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How Does Drug and Alcohol Detox Work?

Having an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol can have an impact on a person’s overall health. It can cause both physical and psychological damage. Trying to quit can be extremely dangerous, and in most cases requires specialized treatment. The process for drug and alcohol detox can be successful, but it should be done under medical supervision to avoid complications, including possible death. After detox, it is also important for an individual to consider attending a rehab program for better success in recovery.

According to the SAMHSA, a successful detoxification process can be measured, in part, by whether an individual who is substance dependent enters, remains in, and is compliant with the treatment protocol of a substance abuse treatment/rehabilitation program after detoxification.

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How Does the Drug and Alcohol Detox Process Work?

Depending on the severity of the addiction, and other factors such as a person’s current health status -detoxing from drugs or alcohol can vary from one individual to another. A person that enters into a detox program will undergo certain criteria before the detox process begins. Some of the procedures to expect before, during and after may include:

Before detox:

An assessment will be necessary to help the medical professionals understand the severity of the drug or alcohol problem. Questions regarding the history of drug and/or alcohol used will be asked, and if any co-occurring disorders may be present that may of lead to substance abuse, and were never treated. A person will also need to undergo a physical examination to identify conditions such as malnutrition or dehydration. This helps the licensed professionals create a treatment plan that meets your needs.

During detox:

Drug and Alcohol Detox

Detox can be painful and even dangerous without medical help.

Depending on how much drugs and/or alcohol is in your system, and what damage they have done, the detox process can take from several days to several weeks, especially if your body has toxins from several substances. Medication, according to the treatment plan can be started to help ease the withdrawal symptoms associated with drug and alcohol detox. This medication also helps reduce the cravings often experienced from withdrawal- which usually cause an addict to start using drugs or alcohol again.

Medications may vary, but the most commonly used ones during detox include:


  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram

Other drugs-such as opiates:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Suboxone

Not everyone that suffers from the same disease of addiction will receive the same medication, or expect the same detox process. Some may need additional medical treatment if the severity of the addiction has caused health complications that may be irreversible. While treatment can help, it cannot be cured. Which is very important to have a follow-up plan after detox to prevent the temptation of using drugs and/or alcohol again.

Not only can alcohol, and certain drugs cause permanent damage to both physical and mental health, but the more the abuse continues -the higher the probability of it producing fatal results.

After detox:

When the toxins are out of the body, it does not mean that all is fine. Now the most important part can take place. Therapies, such as counseling, group sessions, behavior therapy, medications to help with psychological elements if necessary, and other important factors need to be addressed and followed up on. Therapy and/or a recovery program can help you to avoid relapse, and the longer you were on substances -the more help you will need after drug and alcohol detox. Those who attend and complete addiction treatment after detox have a lower risk of relapse.

Getting Help for Detoxing from Drugs and Alcohol

If you or someone you love has a drug or alcohol problem and want to quit, then the first step to consider is medically-assisted detox. It is the safest way for a person to remove the harmful toxins from drugs or alcohol, and be able to start the path to a successful recovery. It may not be easy, but it is certainly achievable. Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) and speak to a specialist at a detox center to get any questions you have answered.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment: 1 Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)- Is drug addiction treatment worth its cost?
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