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What Does Drug And Alcohol Detox Consist Of?

If you are wondering what detox is and what to expect, you have come to the right place. Drug and alcohol detox is the first step in addiction treatment, and it helps remove toxins from the body. During detox, you may experience withdrawal symptoms as your body rids itself of the substance. Various detox programs are available, so choosing the best for you is vital. Detox should always be done under the supervision of a doctor or other healthcare professional.

What is Detox?

Detoxification, or detox for short, is the first and most crucial step in overcoming addiction. It is a process that rids your body of all the toxins from drugs or alcohol. While there are many different detox methods, they all have one common goal: to help you safely withdraw from your substance of abuse.


Detox is the procedure of cleansing the body of all residues of alcohol and drugs, making it safe for the addict to enter into treatment to break their dependency. Although it isn't required by law, it's a common assumption when seeking addiction treatment.


People who are addicted to alcohol or drugs eventually develop a craving for the chemicals that are present in their systems. These compounds are progressively reduced and eliminated when detox occurs, forcing the brain to readjust to a new chemical environment. As a result, the patient may feel the uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal.


The goal of detox is to ensure the patient's safety and comfort while reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification under medical supervision and with the help of experienced professionals has the best success rate. This is often done at a dedicated detox center or facility under the supervision of medical experts. Self-detoxification hardly succeeds; in the process, the individual may suffer needless withdrawal symptoms and lose motivation.

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How Does One Go Through a Detox from Alcohol or Drugs With Medical Help?

Medically Reviewed:


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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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1. Evaluating the Health of a Person

One of the first things to happen in a medically supervised detox is a complete medical evaluation of the patient to determine their specific requirements. During this evaluation, a professional will learn about a patient's health and addiction to create a unique detox program.

2. Withdrawal


Withdrawal symptoms often start when a patient's blood alcohol content (BAC) or drug concentration (COD) begins to drop. Many patients in detox may have identical indications because of the similarities between drug and alcohol withdrawal.


The duration of addiction, the specific substance involved, the user's tolerance level, the individual's consumption habits, and overall health all have a role in the onset and severity of withdrawal symptoms.


Even if a person has experienced detoxification before, it is crucial to remember that their experience will differ from anybody else's since a detox is a highly individualized process. In addition, a broad spectrum of physical and mental manifestations may accompany withdrawal.


Possible mental withdrawal symptoms are:


  • Paranoia.

  • Inability to concentrate.

  • Extreme mood swings.

  • Intense cravings for the substance.

  • Hallucinations.

  • Delirium.

  • Seizures.

  • Insomnia.

  • Depression.

  • Irritability.

  • Anxiety.

  • Confusion.

  • Agitation.


Some potential physical withdrawal signs and symptoms include:


  • Sneezing and a runny nose.

  • Fever.

  • Soreness in muscles and bones. 

  • Lethargy.

  • Nightmares. 

  • Rapidly increasing heart rate.

  • Symptoms of hypertension.

  • Headaches.

  • Discomforts like vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

  • Sweating.

  • Sharp pain in the abdomen.


3. Medication


Patients undergoing detox will be provided with carefully monitored medicines to aid in their management of withdrawal symptoms. Although no drug exists to eliminate withdrawal symptoms, some medications may assist by reducing stress and promoting restful sleep, among other benefits.

4. 24/7 Support


Studies have revealed that encouraging compassionate care is equally as crucial as medicine in facilitating effective detoxification and producing optimal patient results. As a result, everyone who goes through detox at a good center can anticipate being rigorously watched the whole time they are there—24 hours a day, seven days a week—for the length of treatment.

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Which Patients Need Detox?

People suffering from specific withdrawal symptoms may benefit most from a specialized detox program, especially medical detox. For example, persons undergoing intense alcohol, sedative-hypnotic, or narcotic withdrawal disorders may benefit most from a medical detox facility for safety and the prevention of unnecessary pain.


An in-depth evaluation by a treatment specialist is usually necessary to determine the necessity of detox, the appropriate degree of care, and the therapeutic environment in which it may be carried out effectively.

For this purpose, clinicians may use the placement criteria established by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) to evaluate various factors and choose the most appropriate detox and treatment program for each person needing assistance with substance abuse.

The Role of Medication During Detoxification

The process of withdrawal may be managed with the use of some medications. For example, treatment of alcohol withdrawal often involves the administration of a somewhat long-acting benzodiazepine to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms like restlessness and reduce the likelihood of convulsions. Anticonvulsant medicines like phenobarbital are also occasionally used for this reason.


Other drugs may alleviate some of the worst withdrawal symptoms from opioids. Treatment choices among these medications usually involve:


A medicine like methadone works on the brain's opioid receptors to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and curb urges for opioids. To ease some of the discomfort associated with opioid withdrawal, clonidine is a medicine that is not an opioid but is sometimes used.


A medicine that acts as an opioid agonist controls withdrawal symptoms while reducing the desire for opioids.


It works along the same chemical patterns as clonidine, a recently licensed drug for treating opiate withdrawal symptoms.

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What Threats Exist When Detoxing at Home or Alone?

Some people may attempt to detox on their own at home. Still, they should know that doing so without medical supervision and accessibility to potentially life-saving therapies can be dangerous. Because convulsions and even death may occur during withdrawal from substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines, detoxing by oneself can be extremely dangerous.

Although opiate withdrawal is not often life-threatening, it is possible to feel quite unpleasant during withdrawal, requiring medical intervention for issues including electrolyte abnormalities caused by severe abdominal discomfort. Relapse is another risk when attempting an opioid detox at home since the symptoms of sudden opioid withdrawal may be so painful that the individual feels compelled to use it again as soon as possible to alleviate the discomfort.

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What is detox?
How does one go through detox with medical help?
Evaluating the health of the person
24/7 Support
Which patients need detox?​​
The role of medication during detoxification
What Threats Exist When Detoxing at Home or Alone

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