Detox for Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Detox treatment is often the first part of a larger addiction treatment program. Learn how it can help you stabilize and prepare for your rehab program.
Those who are struggling with a substance use disorder and are seeking treatment often find that detoxification, or detox for short, is a common starting point. Professional detox can be an important first step in the continuum of care that comprises the addiction treatment process. In other words, detox is the first step to entering professional addiction treatment. Depending on your needs, there are different types of detox that can be useful. Although people can participate in non-medical forms of detox, medical detox can be one of the more helpful ways of dealing with withdrawal side effects that occur during the detox process. Medical detox can be especially beneficial in certain cases, such as if you have co-occurring conditions or are withdrawing from specific substances that require medication to manage dangerous or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.1
During medical detox, you will receive medical care and supervision from qualified professionals, including physicians, nurses, and other staff who know how to help minimize withdrawal symptoms and ensure your comfort and safety throughout the process.1 If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, you may benefit from learning more about what happens during detox and how you can enter a detox treatment center near you.
What Is Detox?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines detox as a set of interventions designed to manage acute intoxication, minimize harm caused by substances, and help clear your body from toxins caused by substance use.1 Detox can be an important first step in the recovery process because it can help you to reach medical stability in preparation for a comprehensive treatment program.1
Detox involves three key phases, which includes:1, 2
- Evaluation. You will receive a thorough medical and psychiatric assessment that also takes into account other important areas and concerns in your life, such as your living situation, support system, previous relapses, and your potential for serious withdrawal symptoms or complications.
- Stabilization. This phase of treatment comprises the bulk of the detox process and will involve the withdrawal process. You may receive medications (if appropriate) to help minimize withdrawal symptoms, and you’ll receive support and monitoring to help you stay safe and comfortable.
- Fostering entry to treatment. This final step of detox will provide you with assistance with entering into an appropriate rehab facility for ongoing addiction treatment once detox has been completed.
What Withdrawal Symptoms Will I Experience During Detox?
It is understandable to be concerned about the withdrawal side effects associated with detox from alcohol or other substances. Generally speaking, people can experience different types of withdrawal symptoms depending on a variety of factors, such as:1, 3
- Your age.
- Your overall level of physical and mental health.
- The specific substance(s) you used.
- The amount you used and the length of time you used it.
- Whether you have any co-occurring medical or psychiatric conditions.
- Whether you have had previous withdrawals or complications during withdrawal, such as seizures, hallucinations, or delirium.
While withdrawal from different substances can vary, common symptoms tend to include:1 p.224
- Sleep problems.
- Appetite changes.
- Mood disturbances, such as depression or anxiety.
- Changes in energy levels.
- Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or other gastrointestinal complaints.
In some cases, untreated withdrawal from certain substances can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications, such as seizures, delirium, and possibly coma or death.1 Medically managed detox treatment can help reduce the risk posed by severe withdrawal symptoms.
What Are Dangers of Detoxing At Home?
While many may want to detox at home, you should understand that it is generally not advisable. As mentioned above, you may have a risk of developing severe complications that could lead to life-threatening situations, and you will not have immediate access to medical attention and medication, should the need arise. This can make detoxing at home a dangerous and ill-advised practice.1
There is also the potential for relapse, as uncomfortable and distressing withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage and withstand. Being monitored at a drug detox program can help keep you safe, especially if severe withdrawal symptoms arise. Medications can help minimize withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.4
Types of Drug and Alcohol Detox Programs
You can attend detox in different settings. The setting and type of drug or alcohol detox program that is most suitable for you can depend on your needs, including the extent of your substance use, whether you have a supportive home environment, and your readiness to change.1 Common settings for detox include:1
- Inpatient detox:. This means that you live onsite at a detox facility. Inpatient care can vary in intensity. Some non-medical inpatient facilities that advocate a social detox philosophy rely on social and peer support and offer minimal medical oversight. Other inpatient medical detox settings, such as hospitals or specialty inpatient detox facilities, offer round-the-clock medical care and supervision. Many people, including those with severe addictions, those deemed to have a high risk of complications or severe withdrawal symptoms (like seizures or delirium tremens), as well as those who have co-occurring psychiatric conditions, are good candidates for inpatient medical detox.
- Medical detox: This is a medically-supervised form of detox. Most medical detox programs will provide 24/7 access to medical staff. Many medical detox facilities offer medications as needed to help manage withdrawal symptoms and can address complications or treat co-occurring symptoms that may arise. You can undergo medical detox as an inpatient or outpatient. It’s important to note that SAMHSA advises hospitalization or some form of 24-hour medical care for people detoxing from alcohol, opioids, and sedative-hypnotics (like benzodiazepines) due to the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Outpatient detox: This means that you live at home and travel on a regular schedule to a detox treatment center. Outpatient detox can be useful for many people, including those who have supportive home environments, those experiencing mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms, those who do not require a high level of supervision, or those who do not need care for other medical issues.
What Happens After Detox?
Detox is the first stage of the recovery process. After detox, people are advised to enter some type of formal addiction treatment. In most cases, this means attending a private or state-funded drug and alcohol rehab program in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. Professional treatment is designed to address the issues that contributed to substance use, help strengthen your ability to stay in recovery, teach the skills you need to stay sober, and help you develop healthier ways of coping with relapse triggers. SAMHSA explains that a successful detox process can be partly measured by whether a person enters, remains in, and is compliant with substance abuse treatment protocols after detox has been completed.1
How to Find Detox Treatment Centers Near Me
If you or a loved one are interested in starting the detox process, you might begin by speaking to your physician. They can conduct an evaluation to help determine the right detox placement for your needs, and possibly give you a referral. You can also find detox treatment centers near you using FindTreatment.gov or a national detox directory like the one offered on detox.net. You can call detox centers to ask any questions you may have, about availability, payment options, or amenities among other things.5
There are also addiction helplines that can answer questions, address concerns, and help you get started in the detox process. American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers a free, confidential 24/7 detox hotline available at that is specifically designed to help you figure out your next steps.