised detox.