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All About Drug Detox

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Expectations During Drug Detox

The purpose of drug detox is to help them safely and effectively withdraw from drugs or alcohol while managing the resulting withdrawal symptoms.

Navigation: What is the Purpose of Drug and Alcohol Detox?, All About Drug Detox: What to Expect, How Long Does Drug Detox Last?, Drug Dependence and Common Withdrawal Symptoms, Other Methods for Drug Addiction Treatment, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Drug detoxification, also known as medical detox or simply drug detox, is an essential step in the process of overcoming drug addiction.

It is the process by which the body clears itself of drugs and their toxic byproducts. Drug detox is usually the first stage of addiction treatment and is designed to manage the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person stops using drugs.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2019, approximately 10.1% of Americans aged 12 or older were reported to have a substance use disorder. This corresponds to roughly 26 million people.

However, it’s important to note that not all people with a substance use disorder require drug detox specifically. The need for detoxification depends on factors such as the type of drug used, the duration and severity of use, and individual health considerations.

Here we will talk all about drug detox: what to expect, how long it lasts, and what happens when you don’t receive proper treatment.


What is the Purpose of Drug and Alcohol Detox?

Throughout a person’s substance use, their body will accumulate toxic substances that will cause drug dependence and other adverse health effects. The purpose of drug detox is to help them safely and effectively withdraw from drugs or alcohol while managing the resulting withdrawal symptoms.

Drug detoxification aims to rid the body of the toxic substances accumulated through drug use. It is typically the first step in the addiction treatment process and it sets patients up to begin their journey towards recovery.

A drug detox program is designed to provide a safe environment where recovering individuals can go through the withdrawal process. Depending on the substance and severity of addiction, withdrawal symptoms can range from mild discomfort to potentially life-threatening complications. Detox programs are equipped to manage these symptoms and ensure the patient’s safety throughout the process.

Detox will stabilize them physically and psychologically by addressing the immediate effects of substance withdrawal. Medical professionals may administer medications to alleviate symptoms and minimize their impact. Medications can also help keep cravings under control.

Drug detox serves as a gateway to further addiction treatment. By helping individuals become drug-free, it prepares them for ongoing therapy and rehabilitation programs.

Remember that detox alone is not enough to address the underlying causes of addiction. It cannot provide the necessary tools for long-term recovery. Therefore, it is crucial to follow up detox with comprehensive addiction treatment to address the psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of addiction.

Going through detox can be challenging both physically and emotionally. But detox programs provide a supportive environment where patients can connect with peers and professionals who understand their struggles. This support can help motivate them to continue with treatment.

So what exactly can you expect from a drug detox program? Let’s take a closer look.


All About Drug Detox: What to Expect

Detox is the process of allowing the body to eliminate the drugs and alcohol from within its system. This can be done in various settings, but the most common ones are hospitals, outpatient clinics, and specialized detox centers.

The specific experience and expectations of drug detox may vary depending on factors like what substance was used, the person’s overall health condition, and the severity of their addiction. This means the exact process may be slightly different from one patient to another.

Before starting the detox process, a comprehensive assessment is conducted to evaluate your substance abuse history, physical and mental health, and any co-occurring disorders. This assessment helps healthcare professionals determine the most appropriate detox approach for you.

During detox, your drug or alcohol intake will be gradually lowered. As the drugs or alcohol leave your system, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary widely depending on the substance and may include nausea, sweating, tremors, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, hallucinations, seizures, or intense cravings. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can also differ among individuals.

This is why medical supervision is required during drug detox. This will ensure your safety as you recover from the withdrawal symptoms. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals can monitor your vital signs, provide medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and address any complications that may arise.

Alongside medical supervision, drug detox often involves supportive care to help you through the process. This may include counseling, therapy, or participation in support groups. The goal is to provide emotional support, education about addiction, and strategies for relapse prevention.

Detox is just the first step in addiction treatment. It is crucial to have a plan for ongoing care and support after completing detox. This may involve transitioning to a rehabilitation program, therapy, support groups, or outpatient services to address the underlying causes of addiction and develop strategies for long-term recovery.

Drug detox can be a long and difficult process. It is often described as uncomfortable and challenging. Seeking professional help from healthcare providers who specialize in addiction treatment is highly recommended to ensure your safety and increase the likelihood of successful detoxification.

How Long Does Drug Detox Last?

One of the most common questions about this process is “how long does detox last?” and the answer depends on several factors including the type of drug used, the person’s health condition, and the severity of drug abuse. For example opiate detox and alcohol detox may have different durations.

In general, drug and alcohol detox can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Different detox programs may adopt varying program durations.

For short-acting drugs like heroin or certain prescription opioids, the acute withdrawal symptoms may start within 6-12 hours after the last dose and peak within 1-3 days. The acute withdrawal phase typically lasts around 5-7 days but can extend up to 10 days or more. During this period the patient may experience physical withdrawal symptoms.

Long-acting drugs like benzodiazepines or some prescription opioids may have a delayed onset of physical symptoms, which can begin within 1-4 days and last for several weeks. Benzodiazepine withdrawal, in particular, can be a prolonged process due to the potential for severe withdrawal symptoms and the need for gradual tapering of the medication.

There is also something called rapid detox, or ultra-rapid detoxification. This is a controversial medical procedure that aims to accelerate the withdrawal process. The procedure typically involves administering anesthesia and medications to quickly induce and manage the withdrawal symptoms, which usually occur over a few days.

During rapid drug detox, the patient is sedated or anesthetized, and powerful medications are administered to speed up the detoxification process. The idea behind this approach is to minimize the discomfort and intensity of withdrawal symptoms that typically accompany opioid detoxification.

However, it’s important to note that its safety and efficacy have been widely debated among medical professionals. Critics argue that the risks and potential complications associated with the procedure outweigh the benefits.

Due to these concerns, many medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), do not endorse or support rapid drug detox. Instead, they recommend using evidence-based approaches that include comprehensive addiction treatment, counseling, and support services to address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional or addiction specialist to explore the available treatment options and determine the most appropriate course of action based on your specific needs and circumstances.

Drug Dependence and Common Withdrawal Symptoms

The term drug dependence is often used interchangeably with drug addiction, but there is actually a difference between the two of them.

Addiction is a complex medical condition that is characterized by the compulsive use of a drug or substance even when you are already experiencing its adverse effects. It is a chronic and relapsing disorder that affects the brain, leading to a strong desire to continue using the drug.

On the other hand, dependence is when your body has adapted to the constant presence of a substance, to the point where it can no longer function normally without it. So addiction is more psychological, while dependence is more physical.

When a person is drug dependent and they suddenly quit the drug or reduce their intake, they experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The development of drug addiction and dependence is influenced by various factors, including genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and individual vulnerabilities. Regular and prolonged use of certain substances, such as opioids, stimulants, sedatives, or alcohol, can lead to dependence.

Signs and symptoms of drug dependence may include:

Tolerance: The need for increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects, as the body becomes accustomed to its presence.

Loss of control: Inability to limit or control drug use despite repeated attempts to quit or cut back.

Neglecting obligations: Prioritizing drug use over personal, social, or professional responsibilities.

Continued use despite consequences: Persisting in drug use despite experiencing negative effects on physical health, relationships, finances, or legal problems.

Cravings: Intense desires or cravings for the drug, often triggered by environmental cues or emotional states.

Withdrawal symptoms: Physical and psychological symptoms that occur when drug use is reduced or stopped, which can vary depending on the drug but may include anxiety, irritability, nausea, sweating, tremors, or insomnia.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the substance or behavior from which a person is withdrawing. For example, opioids like heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone may cause symptoms like muscle aches, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, goosebumps, and diarrhea.

Stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines may cause withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, increased appetite, disturbed sleep patterns, agitation, restlessness, vivid or unpleasant dreams, and slowed thinking.

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, or Ativan may cause insomnia, tremors, sweating, headaches, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, irritability, muscle pain, and in severe cases, seizures.

Take note that some substances can cause life-threatening withdrawal effects. For example, alcohol withdrawal is known to be particularly dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal may cause tremors, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, headache, insomnia, irritability, hallucinations, and seizures.

This is why medically-assisted detox is recommended. In an inpatient detox setting, the patient’s condition can be closely monitored as they reduce their drug and alcohol intake.

Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the intensity and duration can vary depending on various factors such as the individual’s physiology, the duration and amount of substance use, and whether the withdrawal is medically managed.

If you or someone you know is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, it’s best to seek professional medical advice and assistance.

Other Methods for Drug Addiction Treatment

Like we mentioned, medical detox is just the first step in the drug addiction treatment process. There are many other treatment methods that may be used to address the other aspects of addiction such as the psychological and behavioral effects of substance abuse.

Behavioral therapies can be used to modify or influence an individual’s attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs related to drug use.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used approach that helps patients identify and change negative patterns of thinking that may be contributing to their addictive behavior. Other types of therapies include contingency management, motivational interviewing, and family therapy.

Medications can be used to help manage cravings, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse. The specific medications used depend on the substance being abused. For example, medications like methadone or buprenorphine are commonly used for opioid addiction, while medications like naltrexone or acamprosate may be prescribed for alcohol addiction.

Participation in support groups, such as 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), can provide individuals with a sense of community and support from others who have faced similar challenges.

Addiction treatment may be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

In some cases, individuals may benefit from a residential or inpatient treatment program. These programs provide intensive care and support in a structured environment.

Meanwhile, outpatient programs allow individuals to receive treatment while living at home. They typically involve regular visits to a treatment facility for counseling, therapy sessions, and medication management.

Many people struggling with drug addiction also have co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Dual diagnosis treatment addresses both the addiction and the underlying mental health issues simultaneously.

Because addiction affects everyone differently, the best treatment programs are tailored to meet an individual’s specific needs.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, it is recommended to seek professional help from addiction specialists or healthcare providers. Look for a rehab near you today.

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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