Difference Between Sub-Acute and Full Detox

Difference Between Sub-Acute and Full Detox

By In First Steps
Posted February 15, 2018

If you or a loved one has made the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol, your first step might be sub-acute or full detoxification (more commonly known as detox).

What is Detox?

Like the name suggests, detox is the process of removing toxins from the body. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, this is the process of waiting for your body to eliminate the harmful substances in it. Depending on the substance(s), detox may take hours, days, or weeks.

Is Detox Dangerous?

Along with detox comes withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal can be severe and even deadly. These symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea and dehydration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Strong cravings for drugs/alcohol
  • Pain
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Because suddenly quitting drugs or alcohol alone can be fatal, it’s best to detox under medical supervision. Depending on your individual needs, you’ll require either sub-acute or full (also called acute) detoxification.

Sub-Acute vs. Full Detoxification

Sub-acute vs. Full Detox

In the medical field, the word “acute” describes conditions that are critical and sometimes life-threatening. Patients with severe addictions will likely need acute (or full) detox.

These patients may have a high risk of seizures, respiratory failure, or other fatal side effects. Full detox calls for inpatient care, in which the patient is monitored and supported by medical professionals 24/7.

Depending on the abused substance(s) and the overall health of the person, this level of care may not be necessary. In these circumstances, the individual may need sub-acute detox, which can be completed in an out-patient setting with limited medical attention.

Sub-acute detox patients may still experience withdrawal symptoms, but on a less severe scale. They will be provided with necessary medications, support, and monitoring, but 24/7 care isn’t necessary.

Urgent care centers, intensive outpatient programs, doctors’ offices, or residential detox facilities are typical settings for sub-acute detox. Some patients may also live at home, visiting a facility for several monitoring appointments.

Both full and sub-acute detox may involve medication, particularly when the patient is addicted to alcohol, opioids, or sedatives. Medications can make the patient more comfortable and stable.

Benzodiazepines, for instance, can prevent the seizures associated with acute withdrawal from alcohol. Clonidine, methadone, and buprenorphine can help ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Of these three medications, only clonidine does not produce a high of its own. Methadone and buprenorphine are milder and longer-lasting than other opioids.

In less severe circumstances, over-the-counter medications can often be used to alleviate symptoms.

Which Type of Detox Is Best for Me?

The first stage of detox is evaluation. At this point, medical professionals will assess the patient’s mental state and existing medical issues, as well as review medical and drug history. Blood, urine, or breath testing will be used to determine the presence and amount of alcohol and drugs in the body.

Using this information, healthcare professionals will determine what level of care is necessary for the patient—acute or sub-acute. They will outline a specific plan for the patient’s detoxification.

What Happens Next?

After evaluation is complete, the patient must be stabilized. This involves the treatment of the patient, including any medication or psychological services that are needed.

Keep in mind that detox is not the final step toward recovery. It’s simply a starting point. Once you’ve successfully detoxed from drugs or alcohol, you’re now clean and ready to begin treatment. This may involve counseling, 12-step meetings, rehab, or a combination of these methods.

After detox


As the body adapts to increasingly high levels of drugs or alcohol, individuals develop a substance dependency, which means their body needs the substance in order to function normally.

When the substance is withdrawn, the individual suffers both physical and mental symptoms that range from uncomfortable to potentially fatal. For this reason, it’s important to undergo the process of detoxification under medical supervision.

Depending on the substance(s) one is addicted to and the severity of the addiction, 24-hour medical supervision may be required. This is called full detox.

Other individuals may experience less dangerous withdrawal symptoms and won’t need to be so closely monitored. In this case, sub-acute detox is appropriate.

Both sub-acute and full detox can be a first step on the path to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. For more information on detoxing please call one of our addiction specialists at 1-888-249-2590 or click here.

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