In recent years, a variety of different options for drug detox have been developed to help people struggling with addiction. In the past, the options were limited for addicts, either quitting cold turkey, or being admitted to a hospital in the more serious cases. Today, addicts have more choices available in how they undergo the extremely challenging process of detoxing. In addition to medical detox options, addicts are now looking to more natural holistic detox programs.

There is no doubt that addiction represents a serious epidemic in our country, affecting on average 8% of Americans over age twelve, or roughly 24 million men, women, and young people. With these staggering numbers, it’s clear that we need viable solutions to address addiction and help those who are still suffering.

The first priority for an addict seeking recovery is to stop actively using and come down off of the drugs or alcohol in their system, which requires a detox program.

The most distinguishing feature of a holistic detox is that it uses absolutely no medications to aid in the withdrawal process. This is ideal for patients seeking a more natural approach who want to avoid the use of any drug during detox. They may be fed up with drugs altogether and not want to substitute one drug for another, even if it is prescribed by a doctor. Many patients may actually be detoxing off of prescription drugs, and have experienced the devastating effects they can have when abused, and are therefore reluctant to take more. Holistic detox can include a variety of natural methods to aid with alleviating difficult withdrawal symptoms and promoting greater overall health of mind, body, and spirit. Some common modalities are yoga, meditation, acupuncture, Reiki, massage, herbal remedies and essential oils, biofeedback, nutrition, spa and sauna therapies, vitamin supplements and many more. Also common are physical activities and exercise, outdoor activities, and group and individualized therapy.

Medical detox is overseen by a specialized physician and is typically used to assist heavily addicted patients and those anticipating extreme withdrawal symptoms. In contrast to holistic detox, medical detox involves the use of medications, which are closely monitored and scheduled to assist with the detoxification process. This is typically reserved for clients who are so heavily, chemically dependent on drugs or alcohol that their lives may be threatened by the withdrawal process itself. Medical detox may be complemented by individualized or group therapy, but tends to exclude exercise or much physical exertion in favor of more peaceful and low energy activities.

While there are many differences between holistic and medical detox, neither one is necessarily better or worse, and each recovering addict must decide which is right for them.

Why a Holistic Detox May Be Preferable

Because holistic detox programs have not been around for more than three or so decades, they still garner a fair amount of controversy. They are vastly different from the more established method of medical detox, which has been the standard since the mid 1900s, yet they are now being recognized to have a variety of benefits.

The idea of being able to adopt a completely drug-free approach to recovery is attractive to people who have had a history of abuse. They want to be able to give up drugs altogether, not just replace one dependency with another. They are also able to avoid the potentially harmful side effects that medical detox drugs may cause. Furthermore the variety of modalities offered by a holistic program are perceived to enhance overall wellbeing and enrich one’s life, and provide safe and fun alternatives to using.

In contrast, there are some highly controversial methods and aspects of medical detox that are driving more and more recovering addicts to seek holistic alternatives. Methods such as rapid detox and detoxes that involve extended use of maintenance drugs are both controversial and potentially dangerous, and their effectiveness is still not firmly established. Rapid detoxes claim to be able to completely withdraw an addict off of heroin and other highly addictive drugs in two to three days, but it is a potentially dangerous medical procedure that is not completely understood and is not always effective. The medical efficacy of aversion-based detoxes are also not clear, and maintenance based programs often just exchange one addiction for another.

Choosing a Professional Detox Program

Medical detox may be the only safe option for heavily addicted addicts. In particular, those addicted to alcohol or benzodiazepines, or especially those addicted to both, may experience life threatening symptoms during withdrawal, and may not be safe without medical oversight. Many holistic programs will not even accept these patients because the danger is too great.

There are pros and cons to both medical and holistic detox methods, and it’s important to consider a number of factors including severity of the addiction, lifestyle, and physical and mental health issues. Although medical detox has been established longer, holistic detox has developed credibility over the past several decades and has demonstrated several benefits. For those wishing to avoid using all drugs and who can do so safely, holistic detox may be the preferred option. For severe addicts and those who may experience life threatening withdrawal symptoms, medical detox may be the only safe option.