What Is Drug Detoxification?

Detoxification or detoxication is the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from a living organism, including the human body, which is mainly carried out by the liver.

In alternative medicine, Detoxification is a type of alternative-medicine treatment which aims to rid the body of unspecified “toxins” – substances that proponents claim have accumulated in the body and have undesirable short-term or long-term effects on individual health. As a popular buzzword, it typically implies following a specific diet or using special products that claim to rid your body of toxins, thereby improving health and promoting weight loss.

Detoxification is considered a natural process by which the body rids itself of toxins. A medical detoxification is done via medication, tapering, and other appropriate means in a designated center meant to help an individual cleanse the blood and body of legal or illegal substances.

Drug detoxification is variously the intervention in a case of physical dependence to a drug; the process and experience of a withdrawal syndrome; and any of various treatments for acute drug overdose.

Organs such as the liver play a major role in detoxing the body from toxins such as drugs. Ironically, prolonged drug abuse can damage organs like the liver, making it so that it must work harder in order to perform its functions successfully.

The purpose of undergoing drug detoxification in a medical center is first and foremost to manage withdrawal symptoms. Many centers will utilize prescription medication therapy in order to keep an individual comfortable while the body detoxes drugs, such as opioids, from its system. Having the support of medical staff in a center specifically meant for drug detox can give you peace of mind, as detoxing from any drugs is not an easy process and can become unsafe if done without medical supervision or guidance. 

How long will a drug detox take?

In a traditional medical detox program, it can take days or sometimes even months for the withdrawal symptoms of most drugs to subside. The length of withdrawal when detoxing depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Type of substance an individual has been using
  • Length of time of using a drug
  • How severe the drug dependence is
  • Method of intake (snorting, smoking, IV, or oral)
  • The amount of the drug and frequency taken
  • Family history and genetics
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Age

The reason there is no exact time frame for a drug detox is because certain substances may clear out from the body within hours or days, but the cravings may persist much longer. If the physical cravings are still present, some may say that the detox is not completed.

Different detox centers have different timelines for depending on the actual process of their procedure as well as the unique individual factors listed above. 

How Does Drug Detox Work?

The process of drug detoxification can be broken down into 3 major parts:

  1. Evaluation of the Individual
  2. Stabilization (The Detox Process)
  3. Preparation for Rehabilitation

Medical Evaluation Prior to Detox:


Since everyone’s body and history is different, any credible medical detox center will spend a significant amount of time taking a detailed health history of the patient who would like to detox from drugs.

The individual will be screened for physical and mental health issues. Tests such as blood tests may be administered in order to measure the amount of drugs in the patient’s system.

A detailed overview of medical, psychological, and drug abuse histories is important in order to personalize and tailor the treatment plan to the individual as much as possible. Amounts of medication to administer as well as a long term treatment plan rely on accurate and comprehensive health reporting of both the past and current state of health for the individual seeking help with their drug addiction or dependence.

An individual treatment plan will be created that addresses the post-detox period as well. It may contain recommendations for psychotherapy, nutritional supplementation, and any other medications or therapies that the doctor believes will help the patient’s chances at a full recovery from addiction.

Stabilizing the Patient:

Many detox centers focus on stabilizing the patient physiologically, but psychological preparation is just as important.

Medically, a patient may receive fluids, certain medications, or other physical interventions depending on what the doctor and medical staff feel will result in the best outcome, while keeping the individual who is undergoing detox as safe as possible.

Preparing For Rehab After a Drug Detox:

The majority of individuals will choose to enter a rehab center after undergoing a medical detox. After a drug detox, medicals staff will ensure the patient is stable and all vitals will be checked. Mentally, counseling may be offered prior to entering into a longer term rehab program which can vary from a week long up to months long.

The first step, however, is ridding the body of drugs. There are many options available from at home therapy to out of state inpatient programs to address underlying mental health issues and other factors that may be contributing to a person’s addiction.

Will I Be Awake During a Drug Detox?

Yes, patients will likely be awake during the beginning of drug detox through to the end. In fact, there may even be an experience of insomnia as a withdrawal symptom which can be a challenging side effect. Speaking with the medical professionals on staff at the center where care is being received will allow for the exploring of options to combat insomnia when detoxing from drugs as well as any other negative side effects one may experience.

Rehab centers typically keep individuals completely awake during the drug detox process, although there are some centers who will partly sedate patients for at least the beginning in hopes of minimizing withdrawal symptoms.

