How Inpatient Drug Detox Works

Inpatient drug detoxification functions through the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, counselors, and volunteers to help patients get through their withdrawal syndrome and end their dependence on drugs. Of course, the patient also has to do a great deal of work too in order to get better. Inpatient drug detox often involves various treatments for a wide range of substances and an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

Inpatient drug detox is not a cure for addiction, though it can put someone on the right path to recovery and be a strong start for their treatment journey. Many treatment options and individual caregivers are a part of how inpatient drug detox works to end a person’s dependence on a harmful substance.

Why Inpatient Drug Detox?

Why do some patients attend inpatient detox while others attend outpatient detox? According to the NIAAA, “Patients for whom outpatient detoxification is not appropriate become candidates for inpatient detoxification.”

Outpatient detox is more suited for those with fewer difficulties and issues that are either results of or exacerbated by their drug use. It is also better for those with jobs and extensive social support networks.

Someone should decide to attend inpatient detox if

They are addicted to a drug or are merely dependent on a drug and:

  • Need intense, 24-hour care and surveillance concerning their detox
  • Need to be in a controlled environment while going through detox
  • Are experiencing intense psychological or physical issues as a result of their drug use or detox (IE alcohol abusers, methamphetamine and often other stimulant abusers, etc.)
  • Do not have a strong social support system at home
  • Need to be removed from a potentially dangerous environment while they go through detox

If one or more of these reasons apply to you, you should consider attending inpatient drug detox as the start of your treatment. It can really work for you if you are in need of extra help, care, or monitoring during this time.

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The First Day

Inpatient Drug Detox

Inpatient drug detox stays can last from several weeks to several months.

On your first day in an inpatient detox facility, you will likely undergo many tests and be asked questions about your drug use and abuse in order for your caregivers to decide how best to help you. You may be given drug tests, blood tests, or liver function tests, according to the NLM. At an inpatient drug detox facility, “your doctor can often diagnose… withdrawal after performing a physical exam and asking questions about your medical history and drug use.”

This is relevant if you are already experiencing withdrawal, which most people who go into detox are. Some drugs, like heroin, can cause withdrawal symptoms to begin only twelve hours after the last usage; others take even less time like alcohol which can start to cause symptoms eight hours after the individual stops drinking. Either way, your first day will often be dedicated to understanding your needs for treatment and your condition. You will also get a tour of the facility and meet the individuals who will be caring for you while in rehab, including your doctor.


Currently, there are no medications approved to treat addiction to certain drugs of abuse (including stimulants, marijuana, and many club drugs). However, there are often at least one or two medications that can help a patient with their withdrawal symptoms. Usually, those who choose inpatient detox are struggling with extreme withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid withdrawal can be treated with buprenorphine, methadone, or clonidine. All of these medications help minimize the intense withdrawal symptoms experienced by the individual in treatment including insomnia, muscle pain, anxiety, depression, and cramps. The individuals who are given drugs like buprenorphine and methadone are usually weaned off of them slowly, as are individuals who are dependent on CNS depressants and many other types of prescription drugs.

Other drugs, like stimulants, may cause a need for powerful medications like neuroleptics if the individual is undergoing intense psychosis as a result of ending their abuse of these drugs. Still more intense, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be deadly and may require sedation using medication called benzodiazepines until withdrawal is complete (NLM).


Behavioral therapies are often used as a part of the detox treatment for those in inpatient detox. There are several reasons why therapy is so important during this type of detox treatment and why it helps the program work.

  • Therapy is a necessary part of addiction rehab so attending it in detox can help patients prepare for the second part of their treatment if they are, in fact, addicted to a drug.
  • Therapy can also treat co-occurring mental disorders which are incredibly common in those who abuse and become addicted to drugs.
  • Therapy will be a necessity in the treatment of those in inpatient detox because they are usually dealing with more intense issues than their withdrawal symptoms.

If a person attends inpatient drug detox, it is usually because their withdrawal symptoms or other issues they are dealing with happen to be severe. Therapy can help them work through those issues in a way that medication cannot do.

Therapy helps make a person’s stay in inpatient drug detox easier and more successful, especially if they need to move onto formal addiction treatment afterward. It eases their transition and also helps them consider what they need to do to get better.

The Timeline

According to the SIUH, “Most patients can be successfully treated within a three to six day period but the length of stay is determined on an individual basis depending on the substance of abuse, its frequency and the amount, and any concurrent medical or psychiatric issues that may arise.” The timetable can variate depending on the individual and their needs, but treatment should be consistent with what is helping the individual. This means, if changes need to be made to the timeline for the good of the patient’s recovery, they will be.

Inpatient drug detox works by medical professionals and patients working together to end patients’ dependence on harmful drugs. It helps patients transition into addiction treatment and minimizes their withdrawal symptoms in order to make them more bearable before they finally end. A patient stays at the facility which is incredibly important as they need the extra boundaries and structure to better recover from drug dependence.

Need help finding an inpatient drug detox center? Search our directory or call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to speak with a caring treatment specialist today!

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