Drug and Alcohol detoxification

Detoxification is generally the initial stage of all addiction treatment.

Alcohol and Drug detoxification | Table of Contents

What is Detoxification?

Detox, or detoxification, is the method of allowing the body to eliminate the addictive substances within. The main goal of detoxification is to flush out the substance of abuse in the most effective and safest way possible while minimizing the possibilities of a serious health complication.

Detoxification can be carried out through a variety of methods such as tapering down method, medication-assisted detoxification, or simply going cold turkey. The method of treatment mostly depends on the severity of a patient’s addiction, the substance of abuse, a patient’s medical history, and polydrug abuse. The duration of detoxification may vary from patient to patient.

Detoxification, through the use of medications, help alleviate severe withdrawal symptoms and minimize the possibility of a relapse. However, it can take days or even months to get through withdrawal symptoms for most substances. The length of withdrawal depends on many variables, including:

  • The dose generally consumed
  • The duration of addiction
  • The severity of the addiction
  • Polydrug abuse
  • Method of abuse (snorting, injecting, smoking, or swallowing)
  • Family history
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Genetic makeup
  • Medical conditions

Could You Detox at Home?

Conducting detoxification at home can have serious and even life-threatening consequences depending on the severity of one’s addiction and the substance abused. Quitting “cold turkey” or without medical care may contribute to serious complications, such as seizures and extreme dehydration. It is vital to seek professional and medical assistance when you wish to quit an addiction.

Detoxification programs are available in all inpatient treatment centers and certain outpatient centers. Patients must first undergo an evaluation to determine the right course of treatment for them.


Is it safe to detox on my own?

This depends on the substance abused and the severity of an individual’s addiction. Patients with severe addiction must seek assistance from a medically supervised clinic to prevent relapses, alleviate severe withdrawal symptoms and health complications.

What happens when you detox?

Detox is the process of getting rid of the addictive substance from your body and addressing the physical dependence on the substance. During this process, the brain begins to readjust to the sudden drop in the chemicals it had grown accustomed to.

The Detox Process

Although detoxification programs are customized based on each patient’s needs and requirements, most detox procedures are conducted in three simple steps, such as:


The medical team screens incoming patients for physical and psychological complications. Doctors use blood tests to determine the concentration of drugs and alcohol in a patient’s body to help physicians determine the amount of medication required during detoxification. Patients’ medical history and history of abuse will also be examined during this stage.


The next step in treatment will require patients to be stabilized in both physical and psychiatric therapy. The purpose of stabilization is to avoid any form of harm to the patient. Patients can avoid complications and mitigate withdrawal symptoms through this stage.

Preparing Entry into Treatment

The next stage in detoxification is planning a treatment and rehab program. Doctors provide their patients with adequate information and guidance about the treatment process and what to expect.

Possible Side Effects of Detox

Patients diagnosed with a severe addiction are highly advised to seek treatment through a medically assisted detoxification program. Medically-supervised programs help patients detox in a healthy and supportive environment. However, the level of supervision may vary from that of inpatient and outpatient programs.

Although certain symptoms of withdrawals are mitigated through medically assisted detox programs, some symptoms may not be alleviated.

Some of the typical side effects during detox would include:

  • Nausea
  • Body discomfort
  • Mood swings
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Poor sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating


How long does the detox process last?

The detox process typically lasts for 7 to 10 days. However, this can vary from one person to another.

Can I detox while on medication?

Yes, it is possible, but patients would be required to undergo a medically supervised detoxification to help decrease the risk of health complications.

What are the symptoms of withdrawal?

The physical symptoms of withdrawal may include nausea, sweating, headaches, exhaustion, increased blood pressure, shivers, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Psychological symptoms may include anxiety, paranoia, depression, agitation, and extreme mood swings.

How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

Certain withdrawal symptoms generally last from several months to a year, while some subside within days or weeks.

Drug and Alcohol Detox During Pregnancy

Consuming alcohol or using drugs during pregnancy can harm the mother and the unborn child as the addictive substance crosses the placenta to the unborn baby. Performing a detoxification cold-turkey or unsupervised by a medical practitioner may also trigger stress to the unborn child, such as preterm labor or extreme fetal distress.

Detox under medical supervision is an utter necessity for pregnant mothers since withdrawal symptoms can be extremely dangerous to the unborn child. Detoxification, when carried out effectively and medically, can help prevent relapses and complications to the mother and child.

