What You Need to Know About Drug Detox

Man in the grips of fentanyl addiction

Detoxification, or riding your body of drugs or alcohol, is the first crucial step of the recovery process. It’s so significant that you really cannot start moving forward in recovery without first having accomplished detox. Attempting to begin therapy, counseling, and psychiatric care while you still have drugs or alcohol in your system, isn’t just inefficient, it can also be a set up for relapse.

If you are thinking about beginning recovery, or you have a loved one who is, you probably have questions or concerns about what detox entails and how it will affect you. Here are some facts about the process and what you might expect from it.

Detox Must Come First

Detox has to be completed before drug or alcohol rehab can begin. Most inpatient drug rehabs include detox as the first part of their recovery programs. That means patients don’t have to attempt to detox on their own, rather they begin their treatment with the first few days to a week or more in detox before moving on to residential addiction treatment. It’s important that your body is completely rid of drugs and alcohol prior to starting residential treatment.

Detox Must Only Be The Beginning

Detox isn’t sufficient treatment for addicts to have long-term sobriety. In order to have the best chances for long-lasting recovery, you have to have an established program of recovery that starts with it and continues with inpatient treatment. During the process, the goal is to rid your body of drugs or alcohol while being made as comfortable as possible until withdrawal symptoms subside. True recovery requires additional education, therapy, psychiatric care, learning coping and life skills, and relapse prevention – the things that you receive in residential treatment.

Detox Should Be Medically-Supervised

Your comfort is a concern, but even more so is your safety. Depending on the types of substances you have used and in what amounts, detoxing without medical supervision can be dangerous. Stopping drinking alcohol “cold turkey” can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that can lead to seizures, coma, and even death. Abruptly quitting other drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids can also have very serious withdrawal symptoms that must be monitored by medical professionals. You may be given small doses of benzodiazepines to aid with the symptoms and then weaned off them prior to entering residential treatment.

Detox Isn’t Easy

Even though your detox will be medically-supervised and you may receive some relief from medication while you get past the withdrawal phase, the process is not easy. You will likely have to deal with overwhelming cravings and urges to use or drink. Craving your drug of choice can lead to you wanting to terminate your detox early and using again. It’s important that if that happens you talk to the staff and let them know what is going on. They will be able to offer you additional support and encouragement and try to make your detox as tolerable as possible.

Detox Takes Time

Just how long it takes to complete detox varies by the individual. There are factors that contribute to how long it will take such as the types of drugs used, amounts and frequency used, patient’s age, and his or her overall health. Generally speaking, detox takes anywhere from 2-3 days to a week, but there is no hard and fast rule.

Detox Programs Protect Your Privacy

When you go through detox (and further addiction treatment), your privacy is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. That means that your records are protected in the same manner that any of your other medical records are.

Sometimes Once Isn’t Enough

For some people with addiction, it takes more than one attempt to make it through the detox process. Not everyone is able to stick it out and make it through the first time. If you are one of these people, don’t’ despair! If you have made a commitment to changing your life, you have to keep trying until you make it and are able to go on to the next steps in the recovery process.

If You Use Again After Detox

It is important to keep in mind that if you do go back to using after you have gone through detox, your tolerance and your dependence will likely pick up just where you left off. Ridding your body of drugs and alcohol isn’t “starting over.” You may even have increased tolerance and greater dependence if you start drinking or using again.


The detox process isn’t easy, or comfortable, or quick. But it is necessary in order to truly get on the path to recovery. Serenity at Summit addiction treatment center understands that you may be anxious or nervous about starting the process, but there isn’t a good reason to put it off. The sooner you detox, the sooner you can start inpatient or outpatient addiction rehab and begin your new sober life.

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