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Drug Detoxification

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How Does Drug Detoxification Work?

Detoxification, also known as medical detox, is one of the most important steps for someone in recovery for drug addiction or alcohol addiction.

Navigation: The Importance of Drug Detox in Substance Abuse Treatment, How Does Detox for Substance Abuse Work?, What to Expect During Drug Detoxification, Common Withdrawal Symptoms During Detox, Drug Detox Duration, Is Detox at Home Safe?, Risks of Rapid Detox, Inpatient vs. Outpatient Detox, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Detoxification, also known as medical detox, is one of the most important steps for someone in recovery for drug addiction or alcohol addiction. This will help them get sober again.

It is much harder for a person struggling with addiction to deal with their underlying addictive behavior and/or co-occurring mental health conditions if their body is dealing with the effects of withdrawal. Medical detox addresses the physical symptoms of addiction so that the patient can focus on these underlying behavioral problems that are keeping them addicted. At the end of the day, these physical health effects only serve as another obstacle towards long-term sobriety.

With medical detox, the patient can spend more of their mental energy into therapy and counseling, allowing them to learn healthy coping mechanisms and recognize unhealthy thought patterns. They can’t do this if they have to worry about their health or suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

When a person enters rehab, detox is often the first major step towards dealing drug or alcohol addiction. It involves clearing the substance from the body so it could begin functioning normally again without being dependent on drugs or alcohol.

Let’s discuss drug detoxification and how the process works.


The Importance of Drug Detox in Substance Abuse Treatment

When it comes to quitting a drug, it is important not to quit cold turkey. Cold turkey is a term used for when someone just quits a substance out of the blue without going through a proper treatment process.

Some drugs can cause dangerous withdrawal effects when you quit completely and suddenly. The chance of relapse is high and it can even put your life at risk. This is why quitting cold turkey is not recommended, especially if you have been taking a certain drug for a long time.

Long-term substance abuse often leads to severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to the chemical changes caused by sudden shifts in drug intake. If a person reduces their intake significantly or stops taking it altogether, their body may produce intense withdrawal effects because it has already adapted to the drug’s constant presence.

Quitting cold turkey is not a good idea in most cases of drug or alcohol abuse. Stopping abruptly can be dangerous because these drugs change the way the mind and body functions. If they have become dependent on the drug, they will feel like they cannot function normally without it. If they quit at this point, their withdrawal symptoms may be intense.

Opioids like heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl, as well as benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium are some examples of drugs that are dangerous to quit cold turkey. Alcohol is also dangerous if you quit it abruptly.

Withdrawal symptoms in general can range from mildly unpleasant to severely painful to life-threatening. This is why it should be treated while under the care of medical professionals.

Drug detox involves gradually reducing a person’s intake so they can be weaned off of the drug. While this happens, their withdrawal symptoms are managed by health care professionals. Usually, their progress will be monitored and medications will be administered to keep withdrawal symptoms and cravings under control. This makes the process much less dangerous because the patient can receive care in a healthy and comfortable environment surrounded by addiction experts.

This process is also called tapering, and it is the opposite of quitting cold turkey. It is a much safer approach compared to just randomly quitting. Quitting cold turkey has a higher chance of relapse because the person will likely struggle to stay sober while dealing with cravings and withdrawal.

Relapse prevention is a huge priority when it comes to drug detoxification. But remember, relapse is only one obstacle. Relapsing is not a sign of failure. It just means that the person has a lot more work ahead of them. Relapse is a common problem for people in recovery, and it should be treated as just another roadblock on the road to lasting sobriety.


How Does Detox for Substance Abuse Work?

Now that we’ve talked about why it’s important, we can discuss how the process works and what to expect.

Drug detox is the process of slowly eliminating all traces of drugs and alcohol from within a person’s body. Unlike quitting cold turkey where it is recklessly done all at once, drug detox is done over a certain period of time so the body can properly adjust to these changes.

This prepares the patient for the next stage of treatment, which is behavioral therapy and counseling. So while detox helps your body get sober, therapy teaches you how to stay sober.

At first, addiction may feel overwhelming to deal with due to its numerous adverse effects. But drug detox helps you address the physical symptoms that are keeping you from putting in the work necessary for long term recovery. Thanks to drug detox, you can feel much more ready to address the addictive behaviors and unhealthy thought patterns that are keeping you addicted. With fewer symptoms to worry about, you can focus on learning healthy coping mechanisms that will help you stay away from drugs.

