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Difference Between Sub-Acute And Full Detox

Read on to learn more about sub-acute detox vs.
full detox, along with what both types of detox entail.

What is Detox?

Addiction has continued to be a problem worldwide for many years. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than thirty-six million people were reported to have suffered from a drug use disorder in 2019. Furthermore, these addiction metrics were projected to rise even further in recent years.1

There are many different treatment approaches available for those who need help with their addiction. Successful treatments begin with detoxification. Drug detoxification simply refers to the process of gradually reducing the concentration or amount of toxic substances in the body until they are eliminated. Detoxification is crucial because these harmful drugs have to be eliminated from the body before further recovery can begin.

Is Detox Dangerous?

Now it is important you know that while detox is a necessary part of drug addiction treatment, it can be very dangerous if it’s not handled correctly, especially in cases of severe addiction. This is because the process of detoxification is usually accompanied by several withdrawal effects, some of which are mild while others are much more severe and can be possibly life-threatening. Therefore, medically assisted detox programs usually include treatment adjustments to ensure that any withdrawal effect is safely taken care of.

You should also know that the severity of withdrawal symptoms that accompany detox depends on many factors such as the duration of addiction, the amount of the substance consumed, and other factors. Because of this, there are two types of detox, sub-acute detox and acute care therapy, and patients are helped to choose between these two depending on their addiction situation.

What is Acute Detox?

Acute detoxification (or acute care therapy) is a type of detox characterized by severe withdrawal effects. The withdrawal effects observed in acute detox are severe because patients who undergo this form of detoxification often have a long history of drug abuse and substance use disorder. Their bodies have also become very accustomed to receiving the drug. Reducing or eliminating drug concentrations in the body can hinder brain and central nervous system functioning, causing a host of unpleasant adverse effects.

Acute detox is usually carried out in a treatment facility where patients undergoing treatment are placed under constant medical supervision. This ensures that any withdrawal symptoms accompanying detoxification are quickly detected and dealt with. This particular feature is a major difference between acute and sub-acute detox. But before going into an acute vs sub-acute detox comparison, let’s look at what sub-acute detox is.

What is Sub-Acute Detox?

Unlike acute detox, sub-acute detox is a type of detoxification usually recommended for individuals with a milder addiction condition compared to those with acute substance abuse. Unlike acute substance abuse cases, the withdrawal effects observed in patients undergoing sub-acute detoxification are milder and less life-threatening.

Sub-acute detoxification usually takes place in sub-acute care facilities. However, patients undergoing this type of detoxification are not placed under constant medical supervision, unlike acute care treatment, because withdrawal symptoms are generally much milder and easily taken care of.2

Which Type of Detox Is Best for Me?

The major determinant of what type of detox program is best for you or a loved one depends largely on how long the substance use disorder condition has been present, along with the severity of symptoms you observe when you try to stay away from drug use. You should ensure to get a proper diagnosis and detox recommendation from your doctor.

Then, your doctor will be able to make an informed decision on whether a sub-acute detox program is best for you or if you need full detox. Regardless of the type of detox recommended for you, however, the stages of detoxification pretty much remain the same.

There are generally three main stages of detoxification. They will be detailed below.

Stage 1: Evaluation

The evaluation stage of detoxification is more of a preliminary stage where your medical care providers conduct a thorough assessment of your mental and physical condition in order to get an accurate overview of your current health condition. During the evaluation, your doctors will also ask questions regarding your substance use history, which will help them determine the best approach to treatment and recovery. The decision of whether to go with acute detox or inpatient sub-acute rehab is usually made at this stage.

Stage 2: Stabilization

Once your doctors have been able to decide on and create an effective detox plan for you, they will then guide and monitor you throughout the detoxing process to ensure you remain safe and can fully and properly detox from the implicated substance of abuse. This stage of detoxification usually involves using medications to take care of any withdrawal effects that might accompany the detoxification process.

Stage 3: Preparation for Entry Into Addiction Treatment

This is the last stage of detox. It involves transitioning patients into addiction treatment and recovery programs where they learn how to identify substance use risks and develop coping mechanisms to avoid or take care of these risks.

The Difference Between Sub-Acute and Full Detox

There are quite a number of differences between acute care treatment (also known as full detox) and sub-acute care, but the major difference between these two forms of drug detoxification is the duration or “severity” of drug addiction cases.

Sub-Acute Treatment

Generally, for sub-acute care, the drug addiction or substance abuse condition has only been present for a relatively short while. As such, the affected individual has only consumed mild amounts of the substance of abuse. This ensures that the sub-acute rehab process is accompanied by milder withdrawal effects, and these effects are easily managed.

Acute Treatment

On the other hand, acute detoxification is recommended for patients with severe addiction problems whose substance use has been ongoing for a long period of time. For these individuals, treatment is much more complicated thanks to a high level of body dependence on the drug, resulting in much more severe withdrawal effects like tremors, hypertension, tachycardia, and so on.3

Who Needs Acute Detox?

You might need acute detoxification if you have previously experienced or currently have any of the following conditions co-occurring with your substance abuse disorder:


  • Heart attack
  • Stroke (minimal)
  • Pneumonia
  • COPD or other debilitating illness
  • Certain types of surgery

Who Needs Sub-Acute Detox?

On the other hand, sub-acute rehab criteria include people who have the following conditions co-occurring with substance use disorder:

  • Intensive wound care
  • IV treatment
  • GI Tube issues
  • Major, long-lasting stroke issues
  • Any malnutrition or eating disorder issues
  • Any critical illness, like cancer or ALS

What is the Difference Between Acute and Sub-Acute Care?

Acute care usually involves placing patients under constant medical supervision to facilitate early detection and effective management of accompanying withdrawal effects. Sub-acute care, on the other hand, offers patients less rigidity in that they are not placed under constant medical supervision.

What Factors Influence Detox?

As mentioned earlier, several factors can influence detoxification. Some of these factors include the following:4

  • The substance(s) the person is addicted to
  • How long the patient has been an addict
  • The severity of the addiction
  • Any co-occurring mental health issues
  • Any other medical issues present
  • The age of the patient
  • How much support the patient has
  • The motivation level of the patient

Find Help In Choosing Right Detoxification Services at San Diego Detox

Are you looking for a treatment center that can offer you effective detoxification? If you are, then San Diego Detox is the perfect place for you. At San Diego Detox, you will not only have access to effective, personalized detox treatment, but you’ll also be under constant medical supervision, and experienced professionals will handle your treatment to ensure you’re perfectly safe during detoxification.