Ambulatory Detox: The First Step

Published On: July 12, 2023|Categories: Detox, Drug & Alcohol Treament|
Man with psychologist drug addiction problems concept sitting on sofa looking at doctor taking notes close-up

What is Ambulatory Detox? 

Ambulatory detox is also known as withdrawal management and is an outpatient detoxification program for drugs and/or alcohol. This differs from medically-monitored detox, which is an inpatient program that provides around-the-clock care and medical support. Inpatient detox is more suitable for people with a prolonged history of substance use. Ambulatory detox is appropriate for clients with a shorter history of substance use, for those who have used substances with less frequency and intensity or who have used substances in smaller quantities yet still experience withdrawal symptoms that may interfere with their daily lives.

Ambulatory detox allows flexibility for people to meet their work, school or family responsibilities. For many, continuing with their daily schedule provides stability as they receive detox treatment.

What is Detox?

Detox means refraining from any substance use so that the body has time to remove all traces of toxins. By the end of the process, a person’s system will be entirely free of drugs or alcohol. Although the process sounds relatively simple, detox is typically challenging because of the withdrawal process, which is why it’s important to have clinical care and support during the detox process.

After long-term substance use, the body can develop a chemical and physical dependence on alcohol and drugs. Sudden cessation of these substances can cause physical discomfort or even death depending on usage.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Each substance will present with its own unique withdrawal symptoms, though some common physical symptoms are:

  • Shakiness
  • Chills and/or shivering
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping/insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose/congestion
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain
  • Tremors
  • Changes in appetite

Psychological and emotional challenges are also common during detox. Some of these may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Overwhelm
  • Depression
  • Mood swings and changes
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Increased sensory awareness
  • Confusion
  • Delusions/hallucinations
  • Sensitivity to environmental stimulation

The withdrawal symptoms will vary for each person depending on their length of use and particular physiology.

How Ambulatory Detox Helps

Some people who are detoxing may have withdrawal symptoms that are difficult or uncomfortable but manageable without any intervention other than social support. Most people who go through the detoxification process, however, find that their withdrawal symptoms are intense or uncomfortable enough that it is difficult to engage in daily life, which increases the desire and likelihood to use again as a way to manage withdrawal symptoms, despite wanting to quit. 

People in ambulatory detox will often receive medications for opioid disorder (MOUD), also known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT), that relieves withdrawal symptoms without producing any high. MOUD is a whole-person treatment process that incorporates counseling, education and behavioral care that gives the client clinical as well as emotional and psychological support, decreasing the chances of relapse.

The Detox Process 

Intake: The intake process includes evaluation, diagnosis and assessment of treatment needs. This may include laboratory testing and a physical examination.

Observation: The clinical team monitors the client’s course of withdrawal to observe symptoms and ensure safety.

Medication Services: A physician will determine any necessary pharmaceutical interventions and administer medication while assessing any possible side effects.

Treatment Program: Clients will attend small educational groups that address addiction, coping skills and symptom management and will learn about community resources. Treatment may also include individual and/or group therapy.

Discharge Planning: Following stabilization, our specialists will prepare the client for referral into another level of care or re-entry into the community, addressing any special needs related to community treatment, housing and human services.

After Ambulatory Detox

 Continuing with substance use disorder treatment after detoxification increases the chances of recovery and long-term sobriety. The ambulatory detox clinical team will work with each client during discharge planning to determine the next level of appropriate treatment. This could include a residential program or outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment has three levels: Mental Health Day Treatment (MHDT), also known as partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient treatment (IOP), which is one step down from MHDT, and outpatient treatment which is most often for those in long-term recovery.

Continuing Treatment at Pyramid Healthcare Dayton

We provide treatment for substance use disorders and mental health disorders and offer psychiatric services, medication management and comprehensive case management to connect our clients to community resources.

Learn more about Pyramid Healthcare Ohio.


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