Alcohol or sedative-hypnotic detoxification is most-frequently managed through the use of the same class of medication the person is addicted to. People who are alcohol dependent know that if they start to get the shakes in the morning, a drink or two calms that down. It’s the same general principle that guides a medical detoxification.
By following vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature) and other signs and symptoms of withdrawal (tremors, anxiety, agitation, etc) the individual is dosed with a medication, most frequently a benzodiazepine, and then this medication is tapered down over the course of a few days to a few weeks. The choice of benzodiazepine varies from facility to facility and many hospitals and clinics will have specific protocols for when and how to dose. Commonly used drugs include oxazepam (Serax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), and diazepam (Valium).
In addition to the use of benzodiazepines, it’s common to treat elevations in blood pressure with antihypertensive medications. Because poor nutrition and specific nutrient deficiencies are associated with more severe withdrawals, multivitamins, thiamine, and folate are part of a standard withdrawal protocol.
While most detoxification programs/facilities are inpatient, less severe cases of alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal can be medically managed on an outpatient basis, typically in a partial hospital program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP).