The Difference Between Sub-Acute & Acute Detox

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Detoxification, or detox for short, is crucial for initiating the recovery process from addiction. Detoxing removes all of the toxins from your body that were put there by the substances that were abused during the addiction. It can take hours, days, or even weeks.

The amount of time one spends detoxing depends on the severity of their addiction. Detox should be monitored under medical supervision because quitting suddenly can sometimes be fatal. There are two kinds of detox, sub-acute, and acute detox; which one a person undergoes depends on several factors.

The First Step to Recovery

Detox is the first step to recovery and a life of sobriety. This is because detoxing allows the body to rid itself of the harmful toxins inside of it, put there by the addictive substance. For the best chance at recovery, however, patients must also undergo treatment for addiction such as rehabilitation, counseling, therapy, medication, and other forms of treatment after the detox.

Going through an addiction treatment program will help the individual learn the root cause of their addiction so they can work to maintain sobriety in the long run.

Detox & Withdrawal

Detox can induce symptoms of withdrawal. The substance the individual is addicted to can affect the symptoms they have. For example, alcoholics have different withdrawal symptoms than opioid users or marijuana users. Some common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Sensitivity to light/noise
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Intense craving for the substance you were addicted to (drugs/alcohol)

What Factors Influence Detox?

Various factors will determine if an addict should do a subacute or acute detox. These factors include:

  • The substance(s) the person is addicted to
  • How long the patient has been an addict
  • The severity of the addiction
  • Any co-occurring mental health issues
  • Any other medical issues present
  • The age of the patient
  • Drug allergies
  • The local laws where the patient is receiving treatment
  • The specific policies and procedures of the treatment center where the patient is detoxing
  • How much support the patient has
  • The motivation level of the patient

Acute Detox

The medical definition of acute describes life-threatening or critical conditions. Therefore, acute detox is for those that have a severe addiction. This detox must be monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, at an in-patient care facility. This is because there is a higher risk of fatal side effects, respiratory failure, and seizures.

Sub-Acute Detox

Sub-acute detox is for those undergoing recovery with less severe withdrawal symptoms in comparison to full detox. This usually occurs with less medical supervision in an out-patient setting. This could be an urgent care center, doctor’s office, intensive outpatient program, or residential detox facility. If manageable, it can be done at home with occasional visits to the doctor to monitor progress.

Sub-acute detox is for those that are in an overall better state of health who used less harmful substances. While it can still take hours, days, or weeks, sub-acute detox allows the patient more freedom than acute detox.

The Stages of Detox

Early Stages

This phase occurs within one hour to two days after starting the detoxification process. Symptoms are mild at this point, but they begin to get worse. The patient is examined by a doctor and given the proper medication or treatment to aid in what is to come. The risk of relapse is moderate but increases throughout this phase.

Peak Stages

18 hours to five days after the initial start, the most severe symptoms of withdrawal begin to set in. Medication and therapy can be used during this time to help the patient feel more comfortable and stay on track. The relapse risk during this period is high.

Weakened Stages

This stage occurs three days to one week after the initial start. The severity of the symptoms decreases, but for some, this can be the point when the worst symptoms set in. Reduced amounts of therapy and medication are used to keep the patient comfortable. The relapse risk begins to decrease during this time.

Final Stages

Five days to two weeks after the beginning of the detox are the final stages of the process. Symptoms are mild again, but therapy and support groups can be used to further the patient’s progress and help transition to rehabilitation. The risk of relapse is moderate depending on if the patient will undergo further treatment.

Which Is Right for Me?

Before going through any type of detox, the patient must be evaluated by a medical professional. This evaluation will analyze the patient’s current mental state, any existing medical issues, and cover their drug and medical history. Blood, urine, or breath tests are used to measure the severity of a person’s addiction. This helps doctors understand the number of substances that are inside the patient’s body.

The medical professional can then determine if acute or sub-acute detox is necessary. A plan will then be outlined for the person undergoing the detox. The person then becomes stabilized with the use of medication or psychological services for treatment.

The differences between acute and sub-acute detox are based on the severity of one’s addiction. Acute detox is for those with a more severe substance abuse problem, while sub-acute detox is for those that have less of a health risk. Which option a patient undergoes is determined by a medical professional’s evaluation of the individual prior to the detoxification process. Detox can bring on symptoms of withdrawal, so it is important for the patient to be at least somewhat supervised during this time. Addiction treatment centers and programs often offer detox services, such as NorthStar Transitions. NorthStar prides itself on using the most modern techniques and methods in addiction treatment to aid its clients in the path to long term sobriety. Contact the staff today at (303) 558-6400 to see which detox program is right for you and start your journey to sobriety today!


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