Detoxification refers to the process of clearing the system of all chemical substances. The purpose of detox in the context of addiction treatment is to provide individuals with a structured and closely monitored environment in which to undergo drug and alcohol withdrawal. Drug and alcohol withdrawal results in a range of physical and psychological symptoms which can lead to serious complications when left untreated. Before a person begins to experience symptoms of withdrawal they should check into an inpatient detox center. Here, they will have 24-hour access to professional medical and psychiatric care. Physical and mental symptoms will be addressed and effectively treated as soon as they develop.

If a person attempts to detox at home, their chances of maintaining sobriety are slim. This is partially because the intense cravings that go hand-in-hand with withdrawal often drive a person back to substance use. It is also because they will not have access to the aftercare planning services that make transitioning into the next level of care possible. To learn more about the importance of medical detox or to take this important step on your own recovery journey, contact us today.

 What is Drug & Alcohol Detoxification?

The National Library of Medicine defines detoxification as “the safe discontinuation from a substance of dependence and is distinct from relapse prevention. Detoxification usually takes between a few days and a few weeks to complete, depending on the substance being misused, the severity of dependence and the support available to the user. Psychosocial therapies alongside pharmacological treatments are essential to improve outcomes.” (1) The length of time it takes to undergo withdrawal depends on several factors, including:

  • What type of substance you were using.
  • How frequently you were using the substance, and in what amount.
  • The duration of use.
    The method of use (for example, oral ingestion versus intravenous use).
  • Whether or not you were frequently combining chemical substances (for example, drinking alcohol and taking opioid painkillers simultaneously).
  • The presence of pre-existing health or mental health conditions.
  • Your age, gender, and body weight.

Effective medical detoxification concerns more than ensuring a safe drug or alcohol withdrawal. It is important that the detox center you decide to commit to offers a combination of medication assisted treatment, therapeutic care, and aftercare planning. Detox should serve as the initial step on the road to recovery, paving the way for continued success in sobriety.


Why is Medical Detox Important?

Medical detox is important for reasons beyond safety, though the safety of the client should always be top priority. Additional benefits of medical detox include:

  • Around-the-clock access to professional medical care.
  • A range of comfort-based amenities.
  • Daily meals and access to nutritious snacks.
  • One-on-one sessions with a licensed therapist.
  • Recovery-centered group workshops.
  • An introduction to 12 Step meetings and the 12 Step program.
  • Case management services.
  • The development of a personalized aftercare plan.

How Long Does Drug & Alcohol Detoxification Take?

The duration of your stay in detox will depend largely on what type of substance(s) you were using and for how long. Generally speaking, the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms associated with some chemical substances are particularly severe. If you have been using alcohol or benzodiazepines, for example, you are at risk of high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and stroke. While withdrawal from substances like heroin, prescription painkillers, or cocaine (for example) is not typically life-threatening, physical symptoms can be harshly uncomfortable. In the vast majority of cases the detox process will take between 3 days and 2 weeks depending on your substance of choice.

A Three Part Process

Detoxification can be broken down into three distinct parts: evaluation, stabilization, and preparation. In order for drug and alcohol detox to be truly effective, all of these parts must be adequately addressed.


When you arrive at the detox center of your choosing you will undergo a detailed evaluation. You will be asked a series of questions about your personal history with substance use, your family history, and the presence of any underlying physical or psychological issues. It is important to answer these questions honestly so the medical team at the detox center is able to identify which detox methods are going to be the most beneficial to you.


During this stage of the process you will be physically stabilized. Your vitals will be checked regularly, and any physical symptoms that develop (headache, joint pain, stomach issues, etc) will be effectively treated. In most cases, the most important factor when it comes to physical stabilization is time. However, in the case of severe substance use disorders, more intensive measures might need to be taken.


During the final stage of the process, you will prepare to transition into the next appropriate level of clinical care. In most cases, this will mean preparing to transfer to a residential rehab. You might also transfer into partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, or — if you experienced a short-lived relapse after a period of sobriety — you might move home directly after detox.

Detoxification by Substance

The symptoms you experience will depend on the substance you were using.

Opioid Detox

Symptoms associated with opioid detox include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, including headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and body aches.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Profuse sweating/night sweats.
  • Intense and overwhelming drug cravings.
  • Severe abdominal cramping.

Benzodiazepine Detox

Symptoms associated with benzodiazepine detox include:

  • Abdominal cramping.
  • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Restlessness and irritability.
  • General feelings of physical discomfort.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Seizures.

Stimulant Detox

Symptoms associated with stimulant drug detox include:

  • Increased appetite.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Mood swings, often characterized by irritability.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia and other sleep-related issues.
  • Fatigue.

Alcohol Detox

Symptoms associated with alcohol detox include:

  • Uncontrollable shaking/body tremors.
  • Severe and persistent headache.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Stomach cramping.
  • Delirium tremens.
  • Hallucinations and delusions.
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia.
  • Seizures.

Marijuana Detox

Symptoms associated with marijuana detox include:

  • Irritability and agitation.
  • Mood swings.
  • Drug cravings.
  • Fatigue.
  • A lack of motivation.

Detoxification Methods

The most effective drug and alcohol detox will combine several treatment methods, including:

  • Medication Assisted Treatment — Comfort medications and antipsychotic medications are often used as part of a more comprehensive treatment program.
  • Individual & Group Therapy — Clients often have access to at least one individual therapy session as well as daily group therapy sessions, which are optional.
  • 12 Step Program Education — In many instances, 12 Step meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) will be brought into the detox center.
  • Case Management Services — Case managers are assigned to each client upon their admission to the detox center, and they serve as a client advocate.
  • Aftercare Planning — Personalized aftercare plans include a transition into a higher level of care.

Find a Detox Center Near You

When looking for a detox center near you, we encourage you to ask the following questions:

  • Am I looking for a privately operated detox center that focuses on client comfort as well as a safe, pain-free drug or alcohol withdrawal?
  • Am I prepared to take the suggestions of my clinical team as they pertain to continuing care?
  • Am I looking for a local detox center, or am I willing to travel out-of-state for a detox center that best meets my personal needs?
  • Is the detox center reputable? Is it both licensed and accredited?
  • Is the detox center part of a larger network of addiction treatment centers, making it easy for me to make a seamless transition into residential treatment?
  • Is the detox center staffed with experienced and licensed medical and therapeutic professionals?
  • Does the detox center offer individualized care?

Finding a medical detox center in your area is simple when you know what to look for. If you have never previously been to detox and you would benefit from extra guidance and support, reach out to us today.

If you or someone you love has been suffering from a substance use disorder of any kind, entering into a medical detox program will likely come as a recommended first step on the lifelong road of recovery. Finding the best detox center in your area might seem like a daunting task, but it is a task you never have to take on alone. The moment you make the decision to reclaim your life and reach out for help you will be connected with someone who will guide you through the remainder of the process. We look forward to hearing from you soon, and to answering any additional detox-related questions you might have.