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What is Drug Detox?

Drug detox is the process that safely removes drugs from the body of a user. Detox can last from three days to several weeks, depending on the drug and the manner of detox. Drug detox centers can involve virtually any drug or combination of drugs. Similar to diet detoxes, the process of drug detox allows the body to expel drug-related toxins from the system.

red-haired woman with horn-rimmed glasses laughs thinking about drug detox

Some of the drugs that most commonly require professional assistance for detox are:

Individuals who require drug detox from these substances have used them to the point at which their bodies are physically dependent. Dependence on these drugs means that withdrawal symptoms will occur when someone stops use. Withdrawal symptoms may be mild to severe, and that depends on the individual and the nature of drug abuse prior to detox.

Drug detox is a crucial step in recovery, but it should not be the only action taken to abstain from further drug abuse.

Drug detox programs address the removal of the drug from someone’s system and does not address the actual addiction, which is the cause of continued drug abuse. Some form of addiction treatment and sober support should always follow detox from drugs of abuse.

What Happens During Drug Detox?

Most drugs of abuse have their own set of withdrawal symptoms, and some can be life-threatening without medical assistance and supervision. Although the goal of a drug detox program is to rid the body of substances and their toxins, the process can vary greatly between drugs of abuse.

Drugs like heroin and opioid painkillers present a painful and grueling set of withdrawal symptoms, but the detox process is rarely ever life-threatening. Only in cases where medical complications severely compromise the individual’s health might an opioid withdrawal be deadly.

Tranquilizers and sedative drugs like benzodiazepines and barbiturates often require a slow tapering down of dosages until such time that a full withdrawal can occur safely. In most sedative detox cases, the patient is a poly-drug abuser, so detox addresses both substances concurrently.

The length of time for a drug detox varies depending on the drug and potential complications based on individual health.

Drug Detox Programs Assist with Withdrawal Symptoms

A person can detox from any drug or substance, but the two main classes of drugs most commonly treated in drug detox are stimulants and depressants. Each class has a unique set of addictive effects on the user, and a unique set of withdrawal symptoms during detox.

The specific symptoms vary by type of drug, and the severity of the symptoms depends on individual circumstances, including:

  • Length and severity of drug use/abuse
  • Pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart, liver or lung disease
  • Co-occurring mental health issues (dual diagnosis), such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD

Opioid Detox

Opioid drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers are depressant drugs, with effects like shallowed breathing, slowed heart rate, and drowsiness. Although detox from opioids is not life-threatening, the symptoms are extremely uncomfortable. Often, withdrawal symptoms are the main reason for addicts to engage in drug-seeking behavior, to find any means to “get well.”

Withdrawal symptoms may be mild to severe and can include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Intense cravings
  • Increased anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Twitching or kicking
  • Severe headache
  • Profuse sweating
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Clammy skin
  • High blood pressure

The time it takes for the onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms depends on the severity of abuse and the type of opioids someone is abusing. Longer-acting opioid abuse means it will take longer to begin withdrawal, whereas withdrawal begins sooner with shorter-acting opioids. In most cases, opioid withdrawal symptoms peak around 24 to 36 hours and begin to subside after 72 hours into the process.

Every case at drug detox centers is a natural process occurring through the body’s metabolic process and expels toxins associated with drugs of abuse.

The only exception to this is a process called rapid opiate detox. Rapid opiate detox is only for opioids, and it is an inpatient process during which a person under general anesthetic receives an intravenous administration of naloxone which is an opioid antagonist. While under anesthesia, the naloxone flushes all opioids from the body in a matter of hours.

Although it seems like a fast way to get clean and avoid withdrawal symptoms, rapid opiate detox does not accomplish all that is promises. Rapid opiate detox has fallen out of favor in the addiction treatment community for several reasons.

  1. After completion, most patients are left feeling significant pain and cannot resume normal activity for several days, and even then, cravings often remain strong
  2. The process presents a high potential for medical complications
  3. Rapid opiate detox is very expensive and not covered by medical insurance plans

Although rapid opiate detox is not necessarily recommended, it is legal and available to those who can afford it and choose to take that route for opioid detox.

Other methods of opioid detox are medically monitored detox and medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Although MAT is not detox, it does get a patient off of short-acting and highly abusable opioids, replacing them with long-acting methadone or a long-acting buprenorphine/naloxone combination opioid marketed as Suboxone®.

