What Is A Drug Detox Program?

Many people have heard of drug and alcohol detox, but few actually know what it entails and why it is necessary. If you or a loved one suffers from a substance use disorder, understanding detox is key to safely turning your life around.

What is Detox?

In its most basic form, detox is a natural bodily process. Drugs enter the body when you ingest, inhale, inject, or otherwise take them. Over time, your body works to break down the chemicals and remove them from your body.

Many drugs create a physical dependence when they are abused. Your body gets used to having these drugs in its system, and you develop strong cravings for them. If an addict reduces their dose or stops taking a substance they are dependent upon, such as alcohol or opioids, they are likely to go through withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal is basically the process of your body re-adjusting to life without the substance you are dependent upon. Withdrawal can be very, very painful. In some cases, symptoms can present serious dangers to your health. Many people have died as a result of severe withdrawal.

Withdrawal is one of the main things standing between many addicts and their sobriety. Because it is so uncomfortable, many people try to detox at home and end up relapsing. Due to the risk of relapse and dangerous symptoms associated with withdrawal, you should never try to detox at home.

Instead, you should visit a medical detox center which is specifically for drug and alcohol detox. Here, you will be monitored and cared for by medical staff and other professionals as you go through withdrawal.

Who Needs to Go to Detox?

Anyone who is physically or psychologically dependent on drugs or alcohol can benefit from medical detox. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms make it nearly impossible to successfully detox at home without relapsing or other complications.

Fortunately, medically supervised detox provides a safe, stable place for addicts to get clean. Some examples of drugs that commonly cause addiction and/or dependency and result in a need for supervised detox are:

  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Prescription stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin, etc.)
  • Synthetic drugs
  • Methamphetamine
  • Marijuana

Anyone who is at risk of going through withdrawal should go to detox. Medically monitored detox is a crucial stepping stone to treatment. It is a place to clear your body and mind of all the toxins and confusion, and prepare to enter treatment and turn your life around.

Although detox is not considered treatment for addiction on its own, it has been shown to increase the likelihood of successful subsequent treatment.

What Happens at Detox?

When you make the decision to turn your life around by beginning substance abuse treatment, detox is likely to be the first step. Detox happens in three main stages: Evaluation, stabilization, and preparation for treatment.

Stage One: Evaluation

When you check in to detox, you will be evaluated to determine what your specific situation and needs are. Usually, you will take a questionnaire. You will need to answer questions about what you have been using, your dosage, and when you last took drugs or drank alcohol. 

This will be followed by a physical exam, blood tests, and a mental evaluation. The mental evaluation is mainly to determine if you have any co-occurring conditions such as depression or  anxiety.

Stage Two: Stabilization

The stabilization stage takes the majority of the time. This is when patients stop using drugs and detox staff help them through any withdrawal symptoms that come up. 

During this stage, medications may be used to ease withdrawal symptoms. You will be monitored by medical staff around-the-clock and given what you need to make it through this difficult time safely and smoothly.

A huge variety of symptoms could present themselves during the stabilization phase. It is very hard to predict what symptoms will arise, how severe they will be, and for how long they will last. This is why it is essential to have medical supervision during detox. If you need immediate medical attention during withdrawal, you do not want to be stuck at home.

Stage Three: Preparation

Detox is usually the most physically uncomfortable period of an addict’s recovery. But once it is over, there is still a long journey ahead to tackle the psychological challenges of living substance-free.

Detox should always be followed by substance abuse treatment. During the last phase of detox, patients are educated and prepared for their inpatient rehab or outpatient care program. 

How Long Does Detox Take?

Detox from drugs and/or alcohol could take anywhere from a few days to multiple weeks. Due to the difficulty of predicting withdrawal symptoms, it is hard to know how long the process will take. 

Factors such as a patient’s history of drug abuse, their health, and their metabolism can all play a role in how long detox takes. Though difficult to predict, consider the following alcohol detox timeline as an example of what a detox program may look like:

  • Stage 1: Beginning 8 hours after the last drink, symptoms of withdrawal present themselves such as nausea, insomnia, anxiety, and stomach pain.
  • Stage 2: More severe symptoms begin to present themselves 24 hours after the last drink. These include raised blood pressure, confusion, headache, irregular heartbeat, and fever. These symptoms last 1-3 days.
  • Stage 3: Beginning 2-4 days after the last drink, severe symptoms set in. Hallucinations, fever, seizures, and extreme agitation are included.
  • Stage 4: Symptoms begin to taper off after 5-7 days.

The above timeline is an example and not a strict timeline for alcohol detox. You can see why it would be nearly impossible for someone detoxing at home to resist drinking when they are experiencing such discomfort. 

Whether it takes days or weeks, once symptoms subside and a patient stabilizes, the preparation for treatment can begin.

What Happens After Detox?

Detox can be very physically demanding, but the true work of recovery begins after it is over. Detox is a great place to start your treatment journey, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. In order to make your time at detox count, you should transition immediately into treatment.

Treatment for substance abuse comes in many forms. Both inpatient rehab and outpatient care are effective options for recovering addicts. They each have their pros and cons and it is likely that one kind of treatment would be better suited for you.

During the preparation phase of detox, you will be given some options for continuing your treatment. Investing in your sobriety by attending treatment for substance abuse is the best thing you can do for yourself. Call your local treatment center today to get started.


  1. https://www.naabt.org/faq_answers.cfm?ID=16
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64115/
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs