Detox, or detoxification, clears the body of accumulated alcohol and drugs and sets the foundation for further treatment. Generally, this process is natural and relies solely on the body removing drugs and alcohol while recovery specialists manage withdrawal symptoms. However, addiction recovery specialists use medical detox to facilitate drug detox and improve recovery outcomes for persons with a long drug use history, complex addiction, or special needs.
Although detoxification removes drugs from the body and restores physical balance, detox is not a standalone treatment for addiction. Addiction recovery specialists and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommend completing a formal rehab program after detox for the best recovery outcome.
It depends. The chemical properties of drugs influence how long they stay in the body and how long they last. These properties also contribute to how long drug detox takes for different substances. For instance, stimulant detoxification takes between three and 18 days, while benzodiazepine detox time is 10 days. Meanwhile, opioids have an average detox time of six days. The timeline for drug detox will generally depend on the following factors:
Different drugs have different time frames for detoxification. Some substances may last for a few days, and others run into weeks. Also, drug detox time for injected or smoked drugs is usually longer than orally consumed drugs.
People experience chemical dependence differently. Still, persons who have been chemically dependent on a drug for longer need more time to detox compared to persons with shorter dependency history for the same drug.
Detox for persons who are chemically dependent on multiple drugs typically takes longer compared to persons who have only abused a single substance. The drug detox procedure for multiple drug dependence is complex and requires special care to ensure the client's safety and improve recovery outcomes.
Co-occurring medical or mental disorders influence drug abuse and detox. Often, these conditions lead to substance abuse in the first place, creating a special need for the person in recovery. In this case, addiction recovery specialists must manage the co-occurring disorders while helping the client detox safely. Because there is no rushing this process, clients with co-occurring conditions typically spend more time in detox than persons without co-occurring conditions.
According to a SAMHSA report, the average alcohol detox time is six days. However, this time varies with people and depends on factors like age, biological sex, the severity of dependency, co-occurring disorders, and if the person abuses other drugs.
According to the SAMHSA Detox and Treatment Protocol, drug and alcohol detox happens in three phases: evaluation, stabilization, and entry into treatment.
Evaluation is the first substance abuse treatment plan when the drug detox center tests for drugs or alcohol in the patient's bloodstream. The test measures the concentration of toxic substances and screens for co-occurring physical and mental conditions. During this phase, the drug detox center also appraises the patient's psychological, social, and medical needs to determine the appropriate level of treatment.
During the stabilization phase, the drug detox center informs the patient about what to expect during treatment and the patient's role toward full recovery. It is not uncommon to involve the patient's family, support system, or even employers at this stage. Stabilization also assists the patient medically and psychosocially until they are medically stable and substance-free. Often, stabilization even consists in administering medication.
The drug detox center prepares the patient for substance abuse treatment, and detox starts. Furthermore, addiction recovery specialists help the patient understand that drug detox is not a complete treatment and that completing a formal rehab program is important for long-term recovery. This stage is crucial for patients who have a pattern of completing detox and failing to show up for further treatment.
The symptoms experienced during detox will depend on the type of drug, although the detox process for most drugs shares similar symptoms.
The general side effects of opioid withdrawal include anxiety, high blood pressure, chills, insomnia, racing heart, abdominal cramps, bone and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The side effects of detoxification from Benzodiazepines and sedative-hypnotics are severe and sometimes life-threatening. Common side effects include seizures, delirium, sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks, palpitations, hallucinations, and tremors.
Known side effects of detoxing from stimulants include dehydration, hallucination, paranoia, depression, impaired memory, extreme weight loss, insomnia, anxiety, dulled senses, slowed speech and movement, drug craving, and fatigue.
The known side effects vary with the inhalant. For instance, aerosols' known detoxification side effects include tremors, irritability, insomnia, tingling sensation, muscle cramps, and seizures. In comparison, the common side effect of detoxing from toluene is delirium.
Nicotine addiction comes from cigarette smoking. Typical effects of withdrawing from smoking cigarettes include depression, insomnia, frustration, anger, anxiety, restlessness, decreased heart rate, and inability to concentrate.
Typical side effects of detoxing from marijuana include aggression, decreased appetite, headaches, fever, dehydration, sweating, stomach pain, anxiety, and restlessness.
Persons detoxing from steroids can have headaches, reduced libido, insomnia, joint pain, nausea, aggressive manic-like behavior, delusions, anorexia, fatigue, and diarrhea as side effects.
Common side effects of alcohol detox are nausea, vomiting, tremors, increased blood pressure, insomnia, grand mal seizures, hallucinations, fever, and delirium.
Home detox, or "quitting cold turkey," is the abrupt discontinuation of using drugs without professional assessment or supervision. Although it’s possible to drug detox at home, it is not advisable because there is a high chance of relapse. Worse still, multiple failed attempts to detox may cause the person to give up on sobriety entirely.
Rapid detox is the process of swiftly removing addictive substances from the body. Licensed physicians carry out rapid detox using medication like opioid blockers under general anesthesia. The opioid blocker speeds up the withdrawal process, while anesthesia helps the person avoid experiencing the potential side effects of withdrawal.
The goal of rapid detox is to give the patient a shorter transition time from drug dependence to sobriety. However, the risk of rapid detox outweighs the reward. Known downsides of rapid detox include chronic health risks, intense withdrawal, and relapse.
For one, the anesthesia used during rapid detox can take a toll on the body and lead to multiple organ failures or mental issues. Also, there is still the likelihood of the patient experiencing sudden withdrawal symptoms after rapid detox.
Furthermore, rapid detox is an inpatient procedure not covered under most medical insurance plans. Also, a relapse after rapid detox may lead to overdose or death as the opioid blocker removes the ecstatic high feeling from drug misusers, causing the individual to take more of the drug to get to a blissful high, leading to an overdose and eventually death.
Although detox can remove harmful substances from the body, detoxification alone is not an effective substance abuse treatment. Instead, detoxification is the first step in the addiction treatment process. Upon completion of medical detox, the patient has the following options:
MAT is an effective option to continue addiction treatment after detox, especially for persons with complex addiction history. It involves using medication, counseling, and therapy adapted to fit the patient's needs to treat substance abuse.
After detox, patients can opt for a residential, inpatient, or partial hospitalization program to access a high level of care and therapy 24 hours a day. In partial hospitalization, the patient does not have to reside where they receive care. Instead, patients receive treatment at the facility daily over a defined period.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) are structured, non-residential, and intensive addiction treatments designed for persons who need increased support. Patients using this option get intensive treatment but return home after daily treatment. They usually do not require supervision 24/7, enabling the person to continue their day-to-day activities without disruption. However, the SAMHSA does not recommend IOP for persons with a severe or prolonged history of substance abuse disorder.
It is a less restrictive option for the treatment of addiction that does not provide round-the-clock care or supervision. The patients do not have to live within the rehab facility as the facility designs the program around the individual's everyday life. Outpatient treatment provides a support system by providing medical and community care, counseling, and training to continue a life void of substance use.
Registering in a sober living program after addiction treatment can distinguish between maintaining sobriety and a relapse. Sober living programs serve as an in-between platform for inpatient treatment and the real world, making it easier for individuals to gain normalcy in their everyday life while maintaining their sobriety. Sober living homes provide the patient with an alternative from an intensive 24 hours daily inpatient care environment to an unregulated climate at home.
To find a rehab near you, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at (800) 662-4357. Operators will provide you with a free referral to find a rehab center. SAMHSA also provides a treatment facility locator that those struggling with addiction can use to find expert-reviewed rehab centers. The SAMHSA helpline is free and confidential, available at all hours of the day and night.