Drug and Alcohol Detox

What is drug and alcohol detox and why is it important? Detox is often the first step of treatment.


The decision to enter an addiction rehab facility to overcome a substance abuse problem can be pretty scary and people usually have a lot of questions about what awaits them and how the entire process works.

For many people, the first step is detoxification, or more commonly referred to as “detox.” This is the period of time when the drugs and alcohol are eliminated completely from the body, and depending on the type and length of the addiction, can take anywhere from five to 14 days to complete.

During the detox process, there can be a variety unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and the patient should be closely monitored by trained therapists under the supervision of a medical doctor.

The detox experience is different for everyone, and there are many factors involved that affect how long it will take to complete, and which withdrawal symptoms might arise during the course of treatment.

Let’s take a look at some of the information about what to expect during a typical drug and alcohol detox.

Where to Start

A licensed detox center is recommended as the best place to begin. These facilities will monitor the patient to keep them safe and help manage any withdrawal symptoms that might arise. Many addiction treatment centers do not have doctors on staff, so they must send their patients a detox facility before beginning recovery. After they complete detox, they go back to the facility to begin recovery treatment.

To make it easier for the patient and improve continuity of care, patients should consider addiction treatment centers that offer detox AND addiction treatment in their programs so everything can be done at the same facility, instead of detoxing at one, and doing addiction rehab at another.

During detox, medication is sometimes used to control and reduce the physical discomforts, while emotional support is provided as the patient goes through the process.

The best chance for success is with experienced medical professionals who are licensed detox practitioners. It is never a good idea to quit cold turkey and attempting a self-detox is extremely risky.

The Evaluation

Prior to beginning detox, a complete evaluation is conducted on the individual.

Doctors perform medical screenings to determine the overall health of the patient and conduct a psychological assessment to check for any underlying mental health issues. Blood tests are administered to determine the type and amount of drugs in their system.

The results are then reviewed with the patient. A treatment plan is formed that includes the correct regimen of medication to minimize the discomfort of withdrawal.

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Side Effects of Drug and Alcohol Detox

When a person with a drug or alcohol addiction stops using, the body begins to react negatively to missing the substances. The individual craves the substances and believes it is needed to survive and function properly. It can be very painful as the body deals with the loss of the drug or alcohol.

Medications used during detox can help with the painful withdrawal symptoms, but they do not get rid of them altogether. Each substance causes its own set of withdrawal side effects, and some are more difficult than others.

Alcohol Withdrawal

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start as soon as 2 to 3 hours after the last drink. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much alcohol is regularly consumed and how long the person has been drinking.

The most common symptoms most individual experience includes headaches, anxiety, insomnia and nausea. They may also have mood swings and find it hard to concentrate. Others may suffer from shakiness or have changes in their heart rate and blood pressure.

The most severe type of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens or DTs. This typically occurs when a heavy drinker stops suddenly and the condition is usually made worse if they have not been eating properly.

DTs create distress in the mental and nervous systems of the body and can cause body tremors, confusion, agitation, extreme fatigue, and even seizures.

DTs are very serious problems and experienced addiction treatment services are necessary to monitor them.

It’s important to note that detoxing from alcohol, especially for those with a long history of use, can be fatal if not properly supervised. Alcohol affects many different areas of the brain and can be problematic for those who try to quit all at once.

For those with a serious alcohol addiction, it is imperative to seek help and detox under close medical supervision.

Drug Withdrawal

Drug and Alcohol Detox

Drug and Alcohol Detox

Prescription drugs and illegal substances all cause different mental and physical reactions within the body and it’s crucial to match the detox routine to each individual substance.

Heroin causes extremely intense and painful flu-like symptoms that last about a week to ten days. Detox and withdrawal from heroin is always more painful and uncomfortable than it is dangerous. Medication can be very helpful for curbing withdrawal symptoms and making them more manageable.

