Before a person can move forward on their road to recovery from addiction, he or she must first purge his or her body of all addictive substances left in the wake of any prolonged substance abuse. In many cases, an addicted individual has abused drugs and/or alcohol for several years or longer. Drug or alcohol detoxification is the first step in recovery. A mishandled detoxification process will make the journey to sobriety needlessly more challenging. The leading addiction treatment centers provide their patients the best chance at achieving a lasting recovery by starting the process with medically supervised alcohol or drug detoxification. Detoxification is one of the most important, as well as vulnerable periods for any individual attempting to recover from an alcohol or drug addiction. Studies have consistently shown that successfully detoxing from drugs or alcohol is not only essential to the addiction recovery process, but also that the level of care received during detox will impact the short- and long-term results of the overall recovery.
What is Detox?
Detoxification is the process by which the body rids itself of addictive substances. Whether going through a traditional alcohol or drug detox or a medically assisted one, it can be an uncomfortable experience, both physically and mentally, as the body goes through withdrawal. Although detox alone does not constitute substance abuse treatment, it is an important part of a continuum of care for substance abusers.
The time the body needs to detox from drugs or alcohol depends upon certain variables, including the individual’s age, health, length of substance abuse and the type of drug he or she is addicted to. Different drugs are absorbed at different rates and can remain active within the body for various amounts of time. This is often referred to as the drug’s half-life, which dictates the different withdrawal timelines for each substance.
For example, heroin has a noticeably short half-life, not only making its effects short lasting, but also making the time in which it takes to leave the body shorter then many other drugs. Depending on the type of substance a person is detoxing from, combined with their level of addiction, detox usually lasts between 5 to 14 days.
Detox Alone is Not Addiction Treatment
One of the biggest misrepresentations perpetuated in the addiction recovery industry is that detox is a cure for addiction. First, there is no cure for addiction. Second, detox is only the process of cleansing the body of drugs and/or alcohol; it does not account for the many psychological and emotional aspects of addiction and substance abuse.
When addiction recovery patients are limited to detoxification only, the results are often overwhelmingly high for potential relapse. The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) states that “studies on the outcome of detox-only interventions are not promising with regard to rates of sustained abstinence and recovery achieved after such services. These findings are echoed by Drugabuse.gov, an addiction and recovery information site, which states that medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug abuse.
How Your Detox Impacts Your Addiction Recovery
Your experience during drug/alcohol detox will undoubtedly impact your success in recovery. Whether that influence is positive or negative depends largely on the practices of the detox facility you choose. No two people are completely alike, and no two addictions are completely alike either. Detoxification and addiction rehab need to be catered to fit the needs and meet the challenges of each individual.
Following the initial detox period, patients should begin their actual addiction treatment and receive specialized rehab services like counseling, nutritional guidance, mental health treatment, round-the-clock medical assistance, etc… During actual addiction treatment patients attempt to discover possible root causes of their addictions. By gaining an understanding of how substance abuse has hurt themselves and their loved ones, patients then can begin to learn the steps they need to take to eliminate addiction from their lives.
Withdrawal symptoms generally peak during the first few days after discontinued drug or alcohol use. It’s during this treacherous time that the care, compassion and competence of trained addiction and medical professionals prove invaluable. It’s also during this time when patients will either build courage to move forward or become fearful about the road ahead.
Going “Cold-Turkey” is Never a Smart Choice
One can simply look at the success rates and difficulties associated with trying to quit alcohol or drugs “cold-turkey” to see why detox without addiction treatment is not a smart choice. Not only is this a potentially dangerous strategy, it’s also statistically shown to most likely be ineffective. Suddenly ceasing drug or alcohol abuse will lead to a wide range of withdrawal symptoms. People employing the “cold-turkey” approach have reported heart attacks, muscle weakness and intense nausea, among other symptoms.
Quitting Cold-Turkey Case Study
Information from the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights indicates that half of the U.S. prison and jail population meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for substance abuse or dependence. When these individuals are jailed, the lack of access to drugs coupled with the lack of adequate addiction recovery services often forces inmates to try to quit “cold-turkey.” The majority of U.S. prisons and jails do not provide any medication for detoxification and do not follow evidence-based practices.