Drug detox plays an important role in your journey towards long term sobriety because it eliminates your body’s dependence on harmful substances.

When it comes to alcohol and certain drugs like heroin, doctors will not give the patient these substances to wean them off of the substances. Instead, they will provide prescription medications that produce a similar effect so that the body will produce minimal withdrawal symptoms. After adjusting to these medications, the patient will be weaned off of these medications as well.

Reducing your drug intake is only one important aspect of drug detox. The other part is making sure the patient is safe throughout this process. The patient will inevitably go through withdrawal. It’s important to minimize their withdrawal symptoms and take care of the patient. Medical professionals are equipped to lessen the impact of withdrawal.

Drug addiction is a serious medical condition that has both physical and mental health effects. Dealing with it is not easy. But with drug detox, you can significantly improve your chances of making a successful recovery. Look for a drug detox program near you today to learn more.

Medical detox is an essential aspect of addiction medicine. In fact, it is even listed as a Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP), which is a list that consists of best practice guidelines for addiction treatment.

The right detox option for you depends on a number of factors such as the substance you use, the severity of addiction, and any co-occurring health problems. Whether or not you have a history of substance abuse is also a factor. Depending on your condition, you may need inpatient or outpatient care.

When you visit a rehab facility, you will go through an intake process which will help determine which program is right for you. Take note that some rehab facilities only offer behavioral therapy. They will tell you to look for a drug detox program first before they accommodate you. Meanwhile, other facilities will offer a drug detox program as part of their comprehensive treatment plan. Some facilities only offer drug detox and you will have to get addiction treatment elsewhere.

What to Expect During Drug Detoxification

People experience addiction in different ways. Even if two people abuse the same type of drug, they may get different adverse effects as well as withdrawal symptoms. There are a lot of factors that influence the way addiction affects a person. This means people have different addiction treatment needs.

It is important to develop a personalized treatment plan based on the patient’s specific needs. This also applies to drug detox.

That said, detox generally follows these three major steps: assessment, stabilization, and preparing for rehab.

A medical assessment or evaluation is the first thing patients go through when they enter a detox program. The screening process will include the patient’s physical and mental health, as well as their family history of substance abuse, etc. This evaluation will allow the rehab facility and its medical team to create a treatment plan based on how serious the problem is, what withdrawal symptoms are possible, and what co-occurring disorders there are. This will also help them determine which medications are the most appropriate. Rehab facilities want to accommodate their patients to the best of their abilities, so they develop suitable long-term treatment plans.

The stabilization period is when the patient’s drug or alcohol intake is lowered gradually. Their withdrawal symptoms are safely managed with the goal of preventing or reducing harm to the patient. Medications will be used during this period to keep their condition stable. These medications will be properly administered by health care professionals so that it does not lead to another addiction.

Once the patient’s condition has stabilized and their body has adjusted to the absence of the drug, then they can start preparing for the next step: rehab, therapy, and other behavioral treatments. This is usually the part that takes the longest. Rehab programs last for 3 to 9 months, usually. However, there are also shorter treatments, as well as longer treatment programs.

This is the part where people learn healthy coping mechanisms that they can use once they are done with the rehab program and they are back in the real world.

The best drug rehab programs utilize a personalized treatment approach for their clients.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms During Detox

Someone who is drug dependent will have to go through a period of withdrawal if they reduce or stop their drug intake. This is a normal part of recovery, so anyone trying to get rid of their addiction and drug dependence should expect to encounter these symptoms at some point. However, in some cases, withdrawal can be dangerous.

Withdrawal symptoms may vary in terms of severity and duration. Different drugs may also cause different sets of withdrawal symptoms. It may even be influenced by how long the person has been addicted. That said, there are common withdrawal symptoms that a lot of people encounter during substance abuse treatment.

Here are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms: nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, shaking, chills, runny nose, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, headaches, and cramps. It is also common for patients to experience fatigue, muscle pain, and bone pain.

Not all withdrawal symptoms are physical. Some affect the person’s mental health. Common psychological symptoms of withdrawal include: irritability, confusion, anxiety, mood swings, paranoia, agitation, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and nightmares.

In some cases, people in recovery go through severe withdrawal symptoms like hallucinations, delirium, and seizures.

Regardless of a person’s type of addiction and withdrawal symptoms, drug detox is designed to make the experience as comfortable as possible. It may still be painful and difficult, but it is much safer to receive treatment from health care professionals rather than do it on your own.

