Dr Katie Brown
Calendar icon Last Updated: 02/6/2024

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Detox is often necessary for a safe and successful recovery after becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. In most cases. The process of detoxification should be overseen by medical professionals in a treatment setting, to safeguard your health in case of complications, and to prevent relapse during withdrawal. Professional detox can also offer treatments that ease uncomfortable and painful withdrawal symptoms, so you do not suffer unnecessarily.

What is Detox Treatment?

There are generally two types of detox programs available to individuals who need withdrawal help: inpatient and outpatient.

Inpatient-based programs provide 24-hour care to patients in a controlled environment. This can be necessary to those individuals who are severely addicted to alcohol or have been abusing CNS depressants, as the symptoms associated with these withdrawal syndromes can be unpredictable and deadly. Inpatient detox is also advisable for anyone who:

  • Has a severe addiction to a substance or has been abusing it for several years
  • Has tried multiple times to detox with unsuccessful results
  • Is suffering from high psychiatric severity either caused by withdrawal or co-occurring mental health issues
  • Has any chronic medical problems that could make withdrawal more dangerous
  • Does not have a safe home environment in which to detox
  • Does not have a strong social support system

Outpatient programs also exist where patients can receive medication and other treatments daily (or several times a week), but these facilities are often best for those who are medically and psychologically able to detox without 24/7 supervision, and who have a safe and stable place to live throughout the process.

What Medications Are Available During Detox?

Depending on which substance(s) you were using, you may need a different type of medication to treat your symptoms. Methadone and buprenorphine can be helpful in the treatment of opioid withdrawal, as these drugs minimize the symptoms of aches and pains, runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as the intense drug cravings. These medications can be continued for months, or even years, to ensure that the patient remains stable enough to benefit from treatment and to make the behavioral and lifestyle changes needed to stay off drugs.

Antipsychotics may be used to treat individuals who have been abusing stimulants, as these drugs can create brain chemical imbalances that cause psychotic symptoms. These imbalances can be temporary or permanent, which is another reason why inpatient detox and a 28 day or longer stay is advisable so that the patient’s mental health can be continuously monitored.

Many patients can benefit from antidepressants, but these medications take effect more slowly and will need a few weeks to create noticeable change, at which time the acute phase of detox will be over.

Instead of receiving medications, some patients will be merely weaned off the drug or another like it to minimize the severity of their withdrawal. This is often the case with CNS depressants like benzodiazepines, which can cause a fatal withdrawal syndrome in individuals who try to quit cold turkey.

What are the Benefits of Detox Treatment?

Without the help of healthcare professionals, medication, and therapy, detoxing from drugs or alcohol can be extremely dangerous. Depending on the substance and how heavily you have been using, you could potentially experience severe, painful, or even life-threatening symptoms. This is why it is so important to go through the process in a professional detox center that can provide you with immediate medical attention in the case of serious withdrawal complications.

Even individuals who don’t experience a dangerous withdrawal will suffer mentally and physically during the detoxification process. Detoxing with professional help will make the experience less difficult, as well as protect you from the temptation to relapse before you can really begin your recovery.

Anyone who wants to recover from addiction and is uncertain what choice to make about detox should speak to a treatment professional about their particular case. Most rehab facilities will offer a free consultation over the phone or in person. Be totally honest and forthcoming with your responses to their questions, as these professionals need complete and accurate information in order to advise you on the best course of action.

How Does Detox Treatment Work?

The goal of a good detox program is to deliver around the clock professional care to ensure that symptoms are controlled, and any health complications are swiftly and safely treated. This 24/7 security and attention also keeps patients from having access to drugs and alcohol and allows them to rest as much as they need, which might not be possible in the home environment.

Detox is often considered the first step in addiction treatment, but it is important to remember that it is not, on its own, a cure for addiction. Patients are evaluated and treated for the severity of their condition and are kept safe and comfortable as their bodies flush out toxic chemicals. After detox, patients are usually much clearer headed with the physical strength and mental focus to benefit from treatment interventions, such as group and individual counseling.  A detox program will keep you safe through withdrawal, and prepare you for the full rehab experience, which will begin as soon as your treatment advisors see that you are ready.

How long detox takes will depend on the substance, the duration of use, how much was standardly used, and the physical health of the patient. Some patients will complete a detox program in just a few days, while others will require a full month to detox fully. A consultation with treatment professionals at a rehab facility should be able to give you a close approximation of what to expect based on your unique case.

Who Should Get Detox Treatment? 

Certain substances—such as opiates, crack, and alcohol—are riskier to detox from at home due to a high physical or emotional danger, but detoxing from any substance has the potential to lead to serious medical or psychological complications, depending on the individual.

However, a professional detox isn’t just about medical safety; it’s also about preventing suffering.  Anyone with withdrawal symptoms should have professional support during detox. Modern symptom control is so effective at treating withdrawal that there is no need for anyone to suffer during detox, and an easier detox experience will make you more likely to succeed in your recovery for the long term.

Where Can I Find Detox Therapy?

It is important to consider your physical and psychological needs before detox and to seek out the program that will best protect your health and prevent relapse. Whether you detox at the start of an inpatient treatment program, or complete withdrawal before entering treatment, remember that detox should always be followed by a full addiction rehab program. Detox addresses the physical side of addiction, but not the underlying causes. These causes need to be addressed in order for long-term sobriety to be possible. Find detox resources in your state today.

Medical Reviewer
Dr Katie Brown, MD
Attending Physician
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As a recent family medicine graduate, Dr. Katie Brown has a solid foundation in addiction medicine. She is certified to prescribe Suboxone for opioid use disorder and has treated many cases of substance use disorder in her clinic. She is particularly experienced in diagnosing and treating alcohol use disorder as well as its complications.