The result is incomplete addiction recoveries and high recidivism rates. An astounding 60 – 80 percent of drug abusing prisoners commit new crimes following release and 95 percent return to drug abuse.
This is because without the supportive treatments to accompany drug or alcohol detox, the addicted individual is not afforded the opportunity to learn new coping techniques, understand the impact of substance abuse, identify triggers for drug or alcohol use or take control of any coexisting mental disorders.
What You May Not Know About Detoxification
When it comes to seeking help for yourself or a loved one, research is paramount in choosing a program that fits your needs. There is a great deal of research about drug and alcohol detox and addiction recovery available. Below are some notable findings:    
In one study of 101 randomly selected females receiving alcohol or drug detox at an all-female inpatient unit, nearly 60 percent of those who completed detox had a “positive outcome.” This was defined as patients following through on first appointments to referrals to drug-free programs.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Detox
Another study featured 68 opioid-dependent patients who were receiving community treatment and requested detoxification. 51.4 percent of those randomly assigned to inpatient detox facilities successfully completed detox, versus 36.4 percent who were assigned to outpatient.
An article published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment chronicled a randomized trial of 632 injection drug users at eight detoxification programs within the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network. Researchers discovered that the top indicator of patients completing detox and moving forward with outpatient addiction treatment programs was whether or not the detox facility was accredited.
Mental Illness & Substance Abuse
Research indicates that approximately 50 percent of those with a substance abuse disorder also have an additional, severe mental health disorder, which includes major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, cyclothymic disorder or borderline personality disorder. Each of those illnesses present a risk to your mental state, and substance abuse disorders only exacerbate psychological illnesses.
What is Rapid Detox and Ultra Rapid Detox? Are They Dangerous?
Rapid detox called AAROD (Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Opioid Detoxification) or ultra rapid detox UROD (Ultra Rapid Opioid Detoxification) is a procedure in which an individual volunteers to be put into a medically-induced state of unconsciousness, usually under general anesthesia. The primary difference between rapid detox and ultra rapid detox is the shorter duration of an ultra rapid detox. This type of detox usually is not covered by insurance and recent studies show that heroin detox patients will still suffer withdrawal symptoms as severe as traditional detox patients suffer.
While the idea of rapid or ultra detox may be tempting for those looking for a quick fix or a “magic bullet” approach to recovery, mounting evidence has shown that these types of detox treatments can actually be dangerous.
Another factor to keep in mind is the risk involved with anesthesia. Like surgery, anesthesia is not cheap, nor is it risk-free. The use of anesthesia presents a problem for those with preexisting conditions such as breathing difficulties, complications with metabolic diabetes, bipolar disorder, heart problems, AIDS and blood disorders.
Many who undergo rapid detox are treated like patients receiving minor surgery; once the procedure is complete, most patients are discharged shortly thereafter. The problem with this treatment model is that those who receive rapid detox are wholly unequipped for the rest of the recovery process.
Rapid or Ultra Rapid Detox ignores possible Co-occurring Mental Health Issues
One aspect of recovery too often neglected with rapid detox is the mental health of the individual going through detoxification and the withdrawal that can occur on a psychological level. Drugs and alcohol can have devastating effects on the brain, and the longer people are addicted, the more difficult it is for them to adjust to life without their substance of choice. Without proper supervised treatment, relapse is almost assured to take place.
Research has shown that those who undergo rapid detox are just as likely to experience the same withdrawal symptoms as those who go through traditional detox, despite the claim of reduced or absent symptoms. However, unlike those individuals housed in a supervised treatment center during the recovery process, those who have gone through rapid detox do not have access to the care most recovery patients need.
The objective of any good detoxification facility should be to cleanse the patient’s body of addictive substances in order to allow the individual to begin their subsequent addiction treatment program. The smart choice for you or your loved one is to choose a medically supervised detox program that can provide safe, comfortable surroundings with a proven record for helping patients achieve long-term sobriety.
Why is Detoxification a Complex Process that Needs Expert Care?
