Medical professionals use the word “acute” to describe conditions that are overwhelming and severe. Broken bones, heart attacks or asthma attacks are all examples of acute conditions that are typically treated in emergency rooms by qualified medical professionals. People with addictions often need this kind of acute care in order to recover, as the symptoms they face during detox are overwhelming or perhaps life-threatening.1

Doctor with patient in exam roomFor some who struggle with addiction, the risk of developing serious complications during detox is decreased based on the person’s drug of choice and overall physical health. He or she might need help in order to recover, but not at the level of help doctors would deem to be acute. These people are sometimes placed in sub-acute detoxification programs, so they can get the appropriate level of care they’ll need in order to beat back an addiction.2

Understanding Detox Placement

There are a number of different detox settings that could be considered appropriate for a person who has an addiction, and families might be tempted to choose the program that offers the smallest number of options and the highest number of restrictions. By putting someone into a program that’s intense and severe, the family may feel they are increasing the likelihood of treatment success. However, a restrictive and severe detox experience may not be the best choice for their addicted loved one and may actually increase the chances of relapse after treatment.

Experts suggest that people with addictions should be given the right to experience care in a setting that doesn’t interfere with their personal freedoms, while keeping them safe from the harms an addiction can cause. They must get better, but their rights as human beings must also be respected. In cases where more freedom is warranted, sub-acute detoxification may be a better choice. In sub-acute detox, patients are provided with the support, medications and monitoring they need in order to recover, but they’re not subjected to intensive medical care or overwhelming medical or psychological interventions. Their therapists meet them where they are, providing a level of care that’s appropriate for the level of discomfort they might face in a detoxification program.

Sub-acute Formats

People who need sub-acute care receive help in a variety of different settings, including:

Typically, patients in sub-acute detox are provided with a level of monitoring that ensures sobriety happens in a safe and controlled manner. In residential programs, patients might live on site, but they might spend their detox days strolling the grounds of the facility, participating in therapy or otherwise interacting with the world. In some cases patients live at home during sub-acute detox, coming in for a series of monitoring appointments.

Studies suggest that detoxification programs that happen in the patient’s home may work as well as detox programs in a facility. In the right situations, with proper supervision from friends and family, at-home sub-acute detoxification can be successful. Studies show those who go through medically-supervised detox, whether sub-acute or traditional, greatly increase their chances of recovery success.

Working the Program

No matter where the sub-acute detox program takes place, it tends to follow a typical format. Patients undergo blood and urine tests so experts can determine how much of an intoxicating substance is present in the person’s body. Complete medical histories are taken from each patient along with information about prior drug-using habits. This information helps detox personnel create individualized programs for each person under their care. Patients are then provided with details about the detox symptoms they might expect, including:

  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Aches and pains

Over-the-counter medications and even some prescription drugs are use to soothe distress and manage any dangerous symptoms that might appear. Counseling sessions might also be used to help clients understand the detox process. Patients are also given information about symptoms that could indicate a more serious form of withdrawal, including hallucinations and seizures.

Finding Help for Addiction

Those who struggle with addiction and try to recover alone often have no idea what to expect from the detox and recovery process, and they’re often unable to react when something dangerous happens. Going through medically-supervised, sub-acute detox in a treatment facility is the best way to begin addiction recovery.

If you’d like to know more about sub-acute detox, please call us at Black Bear Lodge. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about treatment options.


1Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” NIDA, July 2016. Accessed 15 October 2017.

28: Medical detoxification.” NIDA, 28 Oct. 2017. Accessed 15 October 2017.