Medical detox from substances, both illicit and legal, can be a necessary part of a comprehensive treatment program to help you get well.
While different substances often utilize different approaches to the detox regiment, most utilize a mix of bed rest, medications, and therapy sessions. Over the course of your detox, you might experience a range of side-effects from the absence of drugs you were previously using, as well as the medication prescribed to assist in the process. Knowing the side effects beforehand can help you prepare yourself mentally and physically.
What Is Drug Detox?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines detox as the first part of a medical treatment program, designed to manage the withdrawal symptoms from stopping drug use safely. While detox programs may differ depending on whether they are for alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs, they are largely built around the same safety protocols —that is, safely managing withdrawal symptoms in an environment staffed with well-trained medical professionals.
Learn what the addiction rehabilitation process is like here.
It is important to note that drug detox has been found effective when used as the first step in your recovery journey, and by itself has largely been shown not to work in the long-term.
Common Side Effects of Drug Detox
As drugs leave the body, there is a profound impact on the chemistry of the brain. Drugs work by changing the chemical make-up of our primary neurological organ after all, and when they are no longer present the brain is left in a state of unbalance. This unbalance can lead to fatigue, severe depression, anxiety, and in severe cases, suicidal ideation.
Additionally, severe and persistent cravings for drugs can manifest during this time, as the brain seeks to replace the chemicals it has lost in the detox process. Drug cravings are not only physical cravings but also what many in recovery describe as “mental obsessions.” Given that these mental side effects can be quite serious, surrounding yourself with trained and licensed professionals during the 7-10 day detoxification process is highly recommended.
Physical Side Effects of Detoxification
As previously mentioned, drug withdrawal symptoms are often associated with physical side effects—stomach cramps, headaches, sweating, muscle spasms, constipation, etc. For many individuals that have used drugs for extended periods of time, the physiological dependence on the drug can be great. The silver lining with drug detox is that alcohol and benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax) are often the only substances that are associated with a detox that can be life threatening. This does not mean that the physical side effects from any drug withdrawal are not serious or painful, they often can be. The good news is that physical symptoms are often the first to subside during the detox process, often within a few days.
How To Prevent Detox Side Effects
Preventing side effects during the drug detox process is the primary purpose of the medical professionals that assist you. A team of doctors and nurses are tasked with providing the right type and dosage of detox medications, ongoing vital sign monitoring, and creating an environment that is physically comforting. However, there are a few things that you can do both before and during your detox program to ease the discomfort of side effects that pop up.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Detoxification of the body takes a heavy physical toll on your body and making sure you are well hydrated with fluids can help ease some of the pain and discomforts. Drink plenty of fluids before entering your detox program and during the program.
- Take medications as prescribed. Doctors that prescribe detox medication have gone through extensive training to ensure your safety during the detox process. Taking this medication as prescribed will help you to minimize physical and mental side effects during your program.
- Enter a detox program as soon as possible after stopping drug use. Many individuals believe they can safely detox on their own and only after the painful side effects of detox appear, do they seek medical assistance. Working with a team of medical professionals as soon as you plan to stop your drug use and start your recovery process will help decrease any time spent without medical assistance that is designed to support you.
- Follow through with a continuum of care. Drug detox is only the first step in the recovery process and should be followed up with residential, out patient, and community-based recovery support services. While physical side effects of drug detox will go away quickly, the mental side effects can persist for some time. Participating in the right level of care will help you overcome the longer lasting mental symptoms, as well as increase your chances for long-term recovery success.
While avoiding all the side effects of drug detox is impossible, participating in a drug detox program with medical professionals and trained staff can greatly reduce their negative impact. In some cases, drug detox can be life-threatening and should not be done by yourself.
You don’t have to go through detox alone. Reach out to our trained staff to learn more about how we can help you detox from drugs and begin your journey to sobriety.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Types of Treatment Programs.” January 2018. Accessed August 3, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What the science says, Chapter 8 – Detoxification. ” February 2016. Accessed August 3, 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.