What to Expect From a Drug Detox

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Drug addiction can happen more quickly than one might think, sometimes occurring within just weeks of initial usage.

Detoxing Can Be a Painful Process

Seeking treatment is considered the first step to recovering from an addiction, but it can be a daunting idea. That's because, in order to get over drug addiction, you will first need to detox the drug out of your system. And as anyone who has watched one of the many movies that detail drug addiction knows that it's a painful process.

Ahead, this article will look at what you can expect from a drug detox. Whether you're reviewing this information for yourself or a loved one, it can be beneficial to understand in advance everything that a drug detox will entail so that you can take as many actions as needed to ensure safety for you or your loved one. This article will also detail the differences between medically-assisted detoxification and a detox done at home.

What Is a Drug Detox?

A drug detox, short for detoxification, is the experience of weaning yourself off of a drug. In turn, the body releases toxins. The process of detoxing from a drug is typically thought to take place over the course of seven to ten days, but that is dependent on how much of a drug is in a person's system, as well as how long someone has been addicted to it for.

A detox may also be referred to as withdrawal, which is the body's response to no longer having a drug.

Drug detox is usually the first step in recovery from drug addiction. The idea behind this is that in order to get over an addiction, you need to first get a drug out of your system. However, this isn't always a cut-and-dry topic. For example, there are some drugs that weaning off of it slowly is safer than quitting cold turkey. In some cases, quitting cold turkey may be fatal.

But before attempting a detox, you should absolutely discuss this with a medical professional first.

Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms

Whether you choose a medically-assisted detox or choose to conduct it on your own, it's important to note that no matter which avenue you choose, the symptoms of drug detox will have similar threads.

Medical assistance offers interventions that can help reduce or mitigate some symptoms, but a person with a drug addiction may still experience symptoms.

The symptoms of drug addiction are, of course, dependent on what drug, or drugs, a person is addicted to. That said, there are many symptoms that are common during the detoxification process no matter what someone's specific addiction is. The following are frequently reported symptoms of drug detox and withdrawal:

  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Confusion/disorientation

Medically-Assisted Detox

Detoxication in a medical facility, such as a hospital or rehab center, may involve protocols that can alleviate some of the discomforts of drug detox. Also known as withdrawal management, many facilities follow specific protocols of counseling and administering helpful supplements to patients.

In situations of drug addiction to substances that are physically dangerous to stop taking cold turkey, such as opiates like heroin or oxycontin, medications such as methadone may also be employed. While death isn't common when quitting opiates, death may occur. So if you are addicted to opiates, you will need medical assistance.

Medically-assisted detox offers a level of safety through the withdrawal process that an at-home detox cannot. From having access to machines that can take your blood pressure, to licensed professionals at your side to talk you through the process, to emergency medicine available as needed, there are many reasons that medical assistance can make the detox process an easier one.

Of course, not everyone has access to state-of-the-art medical facilities that make drug detox more comfortable. Those with private insurance will likely have the best options, but no matter whether or not you are insured, you have options.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is available to help you find a treatment facility in your area. They can provide resources for people on Medicare/Medicaid about facilities that accept those programs, as well as those that have sliding scale payment options.

At-Home Drug Detox

For someone with drug addiction who is unable or unwilling to detox in a medical facility, there are still ways to mitigate some of the discomforts of drug withdrawal.

Detox should only ever be considered at home for drugs that don't produce dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

If you are addicted to a drug such as opiates that can be dangerous or even deadly to withdraw from on your own, you should not consider unsupervised detox; that should only be done in a medical facility.

Consequences of Detoxing From Dangerous Drugs at Home

Two of the biggest problems with detoxing at home from dangerous drugs are that you could give in to a craving and relapse, or you could choke on your own vomit, which can be a deadly.

Even if you are planning to detox from a drug that is deemed safe to detox from, you should still consult with a medical professional so that they can be sure you'll be safe enough to detox on your own.

Moreover, a professional can talk to you about supplements and over-the-counter medications that can mitigate some of the symptoms of your withdrawal. These will not be as strong as those available at a medical facility, but they may take the edge off of some of the more uncomfortable symptoms.

Steps to Take After Detox

Detoxing from a drug is only the first step in addiction recovery. Just because your body is no longer physically dependent on a substance does not mean that you don't still have an addiction to it.

In fact, even if you have successfully detoxed, you still run the risk of relapsing if you don't seek further help.

Going to a Treatment Center

A drug addiction treatment center is your best bet for recovering from addiction, even if you did not detox in one. Treatment centers offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, and they range in duration, taking anywhere from a few weeks to many months to complete.

Following the 12-Step Model

Many operate under the twelve-step model made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, but there are many different types in existence. While often considered spiritual or religious in nature, anyone can benefit from the twelve-step model, which emphasizes actions such as honesty, integrity, forgiveness, and service.

Drug addiction treatment might only take a matter of months, or it might go on much longer. It is commonly thought that it can take years to fully recover from an addiction. Some people remain in therapy or attend groups for years after recovering from the physical part of drug addiction.

To find a treatment center in your area, you can use SAMHSA's Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

Join a Support Group

Meeting other people who've successfully completed their detox and are working through the recovery process can help you feel like you're not alone. So, a support group can offer a safe space for you to share your feelings and experiences without judgment.

Speak to a Therapist

You might experience a range of emotions as you go through recovery. You might feel shame and guilt, or you might be nervous to discover or uncover past trauma or stressful events that led to your addiction. A mental health professional can help you navigate any of those complex feelings you might have been trying to bury or hide from.

A Word From Verywell

Recent years have seen a shift in how the public thinks about drug addiction. It's now considered a chronic health condition and is acknowledged as a real medical issue. If you are experiencing drug addiction, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You have a medical problem, and help is available to assist you in resolving it.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. The science of addiction.

  2. Hayashida M. An overview of outpatient and inpatient detoxification. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22(1):44–6.

  3. American Addiction Centers. Drug Withdrawal Symptoms, Timelines, and Treatment.

  4. NIH. Withdrawal management.

  5. National Drug & Alcohol Research Center. Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal.

  6. SAMHSA. SAMHSA’s National Helpline.

  7. American Addiction Centers. How Does Detoxing from Drugs and Alcohol Work?.

  8. Addiction Resources. Detox at Home: How to Detox From Drugs at Home Correctly.

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.