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How Does Detox Work?

Drug and alcohol addiction affects people from various backgrounds and all walks of life. This kind of addiction harms the body and disrupts normal functioning. The first and most critical step in recovery is recognizing and accepting the addiction. The subsequent stage is detoxification, often shortened to detox. Detox involves purging the body of harmful substances. The body naturally expels toxins while keeping necessary elements.

Detoxification, or detox, is the body’s natural process by which various toxins leave the body. For individuals struggling with substance abuse, detox refers to the period in which their body metabolizes drugs and alcohol. Once the body fully processes these substances, individuals will no longer have alcohol or drugs in their bloodstream. Professional detox readies the body and mind for the recovery journey, reducing the discomfort associated with withdrawal symptoms.

Exactly how does detox work? Let’s explore the different elements of detoxing. It’s not as complicated as it may seem. 

group therapy during detox

Types of Drug Detox Programs

There are different detox programs tailored to individual needs, such as:

  • Medically Monitored Detox: For severe addictions, a medically supervised detox is essential. This method should always be under the strict watch of healthcare professionals.
  • Holistic Detox: A holistic approach integrates alternative treatments such as nutritional advice, group and private counseling, yoga, and meditation to tackle both the physical and psychological sides of addiction.

Regardless of the detox method selected, it should always occur in a detox center, where specialists can safely and effectively help eliminate drugs and alcohol from the body. Individuals may choose a detox program associated with a treatment center or a detox program within a hospital or medical facility. Either way, they should never detox alone because the detox process can be dangerous. Medical supervision is a necessity.

Typically, detox programs last anywhere from three to nine days but may last longer depending on the severity of an individual’s addiction.

Medically supervised detox programs employ healthcare professionals to manage any withdrawal symptoms an individual may experience. This type of detox occurs in a controlled facility where medical staff can monitor and medicate the individual as needed to keep them as comfortable and safe as possible. Some individuals seek out a medically supervised detox program through a treatment program. 

A medically supervised detox is convenient because they can enroll immediately into addiction treatment upon completing detox. That reduces the likelihood they will decide not to attend treatment after completing detox. In other cases, individuals may seek to detox at a hospital or another medical facility. In this case, the physicians responsible for their care will recommend an appropriate addiction treatment program to take the next step. 

client meets with medical professional during detox

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Detox is only the beginning stage for someone who is trying to get control of an addiction. Although detoxification is a natural bodily process, it can lead to intense and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. While drugs and alcohol will leave the body within a few days, the withdrawal symptoms someone experiences may last longer, sometimes even for several months, depending on the individual and the severity of their addiction.

What a person experiences during detox will depend on the individual and the substance they have been misusing. Additionally, the severity of their addiction will impact their withdrawal symptoms. Some common issues that individuals detoxing from drugs or alcohol may experience include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Delirium tremens (DTs) is a life-threatening issue that causes restlessness, confusion, fever, hallucinations, and seizures
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Problems sleeping
  • Shakiness, especially in the hands
  • Unstable changes in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent yawning
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Diarrhea
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Runny nose
  • Goosebumps
  • Muscle cramps/body aches
  • Panic
  • Seizures
  • Mood swings
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Irritation
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Ongoing tiredness or lethargy

Alcohol Detox Timeline

Just like there are three stages of alcohol addiction, detox happens in three stages: evaluation, stabilization, and seeking additional treatment.

For someone with an alcohol addiction, withdrawal symptoms will begin to appear within 6 hours after their last drink.

For heavy drinkers, they could also experience a seizure at this point. Between 12 and 24 hours into detox, an individual may experience hallucinations. Between 1 and 2 days into detox for alcohol, symptoms like headache or stomach upset are common. For someone with a milder addiction, their symptoms may subside within several days.

Anyone with a more severe alcohol addiction may experience delirium tremens between 48 and 72 hours into detox. Around 72 hours is often the peak severity of withdrawal symptoms for someone with alcohol use disorder. After 4 to 5, they should begin to notice a decrease in symptoms. For some, moderate symptoms may persist for up to a month.

Drug Detox Timeline

Detox for drug addiction will vary, depending on the drug taken.

  • Some short-acting opioids, such as certain painkillers and heroin, cause withdrawal symptoms within eight to 24 hours, with symptoms peaking after four to 10 days.
  • Methadone and other longer-acting opioids may not cause withdrawal symptoms until two to four days into detox and may fade around 10 days.
  • Withdrawal symptoms from any benzodiazepine drug, such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, or the recreational drug cocaine, usually occur within one to four days and peak after about two weeks.

Without medical treatment, some people may experience withdrawal symptoms for months or even years. Anyone with a substance abuse or drinking problem can benefit from a detox program, but it’s important to remember that detox is only the beginning of recovery from addiction. 

Additional treatment and support are needed to achieve long-lasting sobriety. That’s why seeking treatment immediately after detox is so vital.

What Happens After Detox?

Once you understand how detox works, what happens afterward is just as important. Detoxing is just the first step of recovery and coincides with a treatment program as well as medication. Detoxification alone is very rarely sufficient to sustain long-term recovery and is simply to be viewed as a preparation for someone to begin to participate in a rehab program.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), successful treatment has several steps:

  • Detoxification
  • Behavioral counseling
  • Medication (for certain addictions)
  • Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse
peers in support group after detox program

Getting Detox Help

Understanding how detox works plays a crucial role in the path to recovery, as it’s a comprehensive approach to overcoming substance dependency. Detox programs ensure the health and safety of clients and prepare individuals for the next steps in their journey to lasting sobriety. 

Seeking help for detox is a courageous and vital step to recovery. Whether it’s for yourself or a loved one, the decision to reach out for assistance in overcoming substance dependency demonstrates a profound commitment to healing and well-being. It takes strength and resilience to confront detox challenges and is a powerful testament to the value placed on a healthier and brighter future. 

Remember that support is available, and caring professionals and organizations are ready to guide and assist throughout this journey toward a healthier, happier life. With the right level of care and a variety of therapeutic services, detox is the first stride toward a healthier, substance-free life. It’s essential for those seeking help to engage with these programs to gain the full benefits of a supportive and structured start to their recovery. At Detox Nashville, our process is entirely confidential, the initial assessment is free, and we accept most types of insurance. 

Contact us today to speak with an admissions counselor who will walk you through how detox works and begin getting the treatment you need. 

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