Drug Detoxification Explained

Drug Detoxification Explained

Drug Detoxification Explained

What is Drug Detox?

Drugs have an extensive impact on both your brain and your body. When you use for months or years at a time, they affect you in a number of ways. Eventually your body develops both a physical and psychological dependence on the drugs you use. As a result, you’ll experience various physical and psychological symptoms if you suddenly stop using them.


The drug detoxification period refers to the days and weeks after you first stop using. Your body needs to cleanse itself of the harmful substances you put into it. This results in a variety of reactions referred to as withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms range from mildly uncomfortable to dangerous and life threatening depending on the types of drugs used.


Drug detoxification programs help addicts in early recovery through the detox and withdrawal period. Certified professionals monitor newly clean and sober individuals and to make sure they stay as safe as possible during detox.

The Drug Detox Process

Drug detox is usually the first stop for people trying to get clean. Many need assistance with getting through the withdrawal period and detox facilities provide that help. A person’s drug detox process depends completely upon a few different factors:


  • The type(s) of drugs used
  • How much a person used
  • How long a person used for
  • The condition of their overall physical health


A drug detox lasts anywhere from a few days to a full week or more. Symptoms are the most severe during the first few days while a person’s body adapts to the absence of drugs.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Again, the types of withdrawal symptoms a person experiences depend upon the same factors above. Someone who uses for many years will go through a more intense detox process than someone who used for a few months. Similarly, different drugs cause different withdrawal symptoms. For example, a heroin detox is notoriously more severe than a stimulant detox.


Opioids (painkillers, heroin, codeine)

  • Agitation or frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Aches and pain in muscles
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting


Stimulants (methamphetamine and prescription stimulants)

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Soreness in muscles
  • Body tremors
  • Suicidal ideation


Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan)

  • Sedation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating
  • Hand or body tremors
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulties sleeping

Medically Managed Detox

Many drug detoxes today are medically managed programs. Also referred to as medication-assisted treatment, medically managed detoxes use medication as a part of treatment. Various prescription drugs exist to relieve the more serious withdrawal symptoms people experience.


The types of medication used during detox depend on the drugs a person used. Methadone and buprenorphine are two medications used to help people coming off of opioids. Benzodiazepines help individuals withdrawing from stimulant drugs. People with a benzodiazepine often benefit most from treatment involving a benzodiazepine taper plan.

“Cold Turkey” Detox

A “cold turkey” detox refers to the process someone goes through when they completely quit using without any assistance. They don’t go to a detox program or seek any type of medical help. They “white knuckle” it through the withdrawal symptoms on their own.


This isn’t the smartest or safest idea. Some withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and the risk of relapse is much higher. While detoxing from some drugs like amphetamines or club drugs aren’t necessarily fatal, opioid withdrawals pose an incredible risk. It’s a better idea to first consult a medical professional if you plan to quit using cold turkey.

Does Detox Keep You Sober?

Drug detox helps a person make it through the detoxification process successfully. This is far from the end of the treatment process, though. Detox is only the first step towards staying clean and sober. You can’t address the root causes of your addiction until you separate completely from drugs.


Attending an inpatient treatment program after drug detox gives you the support necessary during early recovery. While there is no true cure for addiction, addiction treatment gives you the tools to help you stay away from drugs. You work on and develop alternative coping skills and ways to manage things that put you at risk of relapse.


Rather than relying solely on drug detox to get sober, follow up your detox program with a well-rounded treatment program. Surround yourself with others on the same journey as you. Seek the support that you deserve, that will help you finally find freedom from your addiction.