What Happens in Drug Addiction Detox?

Published: 03/1/2015 | Author:

For most addicts, the mere thought of drug addiction detox can seem overwhelming considering the uncomfortable changes this stage of recovery brings. Knowing a little bit about what to expect beforehand can help make drug addiction detox more bearable.

The damaging effects of chronic drug abuse on the body leave addicts in a diminished functional capacity. In actuality, many who enter the recovery process also struggle with mental health problems brought on by months or years of drug use.

Drug addiction detox treatment follows well-established guidelines and procedures all designed to improve a person’s chances of a successful detox period while ensuring his or her safety along the way. According to SAMHSA, detox treatment programs can employ a range of different detox methods based on each person’s individual treatment needs.

Considering the wide variety of addictive drugs on the market, any one person’s treatment needs can vary depending on his or her drug of choice as well as on other factors that influence recovery outcome. While the overall objective of drug addiction detox works to help addicts break the body’s physical dependency on drugs, these programs also help a person work through the psychological hold drug addiction has on his or her life.

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Drug Addiction’s Effects

Most every type of addictive drug gains easy access to the brain’s chemical workings. Brain neurotransmitter chemicals regulate most every bodily function. This means, the slightest chemical imbalance can wreak havoc on any number of the body’s various processes.

Brain chemicals most affected by drug abuse include –

  • Dopamine
  • Glutamate
  • Serotonin
  • GABA
  • Norepinephrine

When used on a regular basis, addictive substances cause widespread brain chemical imbalances and eventually bring about actual brain cell damage. In effect, what starts out as a casual indulgence can quickly turn into the full-blown medical condition that characterizes drug addiction. For these reasons, drug addiction detox programs take a medical approach in treating drug addiction problems.

The Need for Detox

Drug Addiction Detox

Drug cravings make it difficult to quit without professional detox help.

By the time a person becomes addicted to drugs, the brain has entered into a disease-like state. Not unlike other types of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, drug addiction acts as a chronic, progressive disease that diminishes a person’s physical and psychological well-being.

In spite of the damaging effects of drugs, the brain has come to rely on their effects to function. In the process, the addict develops incessant drug cravings that only grow worse with continued drug use.

Drug addiction detox entails eliminating the disease catalyst (drugs) and providing whatever types of supports are needed to help restore brain functions back to normal. In most every situation, drug addiction detox becomes a mandatory first step towards overcoming drug addiction.

According to the New York State Department of Health, drug addiction detox programs provide intensive treatment care and round-the-clock monitoring to ensure the overall safety of their patients. These programs can run anywhere from two weeks to one month in duration depending on a person’s specific treatment needs.

Withdrawal Treatment

Long-time addicts well know how uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can be. Most also know much of the reason why they continue to use drugs is to ward off withdrawal effects.

The actual drug addiction detox experience can vary from person to person depending on –

  • The type of drug involved
  • How often a person uses
  • Length of use
  • The presence or absence of any physical or psychological problems

More specifically, the types of withdrawal symptoms to expect with different types of drugs include –

  • For stimulants – depression, fatigue, extreme irritation, episodes of rage
  • For opiates – muscle aches and pains, insomnia, mood swings, depression, nausea
  • For hallucinogens – tremors, lack of emotional experience, stupor-state, agitation, disorientation
  • For sedatives – seizures, anxiety episodes, rapid heart rates, abdominal cramping

In effect, the drug addiction detox experience can give rise to life-threatening withdrawal effects as well as continual discomfort and emotional unease.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Conditions

People with long histories of drug abuse often develop other psychological and/or physical problems as a result of chronic drug use. Any form of drug addiction can gradually wear away at the body’s defenses, weakening physical structures and interfering with essential bodily processes. Likewise, the effects of drug abuse on the brain’s chemical imbalance can easily predispose a person to developing psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

The presence of co-occurring conditions only makes withdrawal effects worse, and in turn greatly increases the likelihood of relapse. For these reasons, drug addiction detox programs offer behavioral and medication-based treatment for co-occurring conditions as part of the overall treatment process.

Medication Therapies

For people coming off chronic addiction problems, damage done to the brain’s chemical functions and structures makes it all but impossible for a person to make it through the detox stage, let alone maintain abstinence for any length of time. Drug addiction detox programs administer various medication therapies to help counteract the damaging effects of long-term drug use.

Medication therapies exist for both opiate and alcohol-based addictions. The types of medications used target specific areas of the brain and essentially support damaged brain functions.

Medications commonly used by drug addiction detox programs include –

Behavioral Treatment Interventions

While making a person as comfortable as possible remains a primary objective for drug addiction detox treatment, addressing the underlying issues that drive drug-using behaviors is also an important part of the drug addiction detox process. Behavioral treatment interventions use various methods for helping recovering addicts confront and work through addiction’s psychological components.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox programs employ a variety of behavioral approaches based on how well a person progresses through detox as well as on his or her own treatment needs. Behavioral interventions commonly used include –

  • Support group work
  • Drug education counseling
  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Stress management
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy

Ultimately, behavioral treatment interventions enable addicts to get to the heart of their addiction problems and develop healthy coping skills for dealing with everyday life.

All in all, drug addiction detox treatment programs offer a person the best chance of gaining a firm foundation in the recovery process.

We can help you find the best drug addiction detox center for your needs; call 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) today!


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment: 1 Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification- Guiding Principles in Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
  2. New York State Department of Health. (2008). What is Addiction Treatment?
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)- Principles of Effective Treatment.
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