There are actually a few different types of detoxification, and many different treatments used to help people detox from various substances.
What is Non-Medical Detoxification?
The most common type of detox is also known simply as withdrawal, which is someone who may have been dependent on or abusing a substance and then stops taking it. This is also sometimes called non-medical detoxification, although that is often in association with some type of treatment. People go through withdrawal all the time outside of a monitored treatment setting, and sometimes this can be vary dangerous, even deadly.
What is Ambulatory Detoxification?
Ambulatory detox is done on an outpatient setting, but monitored by healthcare professionals, and often includes medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms. This medication is then tapered off over time, with the end goal being free from both the original substance(s) and the tapering medications, in most cases. This may not always be the case, as sometimes there are long-term maintenance medications as well.
Ambulatory detox could be done by an outpatient treatment center, a medical specialist such as an Addictionologist, or even through your local family practitioner who is experienced in this area. A couple examples include giving an benzodiazepine taper, such as Ativan, for alcohol detox, or using a short term buprenorphine taper like Suboxone for an opioid dependency.
What is a Medical Detox?
A medically-supervised detoxification is done in an inpatient facility, such as a hospital, residential treatment program or an individual detox center. Many people seeking treatment are poly substance users, which can complicate the withdrawal process, so a medical detox is preferred.
Medical detox is usually necessary for severe levels of alcoholism and benzodiazepine addiction, as withdrawal symptoms may include risk of seizures. Opioid detox (heroin, prescription painkillers) is also typically done in a medically-supervised setting, as the withdrawal symptoms can be very painful and long-lasting.
Medical detox includes prescribing of medications to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms, and is done so under the care of 24-hour nursing staff and a doctor always on call, if not physically on site.