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Detox for drug and alcohol abuse is a vital part of addiction recovery and treatment, as it helps an individual overcome the symptoms of dependence and withdrawal. However, one must also go through rehab or addiction treatment in order to fully recover from a substance use disorder.

What Is Detox?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Detoxification is the process of allowing the body to rid itself of a drug while managing the symptoms of withdrawal.” When a person chooses to be admitted into a detox program, they will receive treatments for their withdrawal symptoms as a way of transitioning into recovery and putting an end to their dependence on drugs.

Withdrawal is often uncomfortable, painful, and in some cases, even life-threatening. As a result, detox can help people get through the process safely and more easily than if they tried to go through it on their own.

What Happens in Detox?


Detox center staff work hard to provide effective medical treatment.

In a detox treatment center, patients are given medications to treat their withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes, they will be weaned off a similar drug, like in the case of benzodiazepine withdrawal. Other times, like in the case of alcohol withdrawal, they will be treated with medications that can sedate them so they will not experience the severe effects of the syndrome.

Depending on the drug of abuse and the severity of one’s symptoms, a detox could take anywhere from a few days to a week to a month or longer. One must be allowed to go through the process at their individualized pace depending on their specific situation.

What Medications Are Used in Detox?

Different medications are used to treat different withdrawal syndromes created by different drugs.


Anticraving agents, antipsychotics, and antidepressants may all be necessary for treating stimulant withdrawal.


Methadone and buprenorphine are often used to treat opioid withdrawal, and the individual may choose to stay maintained on these drugs afterward. Sometimes the drug clonidine is used as an opioid detox drug as well.

CNS depressants

Usually, other CNS depressants are used to treat one’s withdrawal symptoms. The patient is often weaned off them slowly because of the severity of the symptoms.


Benzodiazepines are often used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms, allowing the patient to be sedated during their detox.

Types of Detox Centers

There are two different types of detox centers: outpatient and inpatient. When a person chooses outpatient care, they will usually go to a facility several times a week (sometimes more) in order to receive their medication and be checked up on by a doctor. In contrast, individuals who choose inpatient care will receive treatment in a 24-hour facility.

Individuals who require inpatient detox often have worse issues than those who only require outpatient care.

  • Many times, the symptoms of withdrawal can be extremely severe, even deadly. Those recovering from alcohol, benzodiazepine, and barbiturate addiction often need to be in 24-hour care because of the intensity of the symptoms.
  • Cocaine and other types of stimulants can cause severe psychological effects during withdrawal, an issue known as toxic psychosis. After a person has abused the drug for a long time, they may experience delirium, hallucinations, and homicidal/suicidal thoughts. This syndrome needs to be treated in an inpatient center.
  • People who don’t have extensive social supports may also need inpatient treatment during early recovery, according to a study in Psychiatric Quarterly. When an individual does not have people to watch over them while they’re going through withdrawal, it is best for them to be in a 24-hour facility.

Depending on the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, your needs as a patient, and your home situation, one of these choices is likely to be more suitable for your needs. In general, outpatient care is usually less expensive, but you can find inpatient centers that will fit your budget if you require this type of care.

Will I Be Cured After Going Through Detox?

No. Detox treats one’s dependence on drugs and alcohol but does not treat addiction. Therefore, it is only the “first stage of addiction treatment” (NIDA). When a person is no longer dependent on the drug they were abusing, they will still be addicted to it, which is why they will require additional treatment. If you choose detox as a safe way to start your recovery as many people do, you will need to follow up your treatment with rehab.

Transitioning from Detox to Rehab


It’s important to continue on to rehab after completing detox.

Many rehab centers start the process of recovery with detox so the transition is easier for the patient and so they will not need to move to another facility. This is often done to protect individuals from leaving detox believing they do not require extra treatment. Those who do often relapse and, because the individual does not have the same tolerance they once did, overdose.

However, if you choose to seek help from a facility specifically designed to provide detox after you decide to stop using drugs, you will need to find a rehab center to attend afterward for addiction treatment. The staff at your detox center will likely help you with this, making sure you make the safe transition.

Addiction Treatment After Detox

When you begin addiction treatment, you may continue taking the same medications you did in detox. For example, some individuals choose to stay on methadone maintenance as an option for addiction treatment. You may also choose to go on a different medication or be weaned off pharmacological treatments as a part of detox. In rehab, you will also receive access to behavioral therapies that will help change your beliefs and attitudes toward substance abuse.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Frequently Asked Questions- What is Detoxification, or “Detox”?
  2. The Psychiatric Quarterly. (1993). Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment for Substance Dependence Revisited.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Science Says- 8: Medical Detoxification. 
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