MAT is growing in popularity and accessibility as a treatment option. It is suggested for a minimum of one year and requires participation in a recovery program, whether inpatient or outpatient. Methadone and buprenorphine can only be prescribed by certified medical professions who are authorized opioid treatment providers (OTP).

Medically monitored opioid detox allows the body to naturally expel opioids from the system. Drug rehab centers in Nevada use medications to make the patient more comfortable and able to endure the more severe symptoms of withdrawal.

With medical assistance the following symptoms can be managed to make opioid detox more comfortable:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe headache and body aches

Opioid detox usually lasts between five and ten days, depending on the individual and type of opioid abused.

If drugs are removed from the system naturally, some may wonder, why are drug detox programs necessary?

The reason drug detox is necessary is that there is more to it than a natural process of expulsion. Drug detox addresses withdrawal symptoms, intense cravings among them, which present uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous complications, over the course of the drug making its way out of the system.

Sedative Detox

Also known as sedative-hypnotic medications, benzodiazepines are often prescribed to treat anxiety, seizures, or sleeping disorders. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that can cause drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, difficulty breathing, slurred speech, and lack of coordination.

Detox from benzodiazepines can be dangerous, especially when attempted cold turkey and without any medical assistance or monitoring. The safest way to come off of benzodiazepines is to taper the dosage of a long-acting benzodiazepine over time slowly. This process can take several days or weeks, depending on the length and severity of abuse. It is best to do this at drug detox centers in Arizona or Nevada

Detox from benzodiazepines causes a rebound effect, which means that a person experiences the very symptoms that benzodiazepines treat, specifically insomnia and anxiety.

The full range of symptoms from a benzodiazepine withdrawal may not affect everyone, but can include:

  • Irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Muscular pain
  • Hand tremor
  • Sweating
  • Seizure
  • Concentration difficulty
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea
  • Perceptual changes
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances

Not everyone who becomes dependent on benzodiazepines will experience the same levels of withdrawal symptoms, but withdrawal symptoms tend to be more severe in people who have been abusing short-acting and more potent benzodiazepines.

Some people may experience lingering symptoms like anxiety, agitation, and insomnia for several weeks or months after detox.

Stimulant Drug Detox

All stimulant drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, amphetamines, and crack cocaine can have serious effects, and present life-threatening effects when abused. Stimulant drug detox is not life-threatening and generally takes between three and seven days to complete.

Stimulant drugs do not cause the same physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms as depressant drugs, but psychological dependence often makes detox extremely uncomfortable and challenging to endure.

The most common symptoms of detox from stimulant drugs include the following:

  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Severe mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Perceptual disturbances
  • Vivid and frightening dreams

The symptoms of stimulant drug withdrawal may not seem to be severe, but the cravings alone are enough for many addicts to relapse. Additionally, many symptoms linger for several weeks or months, after drug detox.

Drug detox is more than just removing drugs from the system; it also requires a steady and nutritious diet and lots of water to rehydrate the system.

Some people may be too sick to eat much in the initial phases of detox, and the proper nutrients depend on the drug and the individual’s health and tolerance. This is another reason why the best option for detox is with medical professionals who know what diet and foods are most beneficial based on individual circumstances.

Drug Detox is Only the Beginning

The only path to recovery from addiction to any drug begins with detox; however, drug detox centers are only the beginning. Being able to withdraw from a drug of abuse successfully does nothing to address addiction or help prevent someone from relapsing in the future.

Detox is also a grueling ordeal to endure. Physically and psychologically, someone can experience a tremendous amount of trauma during detox, and it doesn’t get any easier with repeated detoxes. The more someone experiences drug detox, the higher the risk is for complications during the process.

After completing a program at one of our drug detox centers, it is imperative to begin a drug treatment program, even if treatment has been completed in the past.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug abuse or addiction to any substance, detox is the first step but can be completely meaningless if there is no followup in a treatment program. Whether it is for you or your loved one, rehab can provide the tools, education, and skills for the addict and loved ones to find and use supports that aid in relapse prevention.

After detox, it is much easier to build a foundation for recovery with a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

Regardless of your substance abuse past or any other potential complications, Vogue Recovery can help you through our drug detox centers. We can also provide you with the tools and support to stay sober and live in recovery.

Call us 24 hours a day to speak confidentially with one of our addiction counselors about your personalized rehab and recovery plan.


Kelsey Jones vrc az

Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Jones, MS, LPC