Detox Treatment for Drug & Alcohol Withdrawals
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Detox Treatment for Drugs and Alcohol

Withdrawal is the most vulnerable stage of achieving sobriety. Learn more here about how professional detox is used to help patients safely begin a sober life.


Takeaways from this article:

  • american addiction centers photo

    The detoxification process.

  • american addiction centers photo

    The dangers of self-detox or detoxing at home.

  • american addiction centers photo

    How to find local detox centers near me.


Detoxification, or detox for short, is the first stage of treating many types of drug and alcohol addiction and commonly precedes additional substance rehabilitation efforts. Detox treatment helps a person make it through the first phase of recovery, as acute intoxication and any lingering toxic influence of drugs and/or alcohol subside.

It is important to note that the purpose of detox is to achieve medical stabilization safely through a 5-7 day perioid where drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening.  After detox, you should expect to attend inpatient rehab or another form of addiction therapy. Rather, it is to safely stabilize patients through withdrawal symptoms that, depending on the severity of your situation, may range from uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening.

In short, while this article will teach you how to detox safely. It is important to understand that detox is not a substitute for therapy and most successful attempts at sobriety involve a combination of detox and rehab. 2 

Medical Detoxification Process

There are several different types of detoxification. Medical detox treatment involves supervision and potential medical intervention at the hands of a medical team while you are undergoing detox treatment. This supervision is typically 24/7. As part of a medically monitored inpatient program, physicians are available at all times during the day, at least by phone, and nursing staff is present at all times to assess and monitor the person who is undergoing detox.Some detox centers, known as “social detox” centers, attempt to avoid using the medication-based intervention process.

The precise medical detoxification processes may vary. However, if you’re still wondering what happens in detox, there are three essential components common to different medical detox and withdrawal management programs:2

  • Evaluation—A thorough assessment will be conducted to determine your specific needs for the best course of treatment. You may undergo drug testing and speak to a variety of staff, including doctors, nurses, and counselors. Your length of drug or alcohol use, the severity of your addiction, and your underlying emotional and medical conditions will all be taken under consideration during evaluation.
  • Stabilization—May include both medical and psychological interventions to help manage intoxication and withdrawal. Medications may be administered when needed to manage symptoms of withdrawal as well as any complications to arise. Ideally, this is the time in detox where you also learn about the process of treatment; your family may also be involved in your treatment.
  • Fostering patient entry into additional treatment—An important component of any detox program will be preparing a patient for and facilitating the transfer to additional rehabilitation programming like inpatient rehab. The importance of continuing treatment after detox cannot be stressed enough, especially for someone who has previously fallen into the trap of undergoing detox and then not completing
  • treatment.

How Long Does Detox Treatment Last?

The length of detox varies from person to person, based on the substances used and other factors. For example, a rough timeline for alcohol detox may progress over the course of one week from the time of the last drink, with the peak of withdrawal occurring at around three days.3 The withdrawal timeline for opioids varies based on factors including the type of opioid used and how much was used.2 Opioids with a shorter half-life, such as heroin, may give rise to withdrawal symptoms within 8 to 24 hours after last use, with symptoms largely resolving by 10 days out. Withdrawal for those substances with a longer half-life, such as methadone, may progress a bit more slowly, with the most acute symptoms showing up within 12 to 48 hours after the last use and potentially persisting for as long as 20 days.4

Why Is Detox Treatment Helpful?

At times, people eager to begin their sobriety journey may contemplate just abruptly stopping any additional drug or alcohol use on their own. While detox from alcohol and certain types of drugs is commonly done under medical supervision, you may have heard of stories of people going “cold turkey” and stopping the use of a substance at home.

However, withdrawal from certain substances, such as opioids, can be severely unpleasant and, for other substances, like alcohol and other central nervous system depressants, unmanaged withdrawal can be dangerous or even life-threatening.

Ultimately, if you’re wondering, “is detox safe?” the answer is often “no” unless it is supervised by a clinical or medical professional.

The use of medication in a professional detox program can help make withdrawal symptoms more manageable. Medications for opioid addiction, for example, include opioid agonists such as methadone and buprenorphine to stabilize someone experiencing withdrawal from heroin or prescription opioids, as well as clonidine for additional symptom relief.

Professional detox also can help keep someone as safe and comfortable as possible during benzodiazepine withdrawal. Detox protocols for sedative drugs such as these may first involve the substitution of a relatively long-acting benzodiazepine, which is then used to slowly taper a person off entirely.2

If you’d like to know whether your insurance may cover the full or partial cost of rehabilitation at one of American Addiction Centers’ various rehab centers across the states, simply fill in your information in the form below.