Being awake and alert for the process should not be a deterrent for seeking help. With modern medicine, it is very possible to manage withdrawal symptoms and lessen the severity in order to successfully detox from drugs. Having medical staff and medication on hand if need be is a major reason it is highly suggested that any drug detox be performed under the care of a dedicated team of medical professionals in a drug detox specific center. 

What Are The Side Effects Of A Medical Detox?

As with any medical procedure, there are risks to be aware of when withdrawing from drugs, even if doing so at a reputable center or clinic. Knowing what to expect as well as potential side effects can help an individual prepare mentally for a detox from drugs.

Since drug use changes the chemistry of the brain, a detox will also affect its biochemistry. Physical drug dependence simply stems from the brain becoming used to a certain amount of drugs being taken to maintain its new normal. When you eliminate the drugs that the brain has gotten so used to having, it is thrown once again into a state of imbalance.

Some common side effects from a drug detox include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • anxiety
  • depressive thoughts
  • suicidal ideation

Physical side effects as well as psychological side effects after a drug detox are common and usually not life-threatening. However, they can feel intense which is why it is so important to be in a setting around trained professionals who know how to help.

On a positive note, the physical symptoms associated with detox should normally subside within days. Continuing to follow a treatment plan as written will ensure the most positive outcome for individuals in recovery and will increase the chances of staying sober while decreasing the likelihood of one or more relapses.

Can I Prevent Side Effects From Drug Detox?

Some ways you can prepare for drug detox and lessen side effects include:

  • eating nourishing meals
  • staying hydrated
  • taking medication as prescribed

Eating foods with a variety of vitamins and minerals can help replenish the body. Detox takes a major toll on an individual physically. Drug use also inhibits the body from absorbing all of the nutrients it needs to, so beginning to incorporate healthy foods into the diet is important.

Hydration can also aid in lessening effects such as pains and spasms that one may experience as they undergo medical detox.

Any medications given prior to the detox should be taken as prescribed by a doctor. When undergoing a medical detox program, it is not possible to fully predict or evade side effects from the detox itself.

In fact, it is both natural and expected to experience at least some negative effects when the body is detoxifying from any toxins, especially drugs that have not been taken as prescribed or those that are illicit substances.

A focus on physical and mental health can assist in making the transition easier both prior to and after drug detoxification. 

Can I Detox From Drugs at Home?

In short, no, at home drug detox kits are neither safe nor always effective and can even present new hazards.

Detox kits are often marketed as total body cleanses or miracle detoxes that can rid the body of any toxins or drugs such as opioids. They are sold over the counter at local pharmacies or grocery stores and may be liquid, powder, or a pill.

Unfortunately, these kits are often not regulated so there is no way of verifying what is actually in the product. It can simply be an herbal remedy that does nothing, or it can be a combination of synthetic ingredients which can react poorly with a user’s body and the drugs that are already in the system.

Nausea, stomach cramping, heart palpitations and other side effects are a possibility when using one of these kits. More severe side effects may include seizures, dehydration from vomiting, or even loss of consciousness.

Often, individuals may be seeking a way to pass a drug test for THC in marijuana , for example, and will turn to an at home detox kit in order to do so. Not only is this an unreliable method, but different compounds in the kit may show up on a test and tip off that the person is trying to hide a drug problem.

Drug detox kits are not a solution to addiction and can give an individual a false sense of sobriety. Although gaining in popularity and seemingly convenient, at home drug detox kits don’t actually work to resolve the underlying causes of drug dependence and addiction; instead, they are a temporary fix when they do work.

It is always encouraged to seek professional help at a drug detox center if you or someone you know would like to end a dependence on drugs.  

Will A Medical Detox Cure My Addiction?

Inpatient or residential drug and alcohol treatment is often the initial step for an individual seeking help for his or her addiction. Medical detoxification happens before any other interventions as detox occurs at the beginning of treatment.

Detox by itself is not considered a comprehensive treatment for addiction. However, it is important to realize that those who complete a medical detox in a well-equipped detox center, have a greater likelihood of staying in treatment longer and have longer periods of sobriety.

A medical detox is a step in the right direction for anyone who wants to stop using and abusing drugs. For some, it may be enough to curb the desire to continue using their drug of choice. For most, it is not a comprehensive solution for a drug abuse problem and there is great value in following through with a treatment plan that involves regular psychosocial services.  

What Happens After A Drug Detox?

Because the brain was dependent on drugs and will no longer be receiving those same drugs, there is likely to be a period of cravings. Shortly after a medical detox is actually the time when cravings are reported to be at their strongest.

