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Updated on 09/10/20
Drug detox is the first step in overcoming a drug or alcohol use disorder. Substance and alcohol use can change a person’s brain, making it hard for them to function normally without using the substance or alcohol. Drug detoxification is the process where a person is weaned off of a drug so that it is no longer in their system.
Drug detox programs aid people who want to overcome their substance use disorder, safely and effectively. Detoxification, especially when guided by medical professionals through a medical detox program, is the first step toward recovery from any substance use disorder.
Table of Contents
What Is Drug Detox?
The definition of detox is the process of abstaining from alcohol or drug use until the bloodstream is clear of the substance. In other words, drug detox involves ridding an individual’s body of the substance it has come to depend on to feel normal. During this process, the person may experience withdrawal symptoms.
Drugs That Cause Withdrawal
There are many substances that can alter the brain and the way a person feels. These substances can become addictive. When used in excess and a person relies on them to feel normal, stopping their use can cause withdrawal symptoms. Drugs that cause withdrawal include:
Types of Drug Detox
There are many different ways that a person can detox from a drug. Most detox methods are difficult to endure, as the person will most likely experience unpleasant, and sometimes serious, withdrawal symptoms. It’s always a good idea to have the supervision of a medical professional when detoxing.
- Other types of detox include:
- Medical Detox: an all-inclusive form of detox where a person stays at a facility and is monitored for withdrawal symptoms during the detox period. Their symptoms are managed by medical professionals, who may provide medications to lessen the effects of withdrawal. Mental health support is also provided.
- Drug Tapering: when a person gradually uses less of the drug over time, until they no longer use it at all. Tapering off drugs is one way to make withdrawal symptoms less severe than stopping use all at once. It is advised to do drug tapering with the help of a medical professional.
- Rapid Detox: an inpatient procedure where the person is put under anesthesia and the drug is flushed from their system. Rapid drug detox may be the best way to avoid having to go through severe withdrawal symptoms, although some withdrawal symptoms can still occur. Rapid detox is an expensive procedure that must be done in a medical facility.
- At-Home Detox: when a person undergoes detoxification in their home. This method has the advantage of the person being in the comfort of their own home, but it can be dangerous if done unsupervised. If home drug detox is done, it is best to have a medical professional present to help the person through it and keep them safe.
- Detox Kits: these claim to be the do-it-yourself detox version of medical detox. Drug detox kits are cleansing kits that are sold in common drug stores, which are meant to help with withdrawal symptoms. They usually come as a pill or a drink, are not medically proven and can have risks.
- Natural Detox: when a person sets aside time to stop using the drug and go through withdrawal, usually at home, alone. Natural drug detox can involve using supplements, teas or other nutritional approaches to detoxify the body. Holistic detox involves a combination of nutritional and spiritual support, such as massage, yoga or acupuncture.
- Cold Turkey: when a person suddenly stops using a drug completely. Quitting drugs cold turkey can be dangerous as the person will most likely experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Stopping drugs cold turkey is the least effective of the detox methods, as most people are likely to use the drug again to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms.
What to Expect During Detox
It’s important to understand what to expect during detox before going to rehab. The detoxification process can take anywhere from days to weeks, as a person’s body adjusts to life without the substance. During this process, a person may undergo a series of side effects and withdrawal symptoms that can be mild or severe. The following factors are descriptions of what detox is like.