Statistics show a reported 21.5 million people ages 12 and up use at least one addictive substance, and the longer a person continues to abuse drugs or alcohol, the harder it becomes to break the habit. Detoxification is the first step for addicted individuals trying to rid themselves of a drug or alcohol addiction and end the cycle of substance abuse.
Detox is one of the initial challenges a person faces in addiction recovery. It’s during this period where intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms plague addiction recovery patients. This is often the make-or-break stage of recovery. Patients who can successfully complete a drug or alcohol detox have an excellent opportunity to be successful in recovery because the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings will be greatly reduced.
No matter the addictive substance, detox from drugs or alcohol is the baseline for recovery. Addiction is not only a physical dependency, but also mental. The best results are achieved at rehab facilities under the watchful supervision of trained professionals. This allows the patient going through detox to have their individual needs addressed throughout the various stages of withdrawal.
The physical process opens up the patient to a variety of potential withdrawal symptoms, including but not limited to:
Some of the symptoms of withdrawal that accompany the psychological aspect of detox are:
- Poor concentration
- Social isolation
Enduring any of these symptoms is best done in a controlled environment with medical professionals dedicated to helping you deal with the many stresses of detoxification and the ensuing withdrawal. One of the pillars of recovery is having an effective support system that is available at all times, including medication and therapy.
The Inpatient Treatment Advantage
There are many different ways to approach detoxification and some methods work better than others depending on the individual and his or her drug of choice. The first important distinction is the difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment. Some may wonder why inpatient detox is recommended over its outpatient counterpart. The distinction revolves around the support system and resources available to patients during an inpatient stay.
Inpatient Detox Advantages
With inpatient alcohol or drug detox, the addicted individual is immersed in treatment, surrounded by medical staff and supported by therapists. The environment is completely free of drugs or alcohol, making it impossible for a relapse to happen on the premises. An inpatient drug detox gives patients the ability to get away from everyday triggers and focus solely on detoxification and treatment
In outpatient detox, the addicted individual is responsible for getting himself to and from the facility every day and must continue to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings on his own and at home in an uncontrolled environment. The primary benefit of inpatient versus outpatient programs is that inpatient programs rule out the distractions of day-to-day life, allowing the patient to focus entirely on his or her recovery.
What to Expect During Detoxification at a Rehab Facility?
When you or someone you care for are preparing to detox from drugs or alcohol, you are naturally going to have a lot of questions about the process. To help you with this, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions about alcohol and drug detox:
Can detox be pain-free?
No. Despite bold claims by several facilities in the addiction rehab industry, a completely pain-free drug or alcohol detox is impossible. While measures can be taken to reduce pain and increase comfort during detoxification, the body will always go through some level of physical distress as it expels the remaining traces of drugs and/or alcohol. It’s the fear of this inevitable pain that deters a large percentage of people from seeking addiction treatment in the first place.
Do I need professional help to detox?
Technically speaking, you don’t need a professional to detox, as it is simply the process of allowing the body to cleanse itself. However, detox from certain substances, can be very stressful and physically demanding on our bodies and rare cases can be life threatening. Attempting to detox without professional help unnecessarily puts you in danger and at a disadvantage when it comes to management of withdrawal symptoms and the level of comfort maintained during the process.
How will my detox affect my recovery?
Why begin your road to recovery feeling discouraged from a difficult alcohol or drug detox? The way you start your journey to sobriety will go a long way in determining how you finish it. Facilities that provide medical supervision, nutritious meals, comfortable accommodations and group counseling put their patients in the best position for long-term success.
What withdrawal symptoms should I expect?
Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the type of drug a patient is addicted to. Some common symptoms include fatigue, increased sensitivity to pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, irritability, hot flashes, general body weakness and decreased appetite. Detoxing from certain substances like heroin or alcohol may lead to other, more serious withdrawal symptoms.
How long does detox last?
The length of time spent in detox depends on the substance a patient is addicted to and the severity of his or her addiction. In general, detox can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
What are the differences between an inpatient and outpatient detox?
In an outpatient detox program, patients are required to travel to a hospital or detox facility every weekday for treatment sessions. In an inpatient program, patients are admitted to a facility and reside there for the duration of their detox. Because of the immersive nature of the inpatient experience, this type of detox is generally more effective at achieving lasting results.
