Ambulatory Drug Detox [What Happens]

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD, MPH

chance for change detox

Table of Contents

Ambulatory Detox

“A detox is your opportunity to give your body a break and allow your self-cleansing and self-healing processes to kick into gear.” – Laurentine ten Bosch 

The ambulatory drug detox model offers patients the opportunity to receive their treatment that combines with their already familiar surroundings. In addition to the advanced treatment, the process proves to be effective in detoxing individuals from opiates, alcohol, and benzodiazepines in an outpatient program.


Opiates are pharmacology drugs derived from opium, a highly addictive drug that affects the response time when relaying messages from the brain to the body.

 Along with ambulatory detox, which helps the patient refrain from consuming the said substance, medications help reduce withdrawal symptoms and intensity.


When treating alcohol, it is typical for medications to be taken and administered to either help lower the patient’s withdrawal symptoms, encourage them to remain sober, or withstand the urge (s) of consuming the said substance. Aside from medication, another process to help recover with ambulatory drug detox is to attend group therapy or counseling.


Benzodiazepines (also known as downers or benzos) are depressant drugs that can produce sedative and psychoactive effects. The ambulatory drug detox process for people who are progressing through their withdrawals from this substance typically includes lessening the patients’ dosages of the said substance and, eventually, if not already, ceasing the usage altogether.


Ambulatory Detox Protocols

Like all recovery programs and treatments, ambulatory detox protocols include a list of assessments and documentation to understand and record the patient and their road to recovery.


Evaluations and remedies included in this method of treatment include the following:

  • A thorough history centered around the patient’s addiction, is to be attained as a portion of the original evaluation. A medical doctor will then review the evaluation.
  • While the entrance assessment is taking place, a physical inspection will typically be performed by either a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. The examination generally takes place and is finished within a practical period.
  • If there will is not enough biological, psychological, or socio-environmental factors to measure, conclude, and determine the level of care needed for the patient, then an individualized plan is created to meet and address the development of the person’s and facilities’ recovery goals.
  •  How Providers will measure the goals and objectives by a set of activities designed to help the patient meet those objectives. Such activities include recording daily assessments of progress during detoxification and any changes in their treatment if there are any.
  • Now, if the patient’s withdrawal symptoms are stable, then they may be considered for discharge.


Recording the patient’s process is a key factor that helps the professionals understand what is and is not working for the said patient. Such forms and methods of documentation include the following:

  • Progress notes on the patient, record how their treatment plan is going, respond to it, see if the plan needs to be altered, and reflect its planned execution like it is designed to.
  • Also, to help understand how the patient should respond or what their ideal behavior should look like, flow sheets (a layout of vital signs may be incorporated) and scale charts of detoxification ratings may prove useful during this process of collecting information.

Level of Care

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are two levels of ambulatory detoxification.

Level 1:

Level one of ambulatory detoxification is the placement of receiving treatment without stretching the length of onsite observation. These levels of treatment typically take place at a home healthcare agency or a physician’s office.

 The patient attends their scheduled appointment with their physician or home health care agency, where their agent will arrive at the patient’s home and assess and treat the patient according to the process and prearranged times. This level of care typically runs as a prearranged outpatient service that is observed at fixed times.

Level 2:

Unlike level one, level two of ambulatory detoxification is the placement of receiving treatment with an extended time of onsite observation.

 These levels of treatment typically occur during the day. The patients typically attend their appointments for evaluation; then, after treatment is considered and provided, they get to go home.


Beyond Appointments

It will take more than the patient to attend their appointments to recover via ambulatory detoxification completely.

Support System:

Recovering from any form of addiction is a battle in itself, and if war has taught us anything, it is that we are never meant to go into battle alone. Ambulatory detox is no exception to this.

 To help patients fully recover and complete their treatment program, they will need more than just the staff to be by their side. They will need their family, friends, and community to help them beat this battle and encourage them during the difficult times of withdrawal and when temptation (s) approach them.

Change in Household:

Now, do not think that anything will need to change or be altered. Since the patient will be an outpatient rather than an inpatient, they could and may be tempted to persuade them to gain access to or consume the substance they are trying to recover from.

 If one is to complete their ambulatory detox program, their household will have to demonstrate their support by not allowing the patient access to the substance. Needless to say, it might be easier to refrain from having any of the said substance (s) in the home, in general.


Pros and Cons of Treatment

According to the National Institute of Alcohol, Abuse, and Alcoholism, there are multiple benefits and disadvantages to receiving outpatient treatment, specifically ambulatory detoxification.



Recovery and treatment programs can be on the expensive side of the cost spectrum, considering that they offer many unique treatments: counseling, medications, and behavioral therapy, among other services provided by physicians, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other experts in the field.

Maintain Social Relationships and Support:

Many patients who choose to be outpatients experience a significant difference in their relationships and social support than inpatients. Patients who can function fairly normally can maintain their employment status, family relationships, and relationships within their community.

More Freedom: 

No one wants to stay in a place that they are not used to for so long. With the ambulatory detoxification method, patients are allowed to go home at the end of the day and sleep in their bed, eat their spouse’s homecooked meals, and overall be with the ones they love, rather than strangers, being and feeling completely alone, even though they are not.


Risk of Relapse: 

Among the disadvantages of ambulatory detoxification is the increased risk of the patient experiencing a relapse. Due to their decision to become or remain an outpatient, it is not impossible, per se, for them to have or maintain access to the said substance that they are addicted to and trying to recover from.

Keep Appointments:

In addition to the drawbacks, ambulatory detoxification patients can prefer not to keep up and follow through with their detoxification schedule and process. Subsequently, if they choose to follow this route of their recovery and treatment program, they ultimately fail to complete it. Thus, continue to maintain their addiction and behavior.

Susana Spiegel

Susana Spiegel

Susana has experience writing about addiction, treatment, mental health, and recovery. She holds a Bachelors in Arts of Theology from GCU, and has a deep empathy for those who are struggling with addiction, as she is in recovery herself.

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