Drug & Alcohol Detox
In 2018, more than 21 million Americans, ages 12 or older, needed substance abuse treatment. Approximately 3.7 million of those in need of drug or alcohol treatment received such care.1 These numbers no doubt include many who would benefit from detox and withdrawal management services. Throughout the country in 2018, nearly 3000 treatment facilities offered varying types of detoxification services.2 Many people require medical detox at the start of additional addiction treatment programming and aftercare. Such detox services may take place in a detox center or as part of a larger drug rehab program.
What is Detox?
Detox is the process of facilitating the safe clearance of drugs or alcohol from a person’s body. Often taking place in the early stages of many types of addiction treatment, a supervised, medically managed detox may be essential for treatment and recovery to progress. Depending on the substance of abuse, the detox process commonly lasts anywhere from a few days to weeks.
Abruptly quitting alcohol or the use of certain drugs on your own can be both unnecessarily difficult and problematic, particularly when severe physiological substance dependence as developed. With substances such as opioids or alcohol, many people will experience characteristic symptoms of physical withdrawal such as anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and tremors.3,7 More severe withdrawal symptoms or withdrawal complications, such as marked agitation and seizures, can occur depending on the substance of use.3
It’s worth noting that there may be a difference in the levels of detox services available. In some cases, detox may not necessarily mean medical detox. While many places may offer a supportive, or social detox setting, not all facilities are equipped to medically manage certain types of withdrawal. While in a medical detox program, you may be given medications to help control the severity of withdrawal symptoms and minimize cravings to use. You may also have extensive medical monitoring, in case you experience complications from withdrawal.3
Why Professional Detox is Helpful
When you go through detox, you may experience uncomfortable symptoms. Symptom type and severity may vary from one person to another and also depend on the type of drug(s) from which you are withdrawing. 4,5 For instance, some of the troublesome withdrawal effects associated with an opioid detox could include:3,4
- Runny nose.
- Bone and body aches.
Detox from a stimulant like cocaine or methamphetamine might usher in a completely different set of symptoms—characteristically one with more of an intensely psychological, yet still difficult-to-endure nature than that of a withdrawal syndrome associated with opioids or depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines. Such stimulant detox effects may include symptoms such as:3
- Sleep problems (hypersomnia or insomnia).
- Increased appetite.
- Poor concentration.
- Impaired cognition.
- Slowed speech.
- Decreased movement.
- Intense drug cravings.
Symptoms may vary in intensity from one person to another. You should not underestimate how severe some of these symptoms of withdrawal can be, especially if you were to try to detox on your own without the support of professional treatment. Left unmanaged, a difficult withdrawal experience can increase the risk of immediately relapse.
The Detoxification Process
Though precise detox experiences will vary, when a person seeks professional detoxification services, they are likely to encounter three elements important to the early recovery process:3
During evaluation, a patient undergoes a complete mental and medical health assessment, including various tests to identify which drugs are in the patient’s system. These tests help determine what level of care and which medications – if any – are needed.
Stabilization involves bringing a person into a substance-free state as safely and comfortably as possible. Several strategies can be used, including the administration of medications, various psychosocial interventions, and involving a patient’s family with treatment to help motivate the patient. In addition, staff members will work with patients to familiarize them with treatment and what to expect in the next stages.
Transitioning to Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment
Facilitating a transition into additional rehabilitation or substance use disorder treatment. Admission into treatment is an important goal of a professional detoxification programs. Getting the drugs or alcohol out of a person’s body is not the end of treatment, nor does detox guarantee long-term recovery or sobriety.
How Long Does Detox Take?
The timetable of detox can vary from person to person, and will be influenced by factors such as the chronicity of substance use and the associated magnitude of physical dependence. In general, different substance withdrawal timelines might resemble the following:3,5,8
Heroin: First symptoms arrive within 12 hours of last use, peak within 1-3 days, then gradually resolve over the course of 5-7 days.
Alcohol: Symptoms may peak in intensity within a 24-72 hour time window. In many cases, resolution of many symptoms occurs by 4-5 days.
Cocaine: Stimulant withdrawal symptoms may develop within a few hours to several days after the last use. Many symptoms disappear within several days after first developing, but may persist to some degree for weeks for some individuals.
Depending on individual circumstances, your detox may be slightly shorter or longer than these average times. However, the symptoms of withdrawal are not the whole picture of what constitutes detox. To adequately stabilize and foster the transition into additional substance rehabilitation can take time, which may itself further influence the length of the detox period.
What is Medical Detox?
Medically supervised detox usually involves 24/7 monitoring and care from nurses, doctors, and other members of the treatment team. Medical detox is commonly utilized for managing potentially severe withdrawal syndromes, such as those associated with opioids. To keep people safe and minimize the risk of withdrawal complications, detoxing from alcohol and other central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium) may also be necessary.
When a person has developed significant levels of dependence with substances such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, sudden withdrawal can result in serious side effects, including marked agitation, delirium, and potentially-fatal seizures.3
Can I Detox at Home?
The appropriate setting for detoxification, whether it be inpatient or outpatient, should be decided upon with the help of your physician or other treatment professional. The acute withdrawal syndromes associated with opioid drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers, as well as those of substances like alcohol and sedative-hypnotics (e.g., benzodiazepines, barbiturates, prescription sleep medications) can be quite severe and, in the case of CNS depressants, potentially dangerous.
In many of these instances, an inpatient or residential medical detox program may be the most appropriate course of treatment for your safety.3
Home detox attempts may be ill-advised for several reasons, including the potential for overwhelming craving to use quickly prompting a relapse. Opioid withdrawal, for example, results in some symptoms such as body aches and nausea that many people find too uncomfortable to manage without the help of medical detox interventions.4
Are you Looking For Detox?
You may wonder if you would benefit from a detox from drugs or alcohol prior to additional recovery efforts. While each person is different and may not yet be ready to take the path to recovery, professional detox is an important and sometimes medically necessitated period of time that has helped many progress toward their goals of abstinence and long-term recovery. Consider these two questions:
- Are you or someone you love struggling with compulsive substance use that has become an overwhelming part of your daily life?
- Is withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, or the apprehension of such withdrawal, promoting continued drinking or drug taking or preventing attempts at recovery?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might benefit from seeking further help from a treatment professional.
Finding The Best Detox Rehab Centers
Those who have not sought medical detox before may wonder how to go about it. There are many options for inpatient detox treatment in the United States. When looking for a detox center, you should know that American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of inpatient treatment and operates 8 facilities across the nation in the following states:
How American Addiction Centers Can Help
American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of detox treatment in the United States. We are committed to providing users the most up-to-date and accurate information about treatment and how to seek it. With supervision, support, and medical withdrawal management throughout detox treatment, AAC can provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind during your stay.
To find out more, or to get started, American Addiction Centers operates a confidential addiction hotline available 24/7 to help people find their path to recovery.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
Learning about addiction and treatment options may feel overwhelming. If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides:
Don’t let your insurance, financial situation, or fear get in the way of getting the help you need. The first step is making the phone call to get valuable information that could help you heal and put you on the path to recovery.
1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
2. Department of Health and Human Services—Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS): 2018.
3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). Opiate and opioid withdrawal.
5. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Alcohol withdrawal.
6. Metz, V., Köchl, B., & Fischer, G. (2012). Should pregnant women with substance use disorders be managed differently? Neuropsychiatry, 2(1), 29–41.
7. Miller, S. C., Fiellin, D. A., Rosenthal, R. N., & Saitz, R. (2019). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
8. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.