What happens during detox?
At most nationally accredited detox centers, the process begins with an initial intake and assessment in which a patient’s needs are determined. Some of the factors that are a part of the initial assessment include family history, physical and mental health, the substance(s) the patient is addicted to and the history of substance abuse. A team of professionals will then design an individualized course of treatment to maximize the potential for success.
How Do Detox and Withdrawal Differ with Each Substance?
Every patient’s experience in drug or alcohol detox will vary based on a number of different factors, not the least of which includes his or her addictive substance(s) of choice. A person struggling with heroin addiction will face different challenges than an individual trying to overcome a cocaine abuse problem, just as a person battling prescription pill dependence will have unique struggles compared to an alcoholic. Some drugs produce more physical withdrawal symptoms while others lead to more psychological symptoms. The more you know about what withdrawal symptoms to expect during your detox, the better chance you’ll have of successfully completing this stage.
Withdrawal Symptoms During Detox
Some drugs produce more physical withdrawal symptoms while others lead to more psychological symptoms. The more you know about what withdrawal symptoms to expect during your detox, the better chance you’ll have of successfully completing this stage.
Opioids: (Prescription painkillers and heroin): Opioids like codeine, heroin and oxycodone can produce physical dependence, meaning that the body has become dependent on the effects of the drugs to prevent withdrawal and that over time, more of the drug is needed to produce the same effect. Withdrawal symptoms created by suddenly ceasing opioid use include: agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, vomiting, sweating and insomnia.
Alcohol: Withdrawal symptoms from discontinuing alcohol abuse vary based on the length of time the addiction has gone untreated. In the most severe cases, people detoxing from alcohol are at risk for delirium tremens and other life-threatening symptoms. However, the most common withdrawal symptoms following the cessation of alcohol abuse include: body tremors, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, restlessness, agitation, loss of appetite, paranoia, confusion, fever, chest pains and palpitations.
Benzodiazepines: (Sedatives and tranquilizers): Benzodiazepines include a class of drugs known as tranquilizers. Two of the most well-known benzodiazepines are Valium and Xanax. People who have developed addictions to these types of drugs often do so after several years, perhaps even decades, of consistent use. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, which can be life-threatening, include seizures, hallucinations, intense anxiety, hand tremors, sleep disturbance, weight loss, nausea, headaches, muscular pain and difficulty concentrating.
Amphetamines: (Stimulants, cocaine and crystal meth): Whether it be prescription drugs like Ritalin, or illicit drugs like cocaine or crystal meth, the use of amphetamines and methamphetamines can lead to severe psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms. Most commonly, these symptoms include irritability, body pain, depression and impaired social functioning. Methamphetamine withdrawal in particular can lead to the development of mild-to-severe symptoms of psychosis.
While many of these withdrawal symptoms seem terrifying enough to steer a person away from treatment, consider the alternative. Left untreated, an addiction will continue to grow in severity, while increasingly devastating life-consequences from substance abuse are sure to follow. Detox and subsequent withdrawal symptoms are unavoidable when a person is trying to overcome addiction.
Why A Medically Supervised, Inpatient Detox Is Best
It’s important to prepare for the possibility that your drug or alcohol detox could encounter problems. In most cases, mild-to-severe withdrawal symptoms are an inevitability. Addicted individuals who attempt a self-detox or go to facilities that don’t provide a medically-supervised detox are highly susceptible to a premature failure.
You don’t want to be on your own dealing with intense physical pain, insomnia, nausea or any other withdrawal symptoms. While pain, discomfort and mental distress are to be expected during the detoxification period, you can choose to mitigate the symptoms with the assistance of a team of medical experts by your side. No one wants to suffer in isolation, and opting for a detox from drugs or alcohol that is not medically supervised is choosing to do just that.
Medically Supervised Detox Helps with the Two Primary Types of Detoxification
When a patient decides to undergo a completely natural detox, qualified medical supervision ensures the patient’s safety even without the use of medication. This includes 24-hour monitoring, counseling and preparation of meals, in addition to many other services. With a medical detox, patients enjoy the same level of supervision, but also receive medication to help alleviate the pain of withdrawal. When medication is used, it acts as a less dangerous replacement for the given addictive drug, with doses gradually decreasing over time. Medical professionals will put you in the best position to succeed, regardless of which type of detox you choose.
