what happens in detox

What Happens in Detox?

Anyone who has made the courageous attempt to detox from drug or alcohol addiction alone is likely to have been humbled by the experience.  Not anticipating the intense discomfort that detox involves can lead to disappointment and feelings of despair unless guided and supported by addiction professionals.  Any hope of completing the detox process without relapsing, just to arrest the suffering, is short-lived without the help of others.

By knowing ahead of time what to realistically expect about what happens in detox is key to entering the process with the right mindset and support system.  Drug or alcohol detox is a prerequisite to recovery, providing the foundation upon which active treatment can build.  Having a big picture view of the process will help one keep perspective about reaching the end goal—a clean and sober life of joy and productivity.

So What Happens in Detox Exactly?

The detox process is the first step of the recovery journey.  Whether an individual opts for outpatient addiction treatment or an inpatient program will be dependent upon the severity and history of the substance addiction, but regardless of the program selected, detoxification is always required.  Whichever program is selected will begin the process with both an intake interview and a medical evaluation to determine your unique treatment needs.  The addiction specialists will be guiding you throughout the detox and recovery process.

A medically supervised detox will be tailored according to the substance of abuse, as certain features of withdrawal symptoms are more pronounced with certain substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines.  Those two drugs can be particularly dangerous to detox from so additional support measures will be taken.

During detox, the goal is to attempt to relax, remain hydrated, and attempt to rest or sleep while the body purges the toxic substance from the body.  What happens in detox involves care providers who will monitor withdrawal symptoms and vitals, and administer medications as needed to help manage the discomfort as much as possible.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Each type of drug of abuse will have unique withdrawal symptoms associated with it.  In general, withdrawal symptoms commence between 6-18 hours after the last dosing or drink, peak on days 2-4, and slowly subside.  Withdrawal symptoms may include:

Heroin or opioids detox:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Vomiting
  • Sweats
  • Goose bumps
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

Alcohol Detox:

  • Sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Stomach distress
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Delirium tremens (DTs): Hallucinations, disorientations, seizures


  • Agitation
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tingling sensation
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Seizures

Cocaine or Methamphetamine:

  • Agitation
  • Night sweats
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Clammy skin
  • Disorientation
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Change in eating habits

Treating Withdrawals

Those who attempt to detox without medical supervision are likely to return to drug or alcohol use just to stop the pain and discomfort of the withdrawals.  In a supervised detox, medications are generously provided to help diminish the level of discomfort of the detox process.  Over the counter medications can help provide relief for the stomach distress, diarrhea, and nausea, as well as muscle and joint pain.  Prescribed medications, such as Ativan, can be useful in alcohol detox, helping to relieve anxiety and increased heart rate, as well as prevent seizures.

Medically assisted detox can involve the use of drugs that act to block or reduce drug and alcohol cravings and also help minimize withdrawal symptoms.  These drugs are usually prescribed for a finite period of time to assist the individual avoid relapse in early recovery.  The drugs include Suboxone, buprenorphine, Naltrexone, and methadone.

The Treatment Specialist Can Match Your Detox Needs with a Quality Rehab

The Treatment Specialist offers people seeking drug or alcohol detox a free treatment locator service to help expedite the time it takes to find a high quality detox provider.  The addiction specialists will offer a free, confidential assessment that can help them match your particular detox needs with the best program.  Also provided is a free insurance benefit analysis to determine your plan’s coverage for addiction treatment services.  For more information about what happens in detox, contact The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.

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