What is the Drug Detox Process?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Information, options, and what to expect from a safe, medically supervised, drug detox process.

Anticipation of the drug detox process can cause fear and anxiety. For an individual who is ready to commit to getting clean, fear of the unknown can be seen as an obstacle. While detox from drugs may not be a pleasant experience, medically supervised detox in an inpatient drug rehab facility is part of the addiction rehab process. It is a safer option that is managed by doctors and addiction specialists who work together to keep every patient as comfortable as possible during what is referred to as the first stage of recovery. The drug detox process can often be managed with medication to ease side effects, such as anxiety or pain. The majority of people seeking information about the addiction rehab process want to know first and foremost, how long does drug detox take? This article provides information about the drug detox process, including the average duration of this stage in recovery, and what the addiction rehab process is like.

Heavy drug use over a period of a few weeks or more can cause withdrawal symptoms that can be uncomfortable physically, mentally, and emotionally. While withdrawal isn’t typically life threatening, it can be dangerous without medical supervision in certain situations, such as withdrawal from multiple substances, or if there is another complicating medical condition, such as diabetes, hypertension, or compromised liver function. There are benefits to undergoing the drug detox process in an inpatient drug rehab facility that is medically equipped to minimize withdrawal symptoms as necessary.  It can also provide patients with peace of mind knowing that certified medical professionals are there to monitor any other existing medical conditions that may be negatively impacted by the sudden withdrawal from narcotics.

How long does drug detox take?  The length of time it takes for the body to purge toxic substances and to recover from this challenging process is different for everyone. Factors that affect how long the drug detox process may take include the type of drug the individual has been abusing as well as the level of abuse – how much and how often.  Detox can generally take anywhere between several days and a couple of weeks. Withdrawal symptoms may begin as early as a couple of hours after the individual’s last dose of drugs or alcohol.  Detox is step one in the addiction rehab process. Withdrawal symptoms during detox may include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Profuse sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Withdrawal from drugs is easier to endure with specialized treatment that is easily accessible. Medicines that are available to ease the side effects of withdrawal include:

  • Methadone – This medication relieves the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and helps with detox. It can also be used as a long-term maintenance medicine for opioid dependence that can be slowly decreased over time.
  • Buprenorphine, also known as Subutex, can help shorten the length of detox. It may also be used for long-term maintenance. It can also combined with other drugs that help prevent dependence and misuse.
  • Clonidine is a medication that is used to help alleviate anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating and cramping.
  • Other medicines are available that can help treat vomiting, diarrhea, and also help with sleep.
  • Naltrexone is a medication that helps prevent relapse. It is available by injection or in pill form.
  • Antidepressants have shown promise in helping alcoholics stay sober. Those with co-occurring mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder are often treated with antidepressants or mood stabilizers in conjunction with other prescribed therapies for addiction.

Once the patient has completed detox, it is imperative that ongoing, long-term treatment begins immediately to help the patient transition back into normal life and to ensure lasting sobriety. This type of treatment may include self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, outpatient counseling, or intensive outpatient treatment.  To learn more about substance abuse and chemical dependency visit: John Hopkins Medicine.