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Medical Detox vs. Medication-Assisted Treatment

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The Differences Between Medical Detox and Medication-assisted Treatment

Over 21 million Americans struggle with substance use disorder and only 11% receive the necessary treatment. Some don’t know where to turn up for help. Others fear to speak up because of the stigma around addiction. While it might seem difficult to overcome addiction, it’s possible.

There are several modern treatment processes that address addiction’s physical and psychological aspects and promote lasting sobriety. Some of them include medical detox and medication-assisted treatment.

What Is Medical Detox?

Once you take drugs, the brain releases dopamine, the pleasure hormone, which creates a euphoric response. So, when you take the substance for long, the body gets used to this feeling. The brain will then begin to crave the rewards associated with these substances. Drug use stops being voluntary and becomes compulsive. In this case, if you want to stop using the drug, you will first need to undergo detoxification.

Medical detox involves getting rid of the drug’s addictive toxins from your body with the help of licensed medical professionals. Consider medical detox if you:

• Used a substance in large amounts for a long time
• Need to use an increased amount of the drug to get the original effects
• Crave the substance intensely
• Tried to quit using a drug, but you can’t

The duration of detox may vary from one person to another. It can take from a few days to two weeks. Some of the factors that affect the length and intensity of detox include:

• Frequency and quantity of substance used
• Type of substances used
• Individual factors like your genetic makeup, weight, age, and medical history

Once you get to the treatment facility, the doctor will develop a specialized treatment plan that suits your need. Although the drug detox needs are unique to every individual, here is the process involved with medical detox.


The medical professional conducts a comprehensive assessment to determine the types of substances you have been using and the severity of the addiction. The doctor will also ask whether you experience any symptoms after taking the drugs. They will want to know more about your psychological state and if you have a support system at home. These details will help the doctor develop a long-term treatment plan.


The client discontinues drug use with the help of a professional. Depending on your case, the doctor may administer some medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. At this stage, the doctor can ask your family and friends to get involved and provide support to aid in recovery.

Substance Use Treatment

The doctor will explain what you should expect in the subsequent treatment phase at the final step of detox. Health practitioners usually emphasize the need to enroll in a rehab facility after detox to address the psychological aspect of addiction and keep you substance-free.

Detox Withdrawal Symptoms

When you stop using or drastically reduce the intake of a substance, you will experience some withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms will vary based on the drug taken, but the most common ones include:

• Irritability
• Nausea
• Restlessness
• Vomiting
• Tremors
• Sweating
• Muscle pain
• Sleeping difficulties

In extreme cases, clients experience hallucinations, seizures, and delirium, which is why it’s crucial to detox under medical supervision. Most physical effects last for a few weeks, but some psychological effects like depression may last longer.

Advantage of Medical Detox

A good medical detox program will help you fight cravings. It minimizes the discomforts associated with detox and reduces the urge to use drugs. You will always find a professional available to talk to whenever you feel overwhelmed by cravings.

Medical detox also reduces the risk of relapse. The professionals will offer 24/7 support and monitoring and customize your treatment to increase your chances of recovery. Medical detox is a safe solution, especially for people with long-term dependency.

Dangers of Detoxing at Home

Detoxing at home is very risky. Detox can cause delirium in extreme cases, a condition that leads to stroke or heart attack when left untreated. Professional assistance can help prevent such issues. It might also be challenging to stay on the recovery journey if your home environment triggers drug use. Once you experience some withdrawal symptoms, you might feel tempted to use drugs so that you feel better. When you reintroduce the substance into your body in a higher dose than usual, it increases the risk of overdose.

Life After Detox

Detox does not treat drug addiction. It only eliminates the toxins to prepare you for treatment. After detox, you will need to enroll in a substance abuse treatment program. This will help address the psychological, behavioral, or social issues that led to drug abuse. Once you get to treatment facilities like Granite Recovery Centers, you can choose any following programs based on your needs.

Inpatient Treatment Program

For inpatient treatment, clients reside within the treatment facility to receive intensive care and support. Once you get to the rehab center, you become a full-time resident. You may live alone or with a roommate. This treatment program separates the client from potentially problematic home environments that trigger drug use. Inpatient treatment suits you best if you have intense addiction or have experienced a relapse.

Outpatient Program

The outpatient program allows you to live at home, take care of your family, and go to work or school while still working on recovery. This option suits people with mild to moderate addiction. You will have to go to the treatment facility at the agreed-upon time and participate in therapy sessions. This option works best for people with a strong support system at home. After finishing the inpatient program, you can use it as your aftercare plan.

Partial Hospitalization

If you need more intensive care than the outpatient program offers but can’t or won’t consider inpatient treatment, opt for partial hospitalization. For this option, you visit the rehab center at least four to six hours a day for five days a week and then head home after treatment. This is good for people who need a high level of support but can still stay clean outside the rehab center.