Detox experts can keep babies safe and stable by treating pregnant mothers throughout the detox process. Doctors also administer medications to stabilize pregnant women during detox. Alcohol and opioid detox generally pose the greatest danger to an unborn child.

Detox by Drug Type

Detox is more complicated for certain individuals based on the drugs being abused. The abuse of certain drugs can cause withdrawal symptoms that can be either physical or mental. For example, cocaine withdrawal can cause psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. In contrast, alcohol withdrawal includes physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, delirium tremens, or even seizures.

In some patients, detox involves the use of medications that imitate the effects of drugs to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. Medications can also be used during the treatment of co-occurring conditions or simply to alleviate general discomfort. Due to certain drug’s ability to cause severe and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, medications become a necessary aspect of detoxification. Substances that are among the most uncomfortable and dangerous to detoxify are opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol.

Rapid and Ultra-rapid Detox and Risks

Rapid detox is a method of extracting substances from the user’s system faster than the standard practice of detoxification. However, rapid detoxing can be both dangerous and costly.

In rapid detoxification, patients are sedated with anesthesia and given medications to help substitute the abused drugs within the body. This approach was initially created for patients addicted to prescription medications like opioids and painkillers. Unfortunately, the drawbacks of rapid detoxing sometimes overshadow the advantages.

Rapid detox can cause:

  • High body temperature
  • Infection
  • Nausea
  • Heart attack
  • Paranoia
  • Aspiration
  • Choking
  • Vomiting
  • Death

Traditional rapid detox services require two to three days to complete and carry lower levels of risks in comparison to ultra-rapid detox but are also more costly than standard detox programs. It may cost up to $10,000 and are generally not covered by insurance.

Ultra-rapid detox procedures may take as little as a few hours. However, according to the Coleman Institute, nearly 1 in 500 patients die from this procedure. Many individuals who complete rapid or ultra-rapid detox show ongoing withdrawal symptoms but at a lower degree of intensity. Patients who prefer rapid or ultra-rapid detoxification are far less likely to continue treatment, like inpatient treatment or outpatient rehabilitation. Consequently, they are less inclined to focus on relapse prevention, addressing co-occurring mental health problems, and life planning and hence are more likely to experience a relapse.

Medically Managed Inpatient Detox for Severe Addictions

Medically-managed inpatient detoxification care is available on a selective basis for patients in need of hospitalization for substance and alcohol abuse detoxification.

Medically-managed inpatient withdrawal management is a substance abuse withdrawal service offered at an inpatient setting. It is provided by medical and nursing practitioners who offer 24-hour, medically-directed observation, assessment, monitoring, and withdrawal management in acute, inpatient environments.

Individuals who are eligible for this treatment are:

  • Any adult, 18 years of age or older, with substance intoxication and medical complications and disorders.
  • Patients with withdrawal signs or symptoms that are serious enough to require 24-hour nursing and medical care.
  • Patients with medical complications that cannot be detoxified adequately in a residential or outpatient framework.
  • Patients with a principal diagnosis of alcohol and substance abuse and misuse or a diagnosis of alcohol/drug co-occurrence and mental illness.
  • Patients who are destitute and have no other financial means of accessing healthcare or not qualified for Tennessee Medicaid, TennCare, or any other third-party alcohol and substance usage and dependence or co-occurring alcohol/drug and psychiatric treatment benefits, or has no such limited third-party health benefits payable.
  • Patients who meet with the one hundred and thirty-three percent federal poverty requirements laid out by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

How to Choose a Detox Program?

Begin by listing your requirements. For example, whether you have a physical or mental health problem, your substance of abuse, and the cost of rehab. Patients may also want to take into consideration their home environment (lack of support at home), their ability to be away from home, work, or school over a prolonged period, and the resources and services provided by each rehab facility.

It is also important that the facility you choose is specialized in providing the treatment you require. Here is a list of questions that may help you decide on the best treatment option for you.

  • Are your staff trained or licensed?
  • What are the therapies provided at your facility?
  • What part of the treatment is covered by insurance?
  • What type of insurance plans are accepted at your facility?
  • Do you help prevent relapses or provide education on relapse prevention?
  • Does your facility provide aftercare programs?
  • Do you offer counseling and medical services?

Your Life After Detox

Detox is just the first aspect of the recovery process. It helps patients address their physical dependence on the abusive substance. Detox on its own is typically ineffective for successful rehabilitation. Patients also require treatment to address the psychological aspect of addiction. This is achieved through counseling, therapies, and support groups provided through an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility. After the successful completion of detoxification, patients will be advised to seek further treatment at one of these facilities.

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