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What Is Drug Detox And What Can You Expect?


One of the first steps in the recovery process is known as detoxification, or withdrawal as some refer to it as. Treatment for addiction cannot really go anywhere until the detox process is complete. But what is drug detox? Detox can be scary, as many do not actually know what it entails and what they should expect to happen during the process.

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The Detoxification Process

Detoxification is defined by the NIDA as the process where the body rids itself of the drug or substance the person is addicted to. It is usually done as the first step in the treatment process and the bulk of the recovery process will follow a complete detox.

Keep in mind that detox alone is not a form of treatment, but a key part of a full treatment plan. There are three general methods of detox: “cold turkey”, short-term medical, and long-term medicated detox. “Cold turkey” detox is one that most people are familiar with, where all drug and substance usage is stopped, with no pharmaceutical assistance through the process.

Short-term & long-term are gradual versions of the detox process, with medication being administered to help with the withdrawal symptoms. Long-term detox is usually recommended for users of opiates and prescription painkillers, with medications like methadone being administered to combat withdrawal.

The detoxification process can be done in a rehabilitation facility, at a hospital, or at home. However, it is best to not go through the process alone for the sake of safety, as complications from the addiction may arise or worsen during detox. Consult a medical professional before beginning the process and make sure that there is a plan in place in case something goes wrong.

What’s Normal?

What Is Drug Detox

Heroin detox is known for causing some of the worst withdrawal symptoms.

The experience of detox is different for every person. One person might experience withdrawal symptoms that are completely different from the next person. The amount of time that detox can take will vary based on how much of the drug is currently in the person’s system at the start of the process.

Withdrawal symptoms will depend on the type of drug, but will usually start around 12 hours after the last dose of the drug. The DEA states that each drug has a different effect on a person, so this is understandable.

Heroin withdrawal, for example, can present symptoms of muscle and bone pain, vomiting, cold flashes, insomnia, and restlessness. The physical symptoms may last for several days, depending on the drug. There are psychological symptoms of withdrawal, like dysphoria and depression, which may last for several weeks.

What Should You Worry About?

Before detox begins, you should have a full medical assessment in order to identify any co-occurring conditions or complications of the addiction. Addiction wears away at the body, and being unprepared for the damage can cause more problems during detox. The more damage done by addiction, the higher the chances of complications occurring.

The person going through the detox should be monitored throughout the process, possibly with a medical professional on standby if emergency medical care is needed.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and wants to know more about the treatment process, then consider calling 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) . You will be able to speak with somone about what your options are and get more information about your recovery.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Frequently Asked Questions:What is Detoxification, or “detox”?
  2. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Drug Facts.
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