What Is Medication-assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is an evidence-based treatment option that involves using a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, and counseling to treat addiction. This is an effective treatment method, especially for opioids and alcohol addiction. The drugs block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, balance the brain chemistry, restore body functions, and reduce cravings. This is a safe method. When presented in the correct dosage, the medication doesn’t cause any adverse effects to the user.

Besides medication, you might undergo a holistic treatment to help maintain your body strength. You will also work with an experienced therapist to uncover any underlying issues that might drive you to substance abuse. During therapy sessions, you will learn some coping techniques to help you manage cravings and avoid triggers.

MAT Medications

Some clients are a little bit skeptical about medically assisted treatment. This is normal since drug addiction starts with taking medication whether prescribed or illegally. But note that the prescribed medication offered during treatment doesn’t replace one drug problem with another. The drugs used are safe, effective, and FDA-approved. Some of them include the following.


Methadone helps reduce opioid cravings. It attaches to the brain receptors to block the feelings people experience when taking opioids. This will help you abstain while in treatment. The drug also helps manage withdrawal symptoms. You should only receive this medication while under supervision. Start with a smaller dosage, and only use it once a day as necessary.


Suboxone helps you better manage withdrawal symptoms. It also helps fight cravings that can make recovery difficult. Suboxone contains both naloxone and buprenorphine and is one of the most common drugs used in MAT.


This medication blocks the sedative effects of opioids and helps fight cravings. The administration procedure is through injection and is only given once a month. Vivitrol also helps prevent euphoric effects and lessens withdrawal symptoms. Note that you only get this injection after abstaining from opioids for at least 14 days.


Acamprosate is one of the most common medicines used to treat alcohol use disorder. Your doctor will administer this drug after five days of abstinence. The medication is in tablets, taken three times a day. The drug prevents people from taking alcohol but doesn’t help with withdrawal symptoms. It may, however, cause some side effects like:

• Diarrhea
• Appetite loss
• Anxiety
• Stomach upset
• Dizziness


Disulfiram helps with severe alcohol addiction cases. You can use it after detox or once you begin to abstain from alcohol. You should never take this medicine while intoxicated. This can lead to chest pains, difficulty breathing, and nausea.


Naltrexone blocks alcohol intoxication to help the clients reduce alcohol use and keep them motivated to work on their recovery and avoid relapse.

Psychological Support in MAT

MAT clients must receive counseling from a qualified program counselor along with vocational training, education, and other assessments as part of the treatment plan. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a widely used treatment technique to help people address problematic thoughts and overcome addiction. It helps clients understand why they experience certain feelings and how some thoughts can lead to substance abuse. Being conscious of your thoughts, feelings, and actions can help you recognize, avoid, and cope with triggers.

Medication-assisted treatment also involves holistic treatment that attends to the client’s spiritual, mental, and psychological needs. The main aim of holistic therapy is to identify underlying causes of addiction, boost self-confidence, strengthen resistance against cravings, and reduce the appeal to drug use.

Your doctor may recommend nutritional therapy to help you focus on proper nutrition and boost healing. Another option is recreational therapy, which entails activities like canoeing, hiking, cycling, and rock climbing to help relieve stress and strengthen the body. Meditation and yoga help you clear your mind. Another option is a massage that helps reduce stress. Acupuncture, on the other hand, helps restore your body’s balance.

Similarities and Differences Between Medical Detox and Medication-assisted Treatment

The main similarity between medical detox and medication-assisted treatment is that they both use medicine to facilitate safer withdrawal and fight cravings. Both methods effectively treat substance use disorder when combined with other treatment programs. However, they differ in terms of the processes involved and the goals.

The main objective of medical detox is to clear the body of toxins, restore the body to its natural state, and prepare the client for psychological treatments. The client will undergo detoxification at the beginning of treatment, so it is used in the short term.

On the other hand, the main goals of medication-assisted treatment are to block the drug’s euphoric and intoxication effects, control the urge of substance use, and provide support through counseling and vocational and educational programs. You will receive this form of treatment while in inpatient or outpatient treatment, so it is a longer-term option.

Your Freedom Is Within Reach

The first steps to treating addiction are learning about the treatment process and recognizing that you have a problem. After this, consider medical detox. Medical assisted treatment suits you best if you struggle with opioid or alcohol addiction. Consult a medical professional to help you choose the right treatment option for your case. Granite Recovery Centers offers different programs to treat addiction and co-occurring disorders. Our compassionate and experienced staff will walk with you throughout the recovery journey and provide the best support to help you achieve long-term sobriety. Give us a call today.