Are detox and alcohol treatment the same thing? It is a question that many people who haven’t experienced treatment ask, and one that actually does not have a clear-cut answer.
First of all, detox and alcohol treatment have a definite connection; they are very closely related. Without having a clear head and a freedom from the physical addiction, alcoholism treatment cannot begin in earnest.
However, detox is a precursor to real alcoholism treatment. It is not, in and of itself, a direct part of alcohol treatment.
Twelve Step programs like AA make clear that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. That does not mean that an alcoholic has to be sober—only that he or she has a sincere desire to be.
That said, if someone is not actively participating in their recovery, then they have, for all intents and purposes, abandoned their treatment plan. Many of us find ourselves going down this path until we are convinced fully that we are addicts and alcoholics. Of course, this takes varying degrees of experience for each of us in making this determination.
That is fine, so long as we get to the point where we either prove to ourselves that we can drink normally, or (more often than not) that there is no hope of such a possibility.
The real key benefit of detox (aside from the obvious freedom from our physical addiction to alcohol) is the experience itself.
Detox is the beginning phase to recovery.
Almost every addict and alcoholic, at one time or another, tries to get out of this inevitable consequence of our drinking and/or using. For a very good reason, too—it is undoubtedly a very unpleasant experience. In some cases, the fear of enduring this experience is the only thing holding many back from finding an alcohol treatment program.
There are temporary ways to avoid this detox, but ultimately, every addict or alcoholic has to go through it. By using these medications, the addict or alcoholic is both missing the point and in some cases making their physical dependency worse, and more dangerous.
For long-time users of such medications, what would otherwise have been a moderate to relatively mild detox can turn into a serious and hellacious experience. There are ways of making the experience less awful and dangerous, but detox is not something that can just be skipped.
However, that experience can show us just how far we really have gone. After experiencing a detox on any level, there can be no denying that we were addicted to our substance of choice. People who drink and use socially or “normally” don’t endure physical withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking or using.
For many addicts and alcoholics, the feeling of that detox is a constant memory of where our drinking and using took us. When faced with such realities, when times grow dark and the drink or drug begins to look tempting, that memory can be the one thing that makes us stay on course.