Medical Detoxification is a process that systematically and safely withdraws people from addicting substances, usually under the care of a physician. Drinking alcohol can cause physical dependence over time and stopping it can result in withdrawal symptoms in people with this dependence. The detoxification process is designed to treat the immediate bodily effects of stopping alcohol and cleansing all traces of alcohol in the body.
Many patients experience mild to moderate symptoms during withdrawal from alcohol and can undergo detoxification without medications if they receive supportive care and monitoring. Inpatient medical detoxification services are appropriate for people at risk of serious withdrawal complications or those with other physical and mental health conditions in addition to alcohol use disorder. These patients and those with previous alcohol withdrawal seizures, delirium tremens, or moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms can be given several types of medications to reduce the risk of adverse events, help reduce symptoms such as tremor, mild depression, elevated blood pressure, anxiety and tension, and prevent seizures or delirium.
More recently, outpatient detoxification has been shown to be as effective as inpatient treatment and less costly for people with less severe alcoholism. This requires daily follow-up and monitoring. Outpatient detoxification is commonly performed by using an anti-anxiety medication every 6 hours for the first 24 hours. Additional medication can be provided as medically necessary and doses can be decreased as symptoms resolve. Supportive care for patients undergoing detoxification includes providing treatment for nutritional and electrolyte deficiencies, monitoring withdrawal severity and abstinence, and providing referrals to alcoholism recovery programs and recovery meetings.