Drug Detox Duration

On average, the drug detox process typically lasts between 7 and 10 days. However, the duration can be further influenced by different factors like how much of a drug they have been taking. The severity of withdrawal can also affect the length of detox. Naturally, those who have more serious withdrawal symptoms may have to go through a longer detox period.

Other factors that may affect drug detox duration include: the patient’s physical health, their mental health, the method of drug intake (like snorting, injecting, smoking, etc.), and any co-occurring medical conditions.

For some people it can take months to fully recover from withdrawal symptoms, while it only takes days for others.

Some rehab centers offer detox as a part of their 28-day addiction treatment program. Once the detox process is complete, the patient is ready to get started on behavioral therapy.

The duration of detox does not necessarily dictate how successful the patient will be in the long term. What’s more important for their long-term recovery is that they participate in therapy and really open themselves up to these positive changes.

Is Detox at Home Safe?

Detox at home is not for everyone. This is only a safe option for people who are healthy and only experiencing minor symptoms. Those with a very mild addiction may also be able to detox from the safety of their home. For some people who can’t pay for a treatment program or do not have medical insurance, this may be their only option.

Even then, detoxing at home is not the best solution because it means you will be doing most of the work on your own. You won’t have access to medications and you won’t have medical supervision—both of which are crucial for your safety.

At-home detox may be okay in some cases, specifically for those who have not been using drugs or drinking for too long. But in any other case, an actual detox program is necessary.

Some drug detox facilities and rehab centers even offer payment plans to make treatment accessible for more people. Remember that getting sober is more important in the long run. It is a worthwhile investment because it impacts your health. Staying addicted is costlier in the long run. You will spend lots of money on obtaining and using the drug, which leads to financial problems. Not to mention the hospital bills which will pile up if your health continues to deteriorate due to the effects of substance abuse.

Invest in your long term health and wellness by going through a proper addiction treatment program.

Risks of Rapid Detox

As the name suggests, rapid detox is designed to work much faster than regular detox. There’s even the so-called “ultra-rapid detox” which is supposed to fight off addiction as quickly as possible. On paper, these methods seem to eliminate drugs and alcohol from a person’s system while avoiding painful withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately, this approach is both expensive and dangerous. The process involves sedating the patient with anesthesia and then giving them medications to replace the drugs within their system.

The risks of rapid detox far outweigh the potential benefits. Rapid detox can put you at risk of nausea, vomiting, heart attack, infection, high body temperature, paranoia, and even death.

Meanwhile 1 in 500 people die from the ultra-rapid detox method, according to the Coleman Institute.

While traditional detox programs take a bit longer, they carry less danger and are more effective in general.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Detox

During your search for a drug detox facility, you may encounter the choice between an inpatient and an outpatient program.

Inpatient detox requires the person to stay in the rehab facility for a certain period of time. They will stay there throughout the duration of the program. The best thing about this setup is that patients can enjoy round the clock care from medical professionals. Instead of worrying about their symptoms, they can focus their energy on getting better.

Inpatient care is more intensive; however it also tends to be costlier because the rehab facility offers food and accommodations. It’s worth noting that there are some inpatient detox programs that serve people who can’t pay.

Outpatient detox programs, on the other hand, are for those who can’t stay in a treatment center because of their responsibilities outside of rehab. This setup is less intensive, but it’s perfect for people who are working, going to school, or taking care of family members.

Outpatient treatment is more flexible in terms of schedule, allowing patients to attend classes, go to work, etc. The hours are more flexible, and patients can even go during the weekend or at night. Outpatient care involves plenty of scheduled visits to the treatment facility, and it requires patients to stay sober even though they don’t have to stay in a rehab center.

Despite its benefits, outpatient care is not suitable for everyone. It’s only a good fit for people with mild to moderate addiction, particularly those who don’t need round the clock care or close supervision. It’s also ideal for those who don’t have severe withdrawal symptoms and have plenty of responsibilities they need to keep up with in the real world.

With an outpatient program, you get to stay in your own home while still receiving the professional care that you need.

The Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a great list of drug abuse treatment programs across the country that offer alcohol detox and drug detox for people with substance use disorder, alcohol withdrawal, opioid withdrawal symptoms, and drug addiction.

Finally, you need to take note that detox is only one part of a complete addiction treatment program. It is a very important step towards long term sobriety, but there’s still more work to be done. Look for a rehab near you today to learn more about drug detoxification and its many benefits.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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