What does it mean to detox?

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Drug detoxification (informally, detox) is variously the intervention in a case of physical dependence to a drug; the process and experience of a withdrawal syndrome; and any of various treatments for acute drug overdose.

A detoxification program for physical dependence does not necessarily address the precedents of addiction, social factors, psychological addiction, or the often-complex behavioral issues that intermingle with addiction.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services acknowledges three steps in a drug detoxification process:[1]

  1. Evaluation: Upon beginning drug detoxification, a patient is first tested to see which specific substances are presently circulating in their bloodstream and the amount. Clinicians also evaluate the patient for potential co-occurring disorders, dual diagnosis, and mental/behavioral issues.
  2. Stabilization: In this stage, the patient is guided through the process of detoxification. This may be done with or without the use of medications but for the most part the former is more common. Also part of stabilization is explaining to the patient what to expect during treatment and the recovery process. Where appropriate, people close to the addict are brought in at this time to become involved and show support.
  3. Guiding Patient into Treatment: The last step of the detoxification process is to ready the patient for the actual recovery process. As drug detoxification only deals with the physical dependency and addiction to drugs, it does not address the psychological aspects of drug addiction. This stage entails obtaining agreement from the patient to complete the process by enrolling in a drug rehabilitation program.