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  • Detoxification is a short period of medical care and supervision that helps you overcome mental and physical dependence from alcohol or drugs. 

    The immediate goals of alcohol or drug detox include:

    • being free from drugs and alcohol
    • monitoring symptoms of withdrawal to keep you safe and comfortable
    • paying attention to pre-existing medical or psychological health conditions

    By staying safe and stabilizing the body and mind during withdrawal, you’ll be in a better place to begin an addiction treatment program. 

    What To Know About Detox, The First Stage Of Recovery

    If you struggle with alcohol addiction or drug addiction, you may develop a strong dependence to the substances you use. This dependence creates a deep-rooted connection between the body and brain and the drug of abuse.

    Once you stop using drugs or alcohol, you’re likely to experience a difficult withdrawal process. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, unsafe, and dangerous, as well as worsen pre-existing health conditions and lead to relapse or a return to drug or alcohol abuse.

    Because of the dangers of withdrawal, detoxing is the first stage of recovery. Although likely to involve discomfort, the detox process can help prepare you for alcohol or drug rehab, which is a proven path to long-term sobriety.

    Drug And Alcohol Detox: What To Expect

    Medical detox programs last between three and seven days, but how long you’re medically supervised depends on your substance use history and if you have any co-occurring conditions.

    To start the detoxification process, your current state will be evaluated.

    Your evaluation may include questions like:

    • What type of drugs have you used?
    • When was the last time you used drugs or alcohol?
    • How much do you usually take or drink?
    • How long have you been using?
    • Have you attended treatment before?

    Following an evaluation, your treatment plan will be created by a team of professionals. With inpatient detox, you’ll stay overnight in a comfortable setting and receive constant supervision. 

    Nurses and other medical staff will monitor your symptoms 24/7, allowing them to address any serious health complications that should occur during withdrawal. If your withdrawal symptoms are severe, you may be prescribed medication to reduce discomfort.

    Substances That Cause Withdrawal And Require Medical Detox

    The severity of your withdrawal symptoms depends on the type of drug you used, how long you used it, and your history of substance abuse. Using certain substances likely require medical detox before you can pursue additional treatment options.


    Drinking alcohol can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms as a result of having too much on a regular basis. Suddenly stopping alcohol use can lead to serious symptoms like agitation, fever, seizures, and confusion. 

    The worst form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is called delirium tremens.


    Heavy opioid abuse in a short time can lead to withdrawal after stopping use. These substances include heroin, fentanyl, codeine, Oxycontin, Vicodin, and other pain medications. Symptoms are uncomfortable and can lead to relapse, but aren’t life threatening.


    Cocaine withdrawal can occur even when you’re coming down from the drug. Although there are few visible symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, support and supervision can help you better manage agitation, restlessness, depression, cravings, and other symptoms.


    Crystal meth and other forms of methamphetamine are very addictive and lead to intense withdrawal symptoms that may require medical supervision to avoid further use. Serious symptoms include psychosis, cravings, anxiety, and severe depression.


    These prescription medications include Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and other sedatives. Suddenly stopping use after a period of heavy abuse can lead to serious symptoms of withdrawal similar to alcohol, and can also be life threatening.

    Other Substances

    The heavy use of any drug, from marijuana to stimulants like Adderall, can lead to withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult to abstain from use. Even mild symptoms, like fever or insomnia, can prevent you from quitting and worsen your addiction.

    The Benefits Of Alcohol And Drug Detox Programs

    The fear of withdrawal and detox is a major barrier to stopping use and seeking care. Anyone with a history of substance abuse knows how uncomfortable and painful the withdrawal process can be; however, there are significant benefits to attending a detox center.

    Detox programs can benefit your recovery by:

    • keeping you safe and comfortable during withdrawal
    • supervising and monitoring your symptoms day and night
    • managing health conditions and addressing serious complications
    • preparing you for treatment by improving your physical and mental health
    • transitioning you into rehab immediately after detox

    Medical Detox Vs. At-Home Detox

    For many reasons, including expense and commitment to the recovery process, some may choose to attempt detox at home, or quit “cold turkey.”

    However, there are significant problems associated with at-home detox, including:

    • no access to support staff, medical care, or emergency response
    • an increased risk to use drugs and alcohol
    • no additional treatment plan
    • no option for tapering or medication to decrease symptoms

    What Happens After Detox?

    After detox, you’ll continue with your treatment plan. If you attend a detox program with a residential treatment provider, your transition into inpatient rehab will be easy and seamless.

    If the detox center does not have their own rehab program, you’ll be referred to a nearby treatment facility to continue your recovery.

    Although medical detox helps keep you safe and comfortable during withdrawal, it does not provide addiction treatment. It’s crucial you continue with treatment immediately following the detoxification process.

    Find Detox Support Today

    If you or a loved one need help managing withdrawal, reach out for professional support. Helplines and other resources, like comprehensive inpatient and outpatient treatment, are also available.

    For more information on our treatment centers, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Alcohol Health & Research World - An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification
    National Center for Biotechnology Information - Home detox – supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Methamphetamine DrugFacts
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - TIP 45 Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Opiate and opioid withdrawal
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol withdrawal
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Cocaine withdrawal

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
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