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Drug and Alcohol Detox

Detoxing from alcohol and drugs can be a dangerous and potentially life-threatening process. However, medication-assisted drug and alcohol detox programs can make the process easier by reducing withdrawal symptoms and providing emotional support for cravings. This helps ensure a patient’s safety and comfort during detox.

What is Detox?

Detox, formally known as detoxification, is the natural process the body goes through in order to remove drugs, alcohol, and other toxins from the system. Although detoxification is a natural process, cleansing the body of drugs and alcohol can be a dangerous one if attempted without medical assistance. That is why people detoxing from drugs or alcohol should attend a medical detox facility so they can obtain assistance in managing their withdrawal symptoms in a safe and secure environment.

Each person will have a unique detox experience depending on the type of drug they were using, how long they were addicted to it, and other factors such as their medical history and mental health. Other factors that determine the length of withdrawal include:

  • How much of a substance a person was using
  • The method of injection (smoking, snorting, swallowing, or injecting)
  • Family history
  • Past experiences with detox and withdrawal

The Dangers of Detoxing at Home

There are many reasons why someone may be tempted to detox alone. For example, one might prefer the comfort of their own home or be unable to afford a detox center. However, choosing to detox yourself outside of a medical setting can be life-threatening. Quitting many substances cold-turkey, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, can lead to serious issues including seizures, hypertension, dehydration, and more. Medical drug and alcohol detox facilities are equipped with medical staff and detox medications that can prevent these potentially fatal side effects.

Depending on the severity of a person’s withdrawal symptoms and addiction, detox may occur on an inpatient or outpatient basis. People who suffer from severe substance use disorders or have a history of relapse should seek inpatient medical detox to prevent deadly withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. This is because inpatient detoxes work on a residential basis that provides 24/7 care and support.

Medically-Assisted Drug and Alcohol Detox

Since everyone has different treatment needs, each patient who attends a professional detox facility will receive a personalized treatment plan that is unique to them. These treatment plans can generally be divided up into three steps:

  • Intake
  • Medications
  • Stabilization
  • Treatment planning


Intake is the first step of the detox process. This is when patients will meet with behavioral health staff to sign the required paperwork, go over their insurance information, and become familiar with the detox facility. The most important part of the intake process is the medical and psychiatric evaluation. Patients will meet with medical staff so doctors and psychiatrists can gain a full understanding of their condition. Evaluations may consist of blood tests to determine which medications are needed as well as a comprehensive review of the patient’s psychiatric, drug, alcohol, and medical history. This information is used to create both short and long-term treatment plans.


The next two steps, medications and stabilization, may occur simultaneously. Depending on the type of substance a person is addicted to, doctors may prescribe FDA-approved prescription or over the counter medications to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. The most common medications used during drug and alcohol detox are as follows.

Medications used in alcohol detox:

  • Benzodiazepines such as Librium (chlordiazepoxide) and Valium (diazepam)
  • Anticonvulsant medications such as Gabapentin (neurontin)
  • Barbiturates

Medications used in opioid detox:

  • Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone)
  • Methadone
  • Subutex (buprenorphine)
  • Blood pressure medications such as clonidine

Medications used in benzodiazepine detox:

  • Gradual benzodiazepine taper
  • Anticonvulsant medications such as Gabapentin (neurontin)
  • Blood pressure medications such as clonidine

Medications used in stimulant detox:

  • Clonidine for blood pressure spikes
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs)
  • Trazodone for insomnia and restlessness


Detox medications help ease the physical withdrawal symptoms associated with drug and alcohol detoxification. However, people who are detoxing will also experience intense cravings, depression, anxiety, and other emotional symptoms that are challenging to cope with. This is why therapeutic stabilization is an important part of detox.

Stabilization involves the combination of medications and psychotherapy. Patients may participate in both group and individual counseling. Therapy helps patients identify and process their emotions, make the connection between destructive behaviors and substance abuse, and learn new coping skills that help sustain sobriety.

Treatment Planning

The last step of the detox process is treatment or aftercare planning. Detox does not offer a long-term solution for addiction, which is why participating in a comprehensive treatment program is the most important part of the early recovery process.

Once patients have completed detox and are mentally and physically stable, they will meet with their primary clinician to determine their next steps in addiction treatment. For some people, this may look like going to an inpatient rehab program, followed up with intensive aftercare and sober living. For others with milder addictions, this may look like going straight into sober living and outpatient treatment.

Side Effects of Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal

The detox process may be highly uncomfortable for many people. The safest way to detox is to do so in a medical facility that offers 24/7 monitoring and support. Even though detox medications and supportive environments help mitigate withdrawal symptoms, patients may still experience some discomfort and irritability during the process.

Of course, the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal vary depending on the type of substance being abused and the individual’s health, but common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Body discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Cravings

Some people may have more difficult withdrawal experiences than others. For instance, cocaine withdrawal is mostly psychological, so detox only involves managing emotional and mental symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal, on the other hand, may consist of seizures, hallucinations, and other life-threatening symptoms that make the process more debilitating.

Overall, the drugs that are considered the most dangerous to detox from are benzodiazepines and alcohol. Although uncomfortable, detox from opioids and stimulants are rarely life-threatening. Still, people who need help with an addiction should always seek professional detox rather than attempting it at home.

Find a Drug and Alcohol Detox Near You Today

Whether this is your first time asking for help with an addiction or you are dedicated to making it your last, our team at Addiction Interventions is happy to serve you. Regardless of how far you’ve fallen in your addiction, how severe your withdrawal symptoms are, or how many times you’ve relapsed, we’re here to help you find the treatment program that will meet your needs and set you up for success.

If you or a loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, pick up the phone and call today to find a detox center near you.