- Side Effects of Detox:
Most substances that are addictive cause changes in the brain that affect mood and behaviors. When a person relies on those substances to feel normal, removing them or detoxing can cause physical and psychological detox side effects, including:
- Symptoms of psychosis, like hallucinations or paranoia
- Erratic and unpredictable behavior
- Severe pain, especially if the substance was helping suppress pain
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Withdrawal and Detox Symptoms:
Drug detox symptoms can range from mild to severe. When a person has a substance use disorder, the substance has become a normal part of how their body functions. When that substance is no longer there, a person’s body will need to adjust to the withdrawal, which can lead to a variety of detox symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the substance used, but generally include:
- Mood changes
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling depressed
- Muscle aches
- Feeling restless
- Changes in blood pressure or heart rate
- Detox and Withdrawal Medications:
Detox medications can make withdrawal symptoms more bearable. The withdrawal medication used depends on the substance the person was using. Some examples of detox medications and the substance use disorder they are used for include:
- For alcohol detox: medications may include acamprosate, benzodiazepines or Baclofen
- For opioid detox: medications may include methadone, buprenorphine, lofexidine or clonidine
Addiction medications come in two forms. They can either help a person who is currently experiencing a substance use disorder to stabilize or decrease use, or they help a person who has undergone detox to deal with cravings and prevent relapse of use.
Some examples of addiction medications used in treatment to continue to prevent cravings include:
- For alcohol treatment: diazepam, disulfiram, naltrexone, acamprosate, nalmefene, baclofen
- For opioid treatment: methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone
Dangers of Improper Detox
A person with a substance use disorder may have serious withdrawal effects if they try to quit too abruptly or on their own. The dangers of detox can range from physical symptoms to psychological symptoms. If a person experiences severe psychological symptoms, it could lead them to want to harm themselves. It is usually better to work with a medical professional to develop a drug detox plan and have supervision during the process.
There are dangers of detoxing at home without the supervision of medical professionals. One serious withdrawal effect of alcohol use is delirium tremens, where a person may experience agitation, tremors, a fast heart rate and high blood pressure. This effect usually occurs within 24–48 hours after stopping alcohol use. It can be deadly, with a mortality rate of 37% when it is not treated.
How Long Does Detox Last?
How long drug detox takes depends on the substance used, the amount of the substance used and the length of time the person has been using the substance. It can also depend on the person’s physical and mental state when they start detox. People who are highly motivated to begin the detox process may be able to handle the symptoms better than people who are reluctant to quit.
If a person is using more than one substance or has a co-occurring mental health issue, the detox process could take longer. In general, the process takes anywhere from seven to 14 days but can take as long as a month.
Next Steps After Detox
Detox is the first step in overcoming a substance use disorder and living a healthier life. After completing detox, it can be difficult to maintain this lifestyle and not return to the old habits of substance use. To continue to recover after detox, a person will usually undergo additional therapy to address underlying conditions or reasons that may have caused them to use in the first place, like inpatient treatment.
Inpatient treatment programs allow the person to receive rehab in a setting that is free from temptations and distractions. The medical team will develop an individualized treatment plan that will help the person overcome the physical and psychological effects of their substance use disorder. The plan will generally involve therapy and medication when appropriate.
Inpatient treatment can be followed by residential treatment where the person lives in a community where they can receive more long-term care for their substance use disorder. These programs usually last for six months or more.
Detox Programs Near Me
The Recovery Village has comprehensive detox programs that are tailored to each client’s unique physical and psychological needs. Each of our medical detox programs are medically supervised, offer 24-hour clinical support and mental health counseling, and provide a transition to further rehab programming.
- To find drug detoxification clinics, you can:
- Get a recommendation from a primary care doctor
- Get a recommendation from a mental health professional
- Use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s substance abuse hotline (1-800-662-HELP)
- Use a behavioral health treatment locator tool
- Search for a detox program or facility by zip code
If you or a loved one are affected by a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village can help. We have facilities across the country that can provide a full range of care. To learn more about medical detox at The Recovery Village, as well as our other comprehensive treatment plans, call The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative.
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Davis, Chris. “Home detox – supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction.” Australian Prescriber, December 3, 2018. Accessed July 4, 2019.
Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. “Rapid and Ultra-Rapid Detoxification in Adults with Opioid Addiction: A Review of Clinical and Cost-Effectiveness, Safety, and Guidelines.” Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health Rapid Response Reports, January 15, 2016. Accessed July 4, 2019.
Diaper, Alison M.; Law, Fergus D.; Melichar, Jan K. “Pharmacological strategies for detoxification.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, February 2014. Accessed July 4, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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