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Are Symptoms of Detox Harmful?


If you or a loved one are about to undergo detoxification, you may be wondering what to expect and whether or not symptoms of detox will harm you. Detoxing from drugs or alcohol can be a difficult process with many challenges, and it is important to understand what to expect before beginning your recovery journey.

What Symptoms Should You Expect?

The symptoms you experience during withdrawal and whether they are harmful depends on the drug itself. For example, diarrhea is a common symptom with opiates and with alcohol. But, only alcohol will cause delirium tremens, a severe form of tremors. The severity and number of symptoms you experience will depend on how your body specifically reacts to detoxification, so you can’t predict exactly how you’ll be affected.

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Some common symptoms, however, are:

  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

There are also mental health issues to consider, as symptoms of detox may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

Some of these mental effects may continue or linger into recovery after detox is completed. This is a normal part of the process and will pass as you heal both physically and mentally.

Are Symptoms Life Threatening?

Symptoms of Detox

Detox can cause anxiety and depression.

The answer to this varies depending on the substance from which you are detoxing, as some substances can present life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, some specific central nervous system depressants like barbiturates have dangerous withdrawal symptoms that require medical intervention. Some of these symptoms may include

  • Seizures
  • Sudden respiratory distress or decrease
  • Changes in cardiac function
  • Hallucinations

The severity of symptoms will also depend on the dosage and duration of drug use. Detox does not normally cause harm except in cases of long term usage and consistently high dosages of the drug. It can be dangerous for patients with other health issues unrelated to their drug use or who have a history of heart disease, as the stress the body experiences during withdrawal can cause complications for those conditions.

Detox will most likely be dangerous and harmful for pregnant women, as the process has been known to cause miscarriages and preterm labor.

The method of detox that is used will also impact the potential of harm. Gradual detox of opioid drugs with withdrawal management medications like methadone will not be harmful, the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience says, unless the incorrect dosage is given. Patients who are on other medications, which can cause dangerous interactions, or have adverse reactions like allergies to the medication ingredients should not use this option for their safety.

Quitting cold turkey, or completely stopping all usage, can increase the severity and onset of the symptoms. This method can also cause the person to go into shock, which carries its own risks.

Another method, rapid detox, requires placing the patient in a medically-induced coma to prevent them from feeling the effects of withdrawal. This is a highly dangerous and ineffective method that should be avoided at all cost, as it is often fatal or results in debilitating complications such as brain damage.

Since the severity of the symptoms and the patient’s circumstances can vary, always detox under the care of a licensed medical professional. With proper oversight, you will be able to detox safely and find the appropriate path to recovery.

How Can You Effectively Handle Dangerous Symptoms?

If symptoms have the potential to be so dangerous, what can you do for detoxification? Certain drugs require that you slowly decrease intake, rather than cutting off use all at once. This approach is often used to minimize the severity of some withdrawal symptoms and avoid any complications that may arise.

It is also important to understand that detoxification is not the final or only step in your recovery, as it does not guarantee sustainability. All detox should be followed by formal, structured drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment.

You can also learn valuable tricks in a detox facility for dealing with the withdrawal symptoms you do experience, which will greatly benefit you in your recovery process. Relapse, where a person resumes their drug use during recovery, is a common occurrence in detox. Many of these tricks are strategies and tools to help you recognize the signs of relapse, like cravings, and how to manage them safely.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or substance abuse and looking for recovery, call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to speak with a caring specialist about your situation. You should not have to go through this alone, and you should always take caution to ensure your safety and health while you pursue recovery.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Misuse of Prescription Drugs: How can prescription drug addiction be treated?
  2. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. (2007). Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options.
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