How Does Detox Work?

light at the end of a tunnel depicting the detox process

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released the results of its National Survey on Drug Use and Health, again illustrating the increasingly tight grip substance abuse has on much of the country. According to the results, 46.3 million people aged 12 or older met the criteria for having a substance use disorder in the past year, including 29.5 million people classified with an alcohol use disorder and 24 million with a drug use disorder.

Perhaps more alarming than those statistics is that of those people, 94 percent reported not receiving any treatment — nor did they think assistance from an addiction treatment facility was needed. However, research shows otherwise. In fact, substance use disorder treatment programs have consistently proven to be an effective way to quit the misuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol.

But the first stop on any road to recovery is always detoxification, a process that remains a mystery to many. Read on as we go into detail about how detox works, including the timeline for detox, symptoms you may experience during the process, and critical steps after detox is complete.

What is Detox?

Before we talk about how detox works, we thought explaining more about what it is might be helpful. Detox is the physiological response that occurs when someone quits using drugs or alcohol after they are addicted. Simply put, it’s the process of ridding the body of foreign substances and navigating the resulting symptoms of withdrawal.

Why Does Withdrawal Occur During Detox?

The reason withdrawal occurs during detox is that the body has developed a physical dependency on the substance. Dependence means frequent or regular large doses of an addictive substance have impaired the body’s ability to feel, think, or function “normally” without its presence. When the person stops using, the body responds with a series of symptoms (more on those below) that can affect the person’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

How Does Detox Work?

It’s important to point out that detox has no one-size-fits-all formula. Each person’s experience can vary, based on many factors, including the type of substance used, how long the person has been using, how often they are using, and their commitment to the program. You should also know that there are two main types of detox: social and medical.

Also known as the cold turkey method, social detox is the process of abruptly quitting drugs and alcohol without professional help or a medically designed tapering program. Healthline reports many people opt for this route because they believe it gives them the best chance to kick their habit. Unfortunately, those people seldom realize that social detox can be extremely dangerous with highly addictive drugs or severe alcohol dependence. In addition, the symptoms one experiences during detox can threaten the person’s health — and during social detox, the person is not surrounded by trained medical professionals. Without professional support, the risk of giving in to the cravings to use again is high.

On the other hand, medical detox involves 24/7 monitoring by healthcare workers who understand what the addicted person is going through. During this process — which takes place in a facility as opposed to the user’s home — skilled healthcare workers closely monitor the patient and ensure they remain medically safe and as comfortable as possible. Equally important, medical detox facilities offer the type of structure, stability, and support that at-home social detoxing simply can’t. Detoxing with medical support means the person is less likely to relapse and resume the use of the dangerous substance(s).

Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox Timeline

As we mentioned earlier, no two experiences are the same, and that means the withdrawal symptoms and detox timeline could vary by person. Depending on the substance you’re detoxing from, you can begin feeling withdrawal symptoms within hours after your last use.

Some of the most common symptoms people experience in the early stages of withdrawal include nervousness and anxiety, sweating, tremors, muscle aches, and insomnia. In addition, it’s possible for hallucinations and seizures to occur and the person’s heart rate and blood pressure to spike.

In the following hours and days, the symptoms will typically intensify in nature — a development that underscores the importance of medical detox — with the worst symptoms commonly occurring 48 to 72 hours after the last use. At this point, the desire to resume substance use is at its strongest.

For most people, the physical symptoms will have started to wane by day five of the detox. However, post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which includes brain fog, cravings to use, anxiety, irritability, and depression, can linger much longer, possibly for years after the person’s last use.

After Detox — What’s Next?

Once detox is complete, many people will move on to a treatment program for people seeking to overcome a substance addiction. The best of these programs use evidence-based methods but personalize the approach to the person’s unique circumstances. Treatment may include individual and group therapy, along with daily 12-step meetings, with the focus of those sessions centered on addressing the root cause of why the person began using drugs or alcohol in the first place. Treatment programs also equip the person with the skills needed to cope with cravings in the future and incorporate family and friends as appropriate to build up a network of supporters to aid in the recovery process.

Midwest Recovery Centers Offers Quality, Comfortable Medical Detox

Clients at Midwest Recovery Centers’ Residential Detoxification Center can undergo the detox process in a convenient facility designed for safety and comfort. Our expert-led program is staffed by licensed healthcare professionals who support clients and manage withdrawal symptoms as necessary. Following detox, we encourage clients to continue their journey with us by participating in one of our addiction treatment programs.

Midwest Recovery Centers is known for excellent patient outcomes. If you or a loved one have questions about the detox process and need help deciding where to turn, we’re always here. Contact us today.


Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Click or Call Today! 844-990-1578

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