What Is Drug Detoxification?

Learn about the detoxification process and where to start a detox program in this comprehensive article.

What Is Detoxification?

When the body is consistently introduced to a drug, especially for an extended period of time, it will likely develop a dependence on that substance. The first step in breaking that dependence is drug detoxification, also referred to as detox.

Detoxification is the process of clearing a substance from the body. The most effective method is medical detox, which is accomplished by detoxing at a medical facility. Attempting the detoxification process at home can be dangerous due to the possible withdrawal symptoms resulting from the body no longer relying on the substance. Therefore, a safer option is going to an inpatient detoxification program, where withdrawal symptoms can be monitored and sometimes mitigated with medications to decrease discomfort.


Benefits of Detox

In 2020, 40.3 million people aged twelve and older in the United States had a substance use disorder. The steps needed to reduce this number involve effective treatment programs, such as detoxification to break the body free from drug dependence and addiction. 1

Going through withdrawal and detox is not always easy, and many people find withdrawal symptoms difficult to bear. However, withdrawal only lasts for a short time, and there are many detox benefits that outweigh the initial struggles. Some of the benefits of detox include:

  • Improved physical and mental health
  • Improved relationships with loved ones
  • Taking a positive step toward ending addiction

How Long Does Detoxification Take?

The length of time it takes to detox from a substance depends on the frequency, duration, amount, and substance(s) used, as well as the person’s medical condition, history of addiction, and drug detoxification methods. For example, research has shown that people with alcohol use disorder often only have symptoms for four to five days, while withdrawing from other substances, like opioids, can take anywhere from one to two weeks. 2

Signs Your Body Needs a Detox

Signs that you may benefit from a detoxification program include:

  • Increased tolerance for the substance
  • Withdrawal symptoms (e.g., nausea, fatigue, irritability) after ceasing the use of the substance
  • Intense cravings
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit using the substance

Detoxification Side Effects

The detox process is an important part of ending substance use, but it isn’t always an easy part of the journey. If you’re considering drug detoxification, it is helpful to be aware of possible side effects.

Many people experience common detoxification symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Depression
  • Fatigue

Severe Side Effects

Aside from the common side effects, is it possible for the body to undergo severe effects of detoxification, such as:

  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Relapse
  • Weight loss

Drug Detoxification Risk Factors

It’s also important to be aware of the risks associated with the detoxification of drugs. Some of the potential risks will be detailed below.

Dangerous Withdrawal Symptoms

It can be dangerous for a person to quit using a substance cold turkey, which is why we recommend detoxing at a facility to ensure safety. Quitting some substances cold turkey, especially after prolonged use, can lead to harmful withdrawal symptoms.

Relapse and Overdose

Detox and withdrawal symptoms may make a person more likely to relapse due to unpleasant withdrawal side effects. This can be particularly dangerous because the individual’s tolerance may have decreased in the time they were not using substances. A decrease in tolerance can make an overdose more likely if a person does relapse.

In a study following one hundred thirty-seven patients enrolled in an inpatient opiate detoxification program, only twenty-nine were alive after a one-year follow-up. The majority of the patients who passed were in inpatient treatment the longest and were more likely to complete detoxification. The researchers concluded that a decrease in tolerance significantly affected the high death rates. 3

Pregnancy Risk

Another risk associated with detoxing applies to those who are pregnant. Detoxing while pregnant can pose a risk to the fetus due to withdrawal symptoms, so people who are pregnant will be the safest detoxing under the supervision of medical professionals.

Rapid and Ultra-Rapid Detox Risks

Rapid and ultra-rapid detoxes, in which people are sedated as they withdraw from opiates, may sound appealing because they seem more convenient than other means of withdrawal, but rapid detox comes with a long list of potential adverse side effects. For example, seventy-five patients underwent a rapid detox at a treatment facility in 2012. Of those seventy-five, two deaths and five hospitalizations were reported. 4

Detoxification By Drug Type and Detox Process

To better understand the drug addiction detoxification process, you may want to learn about detoxing from specific substances like opioids, prescription drugs, and alcohol.

Opiate Drug Detoxification

Opiate and opioid detoxification involve detoxing from drugs like heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and several others. Inpatient or outpatient opioid detoxification programs are recommended over at-home detox for opioids and opiates, as the withdrawal symptoms can be severe.

When detoxing from opiates and opioids, people will likely feel flu-like symptoms initially, including nausea, vomiting, sweating, chills, and body aches. These symptoms will continue for a few days, and drug cravings will be present at this time. Within a week, most people’s symptoms begin to improve.

Alcohol Detoxification

People in alcohol detox will likely experience symptoms of headache, fever, nausea, anxiety, and tremors, which typically last around a week. Those with severe alcohol use disorder may experience more serious detox symptoms like seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens, though this is rare.

Prescription Drug Detoxification

Detoxing from a prescription drug—whether it is a stimulant like Adderall or a benzodiazepine like Xanax—follows a similar pattern to detoxing from alcohol and opioids. The worst of the detox symptoms begin to set in anywhere from a few hours to one day after the last dose, peak around the three-day mark, and tend to improve within a week.

What Are the Steps of Detoxification?

Patients will be in a safe and supportive environment as they go through the medical detox steps.

  • Step One: The first step is typically an evaluation where medical professionals will ask questions, review medical history, and learn about any conditions the patient may have. 
  • Step Two: Next, the patient will be stabilized and begin the detoxification process, lasting anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Medical staff will monitor the withdrawal symptoms and provide medication to alleviate them if necessary.
  • Step Three: After completing detox, the patient may choose to continue treatment at an inpatient facility or enroll in an outpatient or partial hospitalization program (PHP).

Detoxification Program at Essence Healthcare

Our dedicated team at Essence Healthcare can provide care for you wherever you are in your journey.


The first step of recovering from addiction is the detoxification of drugs. At Essence, you have the opportunity to undergo detox in an inpatient detoxification program. Our medical detoxification program offers state-of-the-art equipment and twenty-four-hour monitoring so you can heal as quickly and safely as possible.

Inpatient Care

After completing drug detoxification, you can become part of Essence’s inpatient program, where you remain at our facility and have round-the-clock care in the form of holistic healthcare and emotional support.

Outpatient Care and Partial Hospitalization Program

You also have the option to enroll in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or outpatient program, where you attend treatment at Essence’s rehab facility but can still go home and spend time with loved ones.

Contact Essence Healthcare Today

At Essence, it is important to us that you receive the personalized and in-depth treatment that works for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out; we will guide you every step of the way. Call Essence at 800-426-9829.

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.