The brain will begin seeking ways to replace the chemicals lost during detox, which can lead to very intense cravings. It is crucial during this period to be around licensed professionals who can help guide the individual as it begins to find a state of balance once again.

Even after leaving a center based drug detox program, there will be work to be done in order to maintain sobriety. Cravings may continue to appear as well as the impulsivity to use or abuse drugs, or partake in other risky behaviors in order to recreate the “high” that is now missing from the individual’s life that the brain has become so dependent on.

Old behaviors and patterns can be managed and even changed by attending regular therapy sessions with a professional who is well-versed in addiction counseling.

Is Drug Detox Worth The Cost?

Choosing to take control of your addiction by detoxing from drugs is a personal decision. With that being said, we know drug addiction can wreak havoc on user’s bodies, relationships, and every other area of daily life. Living a life addicted to drugs whether it be an opioid addiction or any other substance, is not sustainable.

A detox center can provide you with the support and resources you need when deciding on this next big step. Insurance or flex health spending plans may be able to offset some of the cost of a center based detox program.

Are Withdrawal Management And Medical Detox The Same?

Withdrawal management and medical detox normally refer to the same process, but they are not actually interchangeable.

Rehab centers and detox facilities have begun replacing the phrase “medical detox” with the words “withdrawal management” as it is believed it more accurately describes the process and its main purpose. Professional clinicians have agreed that the term “detox” is potentially confusing and that “withdrawal management” should be used instead.

Technically speaking, the liver performs detoxification as a natural process. The word “detox” is thrown around quite a bit today, especially in health circles, but there is actually no way to detox that the liver does not already do on its own in a healthy person as well as individuals who are suffering from substance abuse.

It is most accurate to say trained medical professionals manage withdrawal symptoms as the liver works to detoxify the body of drugs simultaneously.

Withdrawal symptoms surface when the brain is not receiving the drug it has become accustomed to any longer. known as withdrawal syndrome, it occurs simply because the brain has adapted to the presence of the addictive substance. When the drug is not replenished, the brain and body’s systems are thrown out of balance. The resulting physical and mental or emotional consequences are what is known as withdrawal of withdrawal syndrome.

Withdrawal management refers to the managing of these physical and psychological symptoms which can be severe or even life-threatening. Depending on the drug of abuse and the severity of dependence, managing withdrawal effectively or what is still largely known as “medical detox”, is a process which should be done in a reputable detox center under professional storyboard. It is not impossible to undergo drug withdrawal without medical help, not it is never recommended.

The following are signs that an individual should seek professional help if present after an attempt is made to overcome their physical drug dependence without intervention:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea which may lead to severe dehydration
  • Anxiety, irritability and aggression towards others
  • Feelings of disorientation, out of body like sensations, or hallucinations
  • Depression or thoughts of suicide
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid heart rate and increase in blood pressure
  • Chest tightness or trouble breathing
  • Tremors, muscle cramping or spasms
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness for any period of time

The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the individual’s physical health, history, and the drug of choice.

Co-occurring mental health issues indicate the need for professional withdrawal management or medical detox. Some of these mental health conditions include but are not limited to:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Personality disorders such as BPD
  • Alcoholism

Having one of the above diagnoses or any underlying mental health issues are cause for seeking medical intervention to detox from drugs and manage withdrawal symptoms. Without proper medical supervision and care, the likelihood of self-harming, sustaining injuries, or committing suicide increase dramatically.

Patients are monitored around the clock during a drug detox treatment by a team of specialized addiction and medical personnel. The goal is always to ensure a safe, effective withdrawal process that prepares the individual for what is to come, while minimizing the negative side effects that come with withdrawal from any drug.

What Happens After A Medical Detox Or Withdrawal Management?

After undergoing a drug detox or withdrawal management at a detox center, entering a professional rehabilitation program is normally the course of action. Depending on the patient’s past as well as their current state of health, a doctor will recommend the appropriate length of stay and whether the individual should opt for an inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation program.

While withdrawal management deals with the physical dependence to a substance, rehab exists to assess and address the underlying causes of the behavior component of an addiction.

Counseling, skills training classes, and social activities are all usually a part of a well-rounded rehab program. Perhaps most important, Individuals learn more effective ways for coping and overcoming daily stressors that may have contributed to the drug use and abuse.

The time after a medical detox or withdrawal management is very important. Individuals in recovery are encouraged to continue on to an aftercare program after completing rehab.