In a medical detox, patients receive pharmaceutical aid to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Methadone or suboxone are common medications used for treating people who are detoxing from certain types of drugs. This type of detox is generally recommended for people with severe physical addictions or with patients who are at risk of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
The Dangers of Self Detox
Drug detoxification is the natural process that the body undergoes to eliminate addictive substances from its system. However, with the abuse of powerful substances such as alcohol, heroin, cocaine, prescription pills, etc., a traditional detox can put a patient’s life in danger and is best attempted under the supervision of medical professionals.
There’s an underlying assumption within anyone who sets out to complete self-detoxification: that he or she has the discipline required to treat his or her addiction alone. If that was the case, the user would not have allowed his or her drug or alcohol habit to get out of control in the first place. If self-detox was safe and easy, everyone who wanted to achieve sobriety would do it and drug rehabilitation centers would be significantly fewer and far between.
If self-detox was safe and easy, everyone who wanted to achieve sobriety would do it.
That is not to say that self-detoxification always results in failure; there are a select few who are able to successfully self-detox under specific conditions. However, most people who attempt it waste valuable time and health trying and failing after so much time has already been wasted while in the grip of drug or alcohol addiction.
Additionally, self-detox only addresses the physical aspect of addiction, yet the mental aspect is just as important. If only one facet of an addiction is addressed, then recovery can become imbalanced and buckle under its own weight. All aspects of a drug or alcohol abuse habit must be appropriately addressed, or the entire endeavor takes on a high risk of failure.
What Happens After Detox?
According to the National Institutes of Health and National Center for Biotechnology Information, a successful detoxification process can be measured, in part, by whether an individual who is substance dependent enters, remains in, and is compliant with the treatment protocol of a substance abuse treatment/rehabilitation program after detoxification.
A drug or alcohol detox is only the first step on a long path through rehab and to long-term sobriety. Following your successful detoxification, you will ideally begin an addiction treatment program at a reputable facility. Addiction treatment services should include counseling, support, aftercare, addiction therapies, mental health treatment and medical care as needed.
Sometimes even when a patient does everything right and by the so-called textbook, they still can relapse at some point in their future. One of the best ways to reduce the chance of a relapse is to choose a quality addiction treatment facility that offers addiction aftercare services to their patients who have successfully completed their program.
The Unity Behavioral Rehab Way
There are certain amenities that every reputable drug or alcohol detox center should be equipped with. At Unity Behavioral Health, we pride ourselves on the tools we offer our patients to maximize their success during detox and beyond.
These are just a few of the features of our drug and alcohol detoxification programs:
While all detox facilities are required to hold state licensure, many are not recognized by national accreditation organizations like the Joint Commission. This distinction ensures that we are held to the highest possible industry standards.
Care and Compassion
There are few things that are more difficult than alcohol or drug detox. Withdrawal symptoms can devastate the mind and body, while motivation can be difficult to hold onto. That’s when a little love and kindness can go a long way.
Nothing about your treatment should be done according to trial-and-error. Our professionals are committed to employing only clinically proven techniques to minimize your discomfort and improve your chances for success.
When withdrawal symptoms are potentially life-threatening, you don’t want to spend a single second of your drug or alcohol detox period without the supervision of medical professionals. A medically supervised detox ensures you get the attention you need while minimizing health risks. From the moment you walk into our facility till the day your rehab is complete, our medical experts will be by your side.
While your body is expelling drugs and/or alcohol, you should be supplementing your recovery with a balanced diet. Our facility offers nutritious and delicious meals for you during detoxification to help you to rebuild the strength you’ll depend on during rehab.
Begin your road to recovery by contacting our addiction care experts at Unity Behavioral Health today. We offer a wide-range of recovery services, amenities and therapies to help our patient population achieve sobriety. Your success in drug/alcohol detoxification and long-term recovery is our goal, talk to a counselor today by contacting us at 561-812-5500.