Understanding what is drug detox is crucial when someone struggles with substance abuse issues, drug detox is often the first step in the recovery process. However, detoxing alone can be difficult due to the withdrawal symptoms that kick in once drug usage stops. Withdrawal symptoms make it challenging to stay away from drugs or alcohol, and they can be dangerous.

If you’re trying to end an alcohol or drug abuse problem, medical detox may be the answer. Learn what drug detox is and how it can help you overcome a substance use disorder.

Doctor handing medication to patient concept image for what is drug detox


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The Importance of Understanding Drug Detox

Drug or alcohol detox is the process of purging harmful substances from the body. When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, their body adapts to having that substance in its system. Once drug usage reduces or stops, the brain struggles to adjust to the change in chemicals, resulting in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Everyone experiences withdrawal differently based on factors such as:

  • Type of substance used
  • Duration and severity of addiction
  • Method of drug usage, including snorting, smoking, injecting or swallowing
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Family history of substance abuse

Medically supervised detox is the most effective form of detox. It’s administered under the care and supervision of trained medical professionals, who can monitor your symptoms and adjust your treatment plan as needed. They can also prescribe medications to reduce severe withdrawal symptoms and enable safety and comfort.

The Phases of Drug Detoxification

Detox and drug withdrawal symptoms can present differently to different individuals, emphasizing the importance of personalized treatment. Inpatient detoxification is typically broken down into phases to ensure safe, appropriate care.

Medical Evaluation

The first step in a drug and alcohol detox program is undergoing a medical evaluation to understand your needs. Doctors perform tests to determine the amount of drugs in your system and what level of medication is needed to ease withdrawal symptoms. They also gather information about your medical and addiction history to establish a long-term substance abuse treatment plan.

Drug or Alcohol Withdrawal

The next step in the drug detox process is to stabilize your condition. The goal of this stage is to help patients successfully navigate withdrawal through medications or counseling and move to the next treatment phase.

How soon withdrawal symptoms begin after your last dosage depends on the drug taken. For example, alcohol withdrawal symptoms may occur after a few hours or days, while opioid withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 8 to 24 hours. Exact physical and psychological symptoms vary depending on the type of drug but commonly include:

  • Shaking and shivering
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • High temperatures
  • Muscle pain or cramps
  • Confusion, anxiety or irritability
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Intense drug cravings

On average, withdrawal lasts between 7 and 10 days. However, the exact timeline varies depending on the intensity of drug or alcohol consumption and the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Side Effects of Drug Detox

Medically assisted detox is designed to minimize withdrawal symptoms, but you may still experience side effects as your body adjusts to the lack of drugs or alcohol. Common side effects people experience during detox include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety, depression or nervousness
  • Flu-like symptoms, including headaches, nausea or shaking
  • Poor sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Drug cravings
Man with mood swings during detox, showing withdrawal symptoms and management

The Risks of Detoxing at Home

Some people try detoxing at home because they’re afraid of the stigma associated with addiction and seeking treatment. Others see it as a quick, easy solution to their drug abuse issues, especially because some companies promote low-cost, at-home rapid drug detox treatments. However, detoxing at home can be dangerous and isn’t recommended as a substitute for an inpatient detox program.

Why Professional Detox Is Recommended

Inpatient detox programs provide controlled environments supervised by medical professionals who can intervene if anything goes wrong. Additionally, they minimize access to harmful influences or substances, preventing individuals from succumbing to cravings during withdrawal.

If cravings or other symptoms become unbearable, detox specialists can prescribe medications to enhance comfort. They can also connect you with support services, including counseling and aftercare, to help sustain recovery and treat underlying mental health issues contributing to substance abuse.

Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey

Quitting drugs cold turkey may seem like an effective way to end addiction, but it carries serious risks. Some substances can cause potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, including seizures or heart problems. Your body also loses its tolerance to a drug once usage stops. If you relapse and consume the amount you were used to taking, your risk of overdosing increases. However, drug detox programs can help eliminate these risks.

After Detox: Next Steps in Addiction Treatment

Detox is only the first step in substance abuse treatment. Many individuals choose to enter addiction treatment programs, including outpatient or inpatient rehab, after detoxification.

Transitioning From Detox to Rehab

At the end of the detoxification process, a doctor can help you prepare for an alcohol or drug addiction treatment program. An inpatient treatment center offers the best chance of sustaining recovery due to its controlled environment and 24-hour medical supervision. However, attending outpatient services, including therapy or support groups, can also help if you have a supportive, stable home environment.

The Importance of Continued Care

Attending treatment after a detoxification program can help prevent relapse and illuminate factors influencing alcohol or drug use. Often, people use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate negative emotions or symptoms of underlying mental health issues.

Attending a treatment program offering therapy, support groups or relapse prevention training can help you better regulate emotions, gain healthier coping skills and overcome problematic substance dependence habits for good.

How to Find a Detox Center Near You

If you’re struggling with an addiction and worried you may experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit, seek medical detox services. At Camelback Recovery, our drug detox programs assist individuals throughout Arizona and the greater Phoenix area. Contact us today at 602-466-9880 to find a detox center near you and get the help you need.