How Prescription Drug Detox Works

When someone becomes dependent on prescription drugs (either stimulants, depressants, or painkillers), they will need to slowly detox from the drug in a safe environment. Often, prescription drug detox centers are involved and consist of either inpatient or outpatient treatment programs that allow individuals to withdraw from a drug in a way that lessens the intensity of their symptoms. Then, once the individual has become stabilized, the need for further treatment can be examined.

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Medically-Assisted Detox

Patients are usually given medication to help them through the intense, painful, and sometimes dangerous symptoms of withdrawal. According to SAMHSA, “The management of opioid withdrawal with medication is most commonly achieved through the use of methadone, buprenorphine, or clonidine.”

In prescription depressant detox, patients are normally given a smaller and smaller dose of the drug as they are able to be weaned off of it. In prescription stimulant detox, medications are used only when necessary (such as in the case of severe stimulant-induced psychosis).

Withdrawal syndromes which can vary in degrees of pain, psychological danger, and discomfort, which is why medications are needed. Some syndromes, like those caused by benzodiazepines and other prescription depressants, can even become life-threatening, especially if the patient was also abusing the drug.

Prescription Detox Timeline

Prescription Drug Detox

Medically-assisted detox can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

In most cases, patients are able to detox from a prescription drug in a week or so. Medications help keep symptoms to a minimum, and patients are slowly able to work through their withdrawal until their dependence on the drug has ended. In some cases, however, detox can take longer. For those who abuse prescription stimulant drugs, depression, fatigue, and other symptoms can linger for quite a while afterward, especially if the patient was abusing the drugs.

Analyzing the Need for Further Treatment

If a patient taking their medication as it was prescribed becomes dependent on the drug, they will not experience cravings and will be able to stop treatment once they have undergone a successful detox process. However, if the individual was abusing and addicted to one of these drugs, they will need to attend addiction treatment following detox.

The need for this treatment can be assessed during detox itself. Patients often discuss a treatment plan with their doctors and are able to decide what will be best for them in the future. According to the NIDA, “Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse.” It is important to remember that those who need further treatment must receive it; otherwise, it is likely that these individuals will relapse, not having the resources to fight the addiction itself. Detox treats the body’s dependence on a drug, but addiction treatment helps with the mind’s desire to continue abusing it.

Prescription detox works through the careful diagnosis of the syndrome, the support and care of trained clinicians, medication that lessens withdrawal symptoms and the patient’s potential for relapse, and the analysis of any other needs patients have during their withdrawal syndrome, including that of a comfortable transition into addiction treatment afterward.

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