Cocaine withdrawal can cause severe depression and agitation and will sometimes last anywhere from a few days to several months for extreme cases. Post-acute cocaine withdrawal symptoms have been known to last for up to a year.

Opiate and opioid withdrawal is similar to heroin in that it feels like a bad case of the flu and can include muscle aches, anxiety, and severe sweating, among other symptoms. It is not as uncomfortable as heroin, but can still be quite difficult to deal with.

Benzodiazepines, or “Benzos,” include medications like Xanax and Valium and can be dangerous or fatal to detox from like alcohol, and usage should never be discontinued all at once. Instead, it’s important to taper off using them, under the guidance of a doctor, to ensure a safe and proper detox.

Medication, plenty of water, a proper diet, and restful sleep will ease the discomfort during the detox. Once the patient starts to feel better and detox is complete, patients are encouraged to continue recovery with a formal drug or alcohol addiction treatment program to avoid relapse and starting detox all over again.

How Long Will Detox Take to Complete?

The amount of time it takes for the detox is difficult to pinpoint.

It can take from several days to several weeks for the detoxification to completely run its course. It all depends on a number of factors, including:

  • The type of drug used
  • How the drug was ingested
  • The length of the addiction
  • The severity of the addiction
  • Medical history
  • Family genetic history

Going through detox requires time and an emotional commitment. Each drug has a unique effect on the body and exits at a different rate.

In general, alcohol detox usually takes 3 to 5 days under ideal conditions, whereas heroin and opioids usually take about a week, give or take a few days. Detoxing from Suboxone or Methadone can take several weeks of longer.

In-Patient vs Out-Patient Detox

When an individual decides to go through detox, they can choose an inpatient or outpatient facility.

Outpatient Facility

Outpatient detox services allow for a person to go daily for medication, counseling, and monitoring, but still return home in the evening. This causes less disruption in the daily life and routine of the patient

This option is more affordable than inpatient centers and at times, this can be a determining factor in the type of detox chosen by many people

Outpatient detox is not a good idea for all situations, and cases of severe addiction need around the clock monitoring. Alcohol and Benzo detox can be especially dangerous and should be completed under medical supervision.

An individual considering outpatient services should have a stable home environment where they will detox. Having a safe place to return to and reliable transportation back and forth to the facility is a key to success with this option.

Inpatient Detox Treatment

Inpatient facilities have higher costs, but they offer 24-hour monitoring. Their staff is trained to handle all aspects of the detox process and can meet the physical, as well as emotional needs of their patients.

Doctors monitor all withdrawal symptoms and can adjust medication regardless of the time of day. A patient staying at an inpatient detox facility will feel safe being surrounded by experienced caregivers.

An inpatient facility provides the most comprehensive care, and is the best option for long-term addiction, alcohol or benzodiazepine dependency, or other forms of severe drug addiction.

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What’s Next After Detoxification?

The main goal of detox is to prepare a person to be in a healthy place to continue a formal recovery treatment program and recover from addiction. Once this step is finished and the body is completely from the toxic substances, the rehabilitation program can begin.

This involves a complete system that addresses the root cause of the addiction, any mental health issues, and other physical concerns. Treatment usually includes a mix of group and individual therapies, as well as involvement with the family, and relapse prevention techniques to ensure sobriety will be long lasting.

The ultimate goal is for the individual is to understand the nature of addiction and the effects it had on their life. They learn to recognize and handle triggers and work towards a productive and successful life that is drug and alcohol-free.

The Bottom Line

Drug and alcohol detox is the first and most important step for beginning addiction rehabilitation. It rids the body of poison and clears the mind for the work involved in recovery.

It is not an easy process and requires supervision and medical treatment to offset all of the major discomforts. Once completed, the person is ready to take the next step in the direction of a clean life.

Drug addiction treatment offers the chance for the individual to restore balance and health back into their lives.

Call us toll-free at 877-217-8558 to find out more about drug and alcohol detox options for you or a loved one. Your call will be kept confidential and we’re available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.