These programs exist to continue providing support and a sense of community to individuals in recovery. Reintegrating into society sober is not an easy task and the help and guidance of peers as well as professionally trained counselors can aid in navigating this new chapter. A sober living home may be one suggestion for a newly sober individual.

When Is Medical Detox Necessary?

There are a few key markers that can help determine if a medical detox from drugs is the appropriate course of action for someone struggling with substance abuse.
If an individual believes he or she is physically dependent on a drug, a drug detox would be a viable first step to take in order to address the drug dependence.

There is a high likelihood of physical drug dependence if:

  • a substance has been used over a long period of time
  • a substance has been used in increased dosages
  • the effect of the same dosage has lessened
  • an increase in dosage is needed to recreate the initial effect of the substance
  • there are cravings or symptoms such as irritability when there is not access to the drug
  • an attempt at stopping to use the drug was not successful without medical intervention or led to a brief period of sobriety followed by relapse

Physical dependence is a primary reason for seeking out assistance quitting via a medical detox from drugs. The effects of withdrawal can range from unpleasant to severe, but can be managed at a drug detox center.

Experiencing withdrawal is a sign that a substance abuse disorder has turned into physical dependence in and of itself. Being physically dependent on drugs or alcohol makes an individual a prime candidate to benefit from a detox at a rehab facility or addiction-focused medical center.

What Drugs Require Medical Assisted Detox?

A large number of drugs require a medical detox in order to stop using safely, including but not limited to:

  • alcohol
  • opioids
  • benzodiazepines
  • prescription medications
  • stimulants
  • synthetic drugs

It is not uncommon to undermine an addiction to alcohol and how dangerous quitting alcohol cold turkey can be. Alcohol affects the Central Nervous System (CNS) which is directly responsible for regulating functions such as heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure within the body.

Mentally, withdrawing from alcohol can cause severe anxiety and even hallucinations. Physically, tremors or uncontrollable shaking, a racing heart, and elevated blood pressure are all common symptoms when stopping the use of alcohol. Delirium tremens is the most severe side effect that can lead to death when not treated urgently. It is important to seek professional help when wanting to quit drinking, as doing so without a medically assisted detox and under supervision can result in death.

Withdrawing from opioids without medical intervention is incredibly risky. Because opioids disrupt the body’s normal production of endorphins, the low that is experienced when it stops receiving the chemicals it needs from an outside source, can be severe. Withdrawal symptoms are described as a more intense version of the flu and while it is not really in and of itself, the probability of relapsing and overdosing is extremely high when trying to quit alone. A medical detox can assist in minimizing withdrawal symptoms while maximizing the chances of success for detoxing from opioids.

Benzodiazepines are usually prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. The nature of how “benzos” work in the body is similar to alcohol which means the withdrawal symptoms are also very similar. A medical detox is recommended when wanting to stop using benzodiazepines in order to lessen the negative side effects that come from withdrawal.

Prescription medications such as those taken for sleep disorders or prescribed as muscle relaxants affect the Central Nervous System in a way similar to alcohol on a biophysical level. Undergoing drug detoxification in a center for a prescription drug abuse problem will learn the severity of withdrawal symptoms and can minimize any potential consequences.

Cocaine, methamphetamines, and MDMA are popular stimulants where users may develop a dependence or addiction. While not life-threatening to stop in and of itself, individuals have reported a deep and very intense depression as being a major withdrawal symptom. This depression can lead to life-threatening secondary issues such as overdosing in order to feel “up” again as well as suicidal ideation.

Synthetic drugs include KratomFentanyl, and other designer drugs. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild significant and can be best managed under the care of professionals in a medical assisted drug detox program at a rehab center or clinic.

How Do I Choose A Medical Detox Center?

When searching for a medical assisted detox facility near you, there are some key factors to look out for:

  1. licensing and accreditation
  2. quality of staff
  3. availability of resources

All medical detox centers are required to be licensed and accredited in the state that they are located. A simple Google search can ensure that the center is fully accredited to be performing the services they are providing. Their site should also list this information somewhere readily accessible.

The majority of time during a medical detox will include interacting on a very personal level with staff. Looking for reviews that praise staff members as well as seeing that there is a staff with significant experience can be important when choosing a drug detox program. It is important to feel comfortable and know that there will be a team of professionals available during the duration of the detox program.

Some centers have private rooms whereas others are shared. Some facilities may have a 1 to 1 nurse to patient ratio whereas others may not have such a large staff. If possible, finding a center with 24/7 access to help is most ideal.

Asking questions about what each detox center can offer will only help bring peace of mind and reassurance as an individual embarks on the path to recovery. 

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