Inpatient vs. outpatient drug detox programs

What happens during detox? A brief description of what you can expect during inpatient or outpatient drug/alcohol detox. Followed by an invitation for your questions.

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How do you choose between an inpatient or outpatient drug detox program? We review the differences here. Then, we invite your questions or comments about the detox process at the end.

First, what happens in detox?

Choosing a detox treatment program is the first step to a sober life. Detox clinics are responsible for understanding both the history and the current situation of the addicted person, and to refer patients to additional treatment when necessary. Completing a detox treatment program doesn’’t mean that a person suddenly feels 100% perfect, but they do feel physically better, and are now ready to begin rehab. So, what are some of the goals of detox?

The primary goals of any detox treatment program are to:

  1. Safely relieve the immediate symptoms of withdrawal
  2. Treat serious medical or psychiatric conditions that are present

However, the ultimate goal of detox is to prepare for the mental, physical and spiritual work of rehab. After going through detox, the body begins to feel better, but the cravings are still there, so the mandatory next step is active rehab.

Inpatient Detox Treatment Programs

Inpatient hospitalization for detox includes the constant availability of a physician, the presence of a registered nurse, and specialized equipment such as heart monitoring equipment and intravenous infusion pumps. Inpatient detox programs address the symptoms of drug detox as the occur, and prevent serious complications. This type of detox is appropriate for heavily drug dependent people, those who have experienced complications during withdrawal previously, or people who have been using drugs or alcohol for a long period of time. Addicts and alcoholics may be dehydrated and extremely underweight. A sudden drop in alcohol or some drugs can cause serious issues, such as seizures. This is why 24-7 care is a medical necessity in these cases.

Patients stay in an inpatient detox program for as little as two days, and as many as ten, depending on their general physical state. Vital signs are frequently taken and patients have various lab tests,electrocardiogram and other examinations. Medications may be used to prevent seizures, and patients commonly receive intravenous fluids, often with extra vitamins and minerals. Specialized progressive diets emphasize the balanced nutrition necessary for healing.

To understand the importance of detox, you need to put the treatment into context. Most drug and alcohol rehab centers do not have an inpatient detox treatment program center on-site but work closely with inpatient detox facilities to help make the transition between detox and rehab seamless.Furthermore, after discharge from an inpatient detox program, it is important to begin rehab immediately. A detox treatment program that is not followed by active rehab means falling back into drug and alcohol use.

Outpatient Detox Treatment Program

Outpatient detox can last from a few days to a week or more. It consists of an individualized tapering plan to address drug/alcohol dependence and regular check-ins with a medical doctor. Outpatient detox is commonly supplemented by behavioral and psychotherapy. In fact, cleansing the body of drugs and alcohol is often managed at the same time that active therapy begins.

The early days of outpatient detox will focus primarily on supporting a person through early withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, headache, nausea or other problems. Specialized detox and rehab professionals give the necessary physical and emotional support. As a person begins to feel better, they can begin to take a more active part in the therapy part of rehab. Patients in an outpatient detox program may also receive vitamins and other medications to ease significant symptoms, such as anxiety so that they physically feel well enough to begin rehab. A healthy diet is also important.

Making the choice: Inpatient or outpatient?

Is it important while planning for detox to FIRST decide which option would best suit your needs. Follow is a list of the common benefits and disadvantages of inpatient and outpatient detox.

Outpatient detoxification

  • as safe and effective as inpatient detoxification for those with mild withdrawal
  • benefits those with positive, supportive family circumstances or job situations
  • can continue to work and maintain day-to-day activities with fewer disruptions
  • greater social support opportunities than inpatient
  • increased risk of relapse resulting due to easy access of drugs/alcohol
  • less expensive
  • less time consuming
  • not appropriate for all patients; requires assessment
  • retain greater freedom
  • suitable for those with high motivation to complete detox

Inpatient detoxification

  • 24/7 medical support
  • cases of heavy alcohol/drug dependence or chronic use
  • cases of previous complications or intense symptoms of withdrawal
  • higher cost
  • may encourage unnecessary dependence on hospital staff
  • more likely to complete detoxification process than outpatient
  • suitable for suicidal or homicidal patients
  • suitable for those at risk of potentially life-threatening complications of withdrawal
  • suitable for those in adverse or disruptive family or job situations
  • suitable for those not able to travel daily to a treatment facility
  • suitable for those with severe or medically complicated withdrawal

Being anxious about entering a detox treatment program is natural. Please leave us your questions or comments about detox. We’ll do our best to respond to your personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NIAAA: An overview of outpatient and inpatient detoxification
About the author
Jillian Jesser loves life and tries to live it to the fullest each and every day. After failing to finish two drug and alcohol detox programs in as many years, she managed to complete the program the third time and follow through with residential treatment ending her addictions for good.
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