What Type of Detox Program is Right for Me?

With varying types of detox programs, you may be wondering which is right for you. Inpatient detox, which requires you to live on-site for a 5-7 day period, is for those with severe addiction-related risks.  Outpatient detox, on the other hand, is either administered reserved for people with little to no risk of dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If you are not sure which is right for you, seek the advice of a treatment provider or medical professional. Generally speaking, however, if you suffer from the following conditions or symptoms, you should consider inpatient detox unless informed otherwise by a medical professional.6

  • Coronary artery disease or insulin-dependent diabetes.
  • Severe psychiatric disorders, such as suicidal thoughts or attempts, hallucinations, delusions, cognitive deficits, or psychosis.
  • Co-occurring sedative addiction.
  • Liver problems, such as jaundice.
  • Have a history of withdrawal delirium or seizures.
  • Fail to respond to medications with 1-2 days.
  • Pregnant.
  • Don’t have a secure home setting or support network.
  • Are in an advanced state of withdrawal (hallucinations, high fever, delirium, etc.).

Can I Self-Detox at Home?

Some people may undergo a detox treatment program on an outpatient basis, but the decision to do so should be made only with the careful evaluation and guidance from a trained addiction treatment professional.

In some cases, unmanaged withdrawal could also lead to immediate relapse as the withdrawing individual seeks to put a stop to the unpleasant symptoms. While withdrawal experiences vary widely from one substance to the next, some signs and symptoms of acute withdrawal include: 2

  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fever.
  • Sweating.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Excessive tears and runny nose.
  • Bone and muscle aches and pains.
  • Muscle spasms.

Given symptoms such as these, it’s clear that withdrawal can be quite an unpleasant and challenging hurdle to early recovery. As mentioned, abruptly quitting certain other substances on your own may also be dangerous. Detoxing from substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepines can result in seizures, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, or even death.2 Because of the significant risk of severe and/or complicated withdrawal with substances such as these, many individuals require supervision and medical care while detoxing.

Considering these risks, the safest and fastest way to detox is under the supervision of medical addiction treatment professionals.

Is Detoxing Safe While Pregnant?

Detox is possible during pregnancy with careful medical oversight. While the exact number of pregnant women who undergo detox each year is hard to locate, 22% of substance use treatment programs have specialized tracks for pregnant women.5 There are numerous protocols for detox from benzodiazepines, alcohol, opioids, and other substances. Some of the dangers of detox while pregnant can include miscarriage and fetal death so, before starting a detox program, clinicians will carefully discuss with the patient and weigh the risks and benefits of detoxification at each woman’s particular stage of pregnancy.2

Again, the question of safety with regard to detox hinges on whether or not you seek professional detox treatment.

Do I Really Need Drug & Alcohol Detox?

If you’re unsure whether you really need help during withdrawal, ask yourself some of the following questions?

  • Am I actively avoiding withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do I have physical pain when I cut back or stop?
  • Do I experience psychological distress when I’m unable to use?
  • Have I ever had thoughts of harming myself or others when I try to quit?
  • Am I physically dependent on alcohol, benzos, sedatives, or opioids?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions indicates you might need some form of drug & alcohol detox. Answering “yes” to the last question indicates a need for medical detox, as the withdrawal syndromes associated with alcohol, sedative, and opioid dependence can be quite severe.

When assessing someone for detox, addiction and medical professions gather information about your current level of usage, previous attempts to quit, and any medical and mental health conditions. 2

This information about the severity of your addiction, drug tolerance, and physical dependence helps to complete a picture of your overall well-being, as well as the risks and benefits of detox treatment. Not every person abusing alcohol or other drugs will need a formalized detox program, but many will require specialized treatment based on their unique situation and current health.

In either case, Be careful about making assumptions about the best treatments for you or someone you love. It is both smart and safe to get the advice of a medical professional.

Medically-Assisted Detox Near Me

The good news for you reading this is that there are plenty of detox centers throughout the United States providing medically supervised detox. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of detox and inpatient treatment in the United States with twelve locations across the country. That means there’s always a local American Addiction Centers option or one close by available for you.

If you’re wondering how to get into detox at an American Addiction Centers facility, the answer is simple. Call our detox hotline. You’ll start by speaking with one of our team members and we’ll work with you to understand your situation and craft a personalized detox treatment plan for you.