Menu Close

The Process of Prescription Drug Detox

Providing Trusted, Evidence-Based
Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

People who are addicted to prescription drugs may tiptoe quite close to detoxification, over and over again, throughout the course of a standard day. Each time they allow their bodies to process the doses of drugs they’ve taken, allowing sobriety to begin to creep in, they’re beginning to detoxify. Unfortunately, for many people, this is a process that’s filled with distress.

Each time they come close to sobriety, they may face such extreme unease that they return to drugs to make the pain stop. In time, they may truly believe that they’ll never survive without access to drugs, since they’ll never be able to live through the discomfort drug withdrawals tend to cause.

Formal prescription drug detoxification programs can help. Here, people have access to medical experts and medical treatments that are designed to reduce suffering and make sobriety just a bit easier to achieve. With this help, people may be able to complete the detoxification process and move forward with treatments that could allow them to stay sober for the rest of their lives. Learning more about how prescription drug detox works may also help to reduce the fears that keep people from participating in these lifesaving programs.

Determining the Specific Addiction Type

Some people who are addicted to prescription drugs choose one specific type of drug and stick with that drug throughout the course of their addictions. For these people, that one drug is the only drug they would ever consider taking, and they might not even dabble with taking other medications or drugs of any sort.

There are many other people, however, who choose to mix and match their prescription drugs, developing their own cocktail of medications to help them get through the day. This poly-drug use is remarkably common, with a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs reporting that 12.1 percent of college students mix alcohol and prescription drugs, and 6.9 percent mix multiple types of drugs together. Since this pattern of abuse is so common in people who do not have addictions, it’s likely to be even more common in people who do have addictions. As the process moves forward, people with addictions might move from recreational poly-drug abuse into serious poly-drug addictions.

At the beginning of the prescription drug detox process, experts attempt to determine what kinds of drugs the person has been taking and how much the person takes in each dose of drugs. Clients might be asked to answer questions about these issues, but clients might also be asked to submit to urine tests for specific drugs. It might sound invasive or even a little bit pushy, but experts really do need to know what drugs people have been taking so they can develop appropriate detox programs and provide meaningful help. As this article will make clear, the detox process can be quite different depending on the drugs the person has taken, so it’s important to be precise.

Choosing the Proper Setting

Detoxification programs can take place in many settings, including hospitals and clinics, and in private bedrooms. Ultimately, the patient will make the final decision about where the process will begin and end, but there are some helpful guidelines experts can use in order to help clients to make the best decisions about where they should receive care. For example, an article in the journal Canadian Family Physiciansuggests that people with these attributes might perform best in inpatient detox programs:

  • History of seizures
  • Serious medical complications
  • Previous history of outpatient addiction care
  • Mental illness
  • Lack of social support
  • Poly-drug use
  • Opiate dependence

This list might seem a bit arbitrary, but in essence, experts want to ensure that people who go through outpatient care will be able to complete the process, and people with the attributes listed above might encounter major roadblocks that could lead to a relapse. Serious physical or mental illnesses could lead to distress, and this could lead to a relapse, for example. A lack of caring family members and friends could also lead to a relapse, if the person feels isolated and alone as a result. Some addictions are also too difficult to handle alone, meaning that people simply must obtain around-the-clock care in order to get well.

In an inpatient detox program, people have access to staff members 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and they live in facilities in which drug and alcohol use is simply not permitted. The chance for relapse, in this environment, is nil. In an outpatient program, on the other hand, the person lives at home and might have multiple chances to relapse. Those who cannot handle this constant pressure might perform better in an inpatient program.

Initial Assessment

PrsecriptionOnce the setting has been chosen, and the staff has a clear picture of what drugs the person has been taking and how long the drug abuse has lasted, a quick exam takes place. Here, experts attempt to determine how the person feels now and how the person’s body is reacting when the process begins.

People who are addicted to opiate drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin might be in the early stages of drug withdrawal when their detox programs begin, and they might be a little sweaty and nauseated. People addicted to hypnotics and sedatives, however, might seem completely normal with no symptoms at all.

Periodically, as the process moves forward, consulting medical staff will perform this exam again. For people in inpatient programs, that check might be performed hourly. For people in outpatient programs, that assessment might happen daily or even less frequently. If symptoms of withdrawal or discomfort are spotted, medications can be provided to ease symptoms. A study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that assessments like this were a valid way to control symptoms of withdrawal, and that clients felt that their symptoms returned to a normal level 120 hours after the detoxification program began. As this study makes clear, the process does end, and people can get help to control their discomfort during detox.

Providing Medications

While not everyone who goes through detoxification needs medications in order to feel comfortable, there are some people who feel as though the detoxification process is simply too hard to complete, unless they have relief from medications.

Often, people with addictions to prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin fall into this medication-needing group. In a study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, researchers found that medications were helpful for opiate addicts experiencing:

  • Pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings

In this study, researchers report that only 7 percent of patients experienced euphoria due to the drugs they took, which might help to relieve the fears of people in recovery that they’re simply replacing one drug with another. Since the detox drugs don’t cause euphoria, they’re unlikely to be targets for drug abuse.

Some types of prescription drugs don’t have replacement drug counterparts, and discontinuing the use of those drugs over a period of days or weeks could cause serious medical problems. Anti-anxiety medications, as well as some sedative medications, are examples of drugs in this category. People addicted to these drugs are often asked to taper their dosages slowly, a little bit at a time, allowing their bodies to adjust to a smaller and smaller amount of the drugs they used to take. For some people, that tapering can take years to complete.

Easing Distress

AnxietyThe physical withdrawal symptoms that come along with detoxification can be distressing to some people, but the mental distress they feel might also be hard to control. They might be forced to deal with memories they’ve long held at bay with prescription drugs, and they might face fears that they’ll never be able to sustain their sobriety when the detox phase of treatment is over.

Detox programs may attempt to soothe these fears by educating people about the process of addiction, reminding them that the feelings they’re experiencing are normal and part of the healing process. Therapists might encourage people to spend time walking, reading, jogging or meditating, to help to keep their minds focused on the positive things happening in their lives. These are skills that will help them achieve long-term sobriety, so they’re good skills to practice now.

In addition, people who believe they won’t be able to achieve sobriety with detox alone are probably right. When the process is complete, there won’t be active drugs left in the person’s system, but all of those habits and behaviors that once nurtured the addiction will still be in place, just waiting to come to the surface once more. In a formal rehab program for prescription drugs, those habits and behaviors can be changed with therapy, support group meetings, and more. It’s vital that people accept the help these programs can provide, and that they enroll as soon as detox is complete.

At Michael’s House, we provide detox programs, supervised by consulting physicians, for prescription drug addiction, and we follow up that care by providing state-of-the-art treatment programs that can help people to develop new habits and new ways of thinking. We specialize in helping people who have both prescription drug addictions and mental illnesses, and we’re well aware of how often people with mental illnesses develop addictions to the drugs they thought could bring them better mental health. We’d like to help you too. Please call us today at 760.548.4032 to start the enrollment process.