Outpatient Detox for Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Learn more about drug and alcohol outpatient detox services, how long they last, what to expect, and how to find the right detox center to meet your needs.
Outpatient drug and alcohol detoxification (“detox” for short) centers are safe, supportive places where you can go through substance withdrawal with medical care and oversight while still living at home. This article will help you understand outpatient detox services, including how long they last, what to expect, and how to find the right treatment to meet your needs.
What Is Outpatient Detox for Drugs and Alcohol?
During outpatient detox, you live at home and visit a detox center at least once a week at set times. Treatment typically takes place in a doctor’s office, clinic, or standalone substance use treatment center. In contrast, inpatient or residential detox means that you live at the treatment center for at least the length of detox. Inpatient and residential detox often offers more intense medical oversight than outpatient detox.2
Detox is the first step in the recovery process for substance use disorders (SUDs). By itself, it does little to change the thoughts and behaviors that led to an SUD in the first place.1,3 But it can help you more safely and comfortably get through withdrawal and may better position a person as they set out to begin long-term treatment.
Withdrawal happens when you are dependent on a substance. Dependence means that your body has adapted to the presence of the substance so that if you suddenly stop using it or greatly reduce your dose, it causes withdrawal symptoms.3 While each substance can have different withdrawal symptoms, symptoms are generally the opposite of the drug you were taking. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms include:4
- Sleep issues.
- Appetite changes.
- Muscle or bone pain.
- Depressed mood, anxiety, or other mood changes.
- Drug cravings.
- Stomach problems, such as nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Outpatient detox can help you manage these and any other withdrawal symptoms you may face while keeping you as comfortable as possible and, above all, safe.3
Is Outpatient Detox Right for Me?
There are many different factors to think about when choosing the right detox setting. Effective treatment addresses not only drug use, but considers other needs that may be related to your drug use, such as job, legal, and social support. Your doctor can help you decide whether outpatient detox is right for you. Some factors you may consider together include:2
- The substance(s) you use: Withdrawal from some substances has greater health risks than others. If you are withdrawing from alcohol, sedatives (benzodiazepines), or opioids—especially if you take more than one of these 3 types often—you may benefit from detox that offers 24-hour medical care.2
- Your overall health: This can include your age as well as whether you have other mental or physical health issues (called “co-occurring disorders”). If you have certain co-occurring mental or physical health disorders, you may need a higher level of care than outpatient detox offers.
- Your living situation: In general, it is helpful to have a supportive home environment if you want to detox at an outpatient clinic. You may have a better chance at success if you can return home at night to a place where you won’t be tempted to use drugs or alcohol.
- Your withdrawal and relapse history: When you start using substances again after a period of not using, this is called relapse. People with a history of relapse are generally advised to go through inpatient or residential medical detox. Likewise, if you’ve had severe withdrawal symptoms in the past, such as delirium tremens or seizures, it is generally advised that you detox in a more medically intensive inpatient setting.
- Travel needs: In an outpatient program, you need to arrive at your appointments on time every day.
What is the Outpatient Detox Process?
During outpatient detox, you go to scheduled appointments during the day one or more times per week and return home at night. Common outpatient settings include a doctor’s office, outpatient clinic, and substance use treatment centers. Your care team may include doctors, physician assistants (PAs), nurses, counselors, and other certified professionals.2
You and your care team will create a personal treatment plan to meet your recovery needs. This plan is based on many factors, including:
- Your mental and physical health.
- Your age and gender.
- The substances you use and how often you use them.
This treatment plan may include medicines to help manage your withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and help you stay comfortable and safe.3,6 Your care team may also give you medicines to treat withdrawal-related symptoms that can appear during detox, such as insomnia, headache, or muscle or bone pain. Some common detox medicines include:2,3,5,9
- Buprenorphine or methadone help ease cravings and reduce symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
- Lofexidine and clonidine may also be used to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines help prevent or manage seizure or other withdrawal symptoms in alcohol and benzodiazepine SUDs.
Beyond giving medicines, your care team may also keep an eye on your physical health and mental well-being as you progress through withdrawal. They can also help you find long-term treatment for after you have completed the withdrawal process.2
How Long Does Outpatient Detox Last?
The length of outpatient detox varies widely. It depends on many things, including:2
- Your overall health.
- The substance(s) you use.
- How long you have been using.
- If you have any co-occurring medical or mental health disorders.
- Your risk of relapse.
In general, outpatient detox programs tend to last for the length of your withdrawal symptoms. This can vary by substance, but typically lasts about a week.7 Some substances take longer to detox from, such as benzos and methadone.2,7,8
Remember that detox is only the first step in the recovery process.6 After detox is complete, a professional addiction rehab or treatment program can help you learn the skills you’ll need to change your patterns of drug use.3 This may include an inpatient stay, outpatient treatment, or mutual help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or SMART Recovery.
How to Find Outpatient Detox Centers Near Me
The best way to find an outpatient detox center near you is to first speak with your physician. They can assess your needs and provide you a referral to a suitable detox or rehab center. Additionally, there are many ways to find treatment centers and learn about their offerings online. SAMHSA.gov offers a treatment locating option. Similarly, detox.net offers a national directory focused on helping you find a detox center near by. If you would like to speak with someone on the phone, many treatment centers operate confidential hotlines to answer questions about treatment. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading nationwide provider of detox services across the U.S. and operates a free and confidential 24/7 detox hotline available at any time, day or night.