Detox Guide For Those With Addictions To Drugs Or Alcohol

Detox Guide for Your Drug and Alcohol Addiction

A drug and alcohol detox guide can be helpful for you if you're someone who is currently suffering from an addiction. You may realize that there are many different options for you for treatment, and it's possible that someone recommended that you go through drug detox as your very first step during recovery. You might even be feeling confused because you assumed that going to drug or alcohol rehab would be all that would be required for you to stop using substances. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and those who choose to go to a detox center first often have a much better experience as they recover from addictions.

A drug or alcohol addiction is a very complex process that's different for everyone. It's important to understand how addiction works in the brain, and why detoxification can be so beneficial for you as you seek to leave your life of addiction behind you for good. Once you understand the value of going through alcohol or drug detox, you'll find that it is a step that should not be skipped if you intend to experience recovery from your addiction.

Detox Guide

What is Alcohol and Drug Detox, and Why is it Important?

Drug and alcohol detox is the process of eliminating substances from your body that do not belong. Whether you are addicted to illegal drugs, prescription pain medications or alcohol, all of those substances leave toxins behind that must be removed from the body. There are a number of different methods that can be used, which will be covered later on in this detox guide.

In fact, research has shown that those who undergo drug or alcohol detox prior to getting any other type of addiction treatment have a much better chance of being successful during their recoveries than those who don't.

Detox works by both speeding up the process of the withdrawal stages that occur when a substance is no longer being used, and by helping to alleviate withdrawal symptoms that can occur as a result. When these toxins are removed from the body, the recovery process is much smoother for the addicted individual. In fact, research has shown that those who undergo drug or alcohol detox prior to getting any other type of addiction treatment have a much better chance of being successful during their recoveries than those who don't.

Detoxification is important for a number of different reasons. For one, it helps to guard against relapse because the individual is in a controlled setting where substances are not available. It also protects the addicted person from experiencing any dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can occur when certain substances are stopped abruptly.

The Need for Detoxification in the United States: A Brief Look at the Statistics

The addiction rates in the United States have never been higher than they are right now. Whether you're looking at alcohol use rates, or drug addiction rates, so many people in the U.S. are suffering from addictions, and many of them don't realize that there is a way out for them. In fact, statistics from SAMHSA tell us that:

23.5 Million

The number of people in the US who are age 12 and older who need to be treated for either an alcohol problem or illicit drug problem. Only 2.6 million of them have ever been to treatment.

2.5 Million

Annually, there are about 2.5 million emergency room visits that are related to drug or alcohol misuse. Approximately 1.25 million of these visits involved illegal drugs.

1.24 Million

About 1.24 million of these visits involved the nonmedical use of prescription medications. About 610,000 of these visits involved drugs and alcohol combined.


From 2004 to 2011, the number of drug abuse emergency room visits has increased 52%. About 40% of the ER visits for patients who were age 20 or younger involved both drugs and alcohol.


In 2011, there were 200,000 emergency room visits that were because of drug-related suicide attempts. This number increased 41% between 2004 and 2011.


In 2011, only about 250,000 of those treated in the emergency room for drugs or alcohol were seeking detox services.

These statistics are rather shocking for most people, but the problem of addiction in the United States has never been more serious than it is right now. What's most troubling is that so many people fail to recognize the type of help that is available for them, an instead, they either try to stop using on their own, or they continue to use because they've sentenced themselves to a lifetime of addiction without any hope for recovery.

Fortunately, neither of these scenarios needs to apply. It is possible to stop using drugs or alcohol, regardless of the type of substances that are being used. Detoxification offers a way for addicted individuals to find the hope they need for recovering from their addictions.

Going Cold Turkey and the Dangers of Detoxing On Your Own

Detoxing from Drugs and Alcohol

Stopping the use of drugs or alcohol on your own is something that is never recommended, and there are a number of reasons why this is the case. The main reason many people choose this method of quitting is because they assume that they know what it will be like. Many people have had to endure short periods of abstaining from drugs or alcohol, and so, they've experienced short-term withdrawal symptoms. This might occur when they have to be at a social event where they can't use, or when they run out of their substances of choice and have to go without them until they can be replenished. These individuals believe they know what withdrawal is, and they also believe they can get through it on their own without professional help.

Of course, stopping the use of drugs and alcohol permanently yields very different results, and these are results that most people are not prepared to deal with on their own. Even so, people who have gone through minor withdrawal symptoms will often falsely believe that they can stop using on their own whenever they want to.

The cold turkey method of quitting involves the immediate cessation of the use of any substance at all, and more often than not, this method ends up failing. If and when the method does fail, people who attempt it are putting themselves at a great risk for one of two things occurring. They may:

Fail to get through their withdrawal symptoms and then go back to using the same amount of the substance as they were before they stopped. This is very dangerous because it can result in overdosing on the drugs or alcohol. Overdosing occurs because of how quickly tolerance levels in the body can change when substances are stopped. For example, someone who was using heroin and then stopped, but goes back to using the same amount of heroin as he or she was previously using is very likely to suffer from an overdose. The same is true for other substances. Unless an overdose is treated quickly, it can result in death.

Inadvertently teach themselves that they need drugs or alcohol in order to survive. This happens because relapsing repeatedly results in a cycle of addiction. This reinforces the idea in the addicted individual's mind that the substances are a necessary part of life.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM):

  • The leading cause of accidental death in the United States is drug overdose.
  • In 2015, there were more than 52,000 lethal drug overdoses.
  • Of those overdoses, more than 20,000 of them were related to prescription pain medications, which means that opioid addiction is most likely the driving force behind this problem.
  • Close to 13,000 of these overdoses involved heroin.
  • In 2008, the overdose rate was about four times what it was in 1999.

It's difficult to say how many of these fatal overdoses were due to cold turkey quitting attempts, but from what is known about relapse rates among those who choose to quit using drugs or alcohol without professional help, it's fairly safe to say that many of them were.

Substance Abuse and the Types of Drugs that Require Detox

At one time, it was believed that there were only some types of drugs that really benefited from detoxification. Because of this, drug and alcohol detox wasn't always recommended for everyone who has an addiction. Today, so much more is known about drug addiction, and it is now believed that almost every type of addiction can at least benefit from getting this type of addiction treatment before the patient goes to drug or alcohol treatment.

Even though there are a lot of drugs that are not considered to be physically addictive, even these substances can lead to physical withdrawal symptoms. Today, detoxification is generally recommended for everyone with an addiction, and there are some types of drugs for which it is required for safety reasons.

The types of drugs that can experience benefits from going through the detox process include:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Valium
  • Ativan
  • Xanax
  • Opiates (or Opioids)
  • Vicodin
  • Heroin
  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • Stimulants
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Synthetic Drugs
  • Spice
  • K2
  • K2
  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Club Drugs
  • Ketamine
  • PCP
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • LSD
  • GHB


Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: What You Can Expect

Again, it should be noted that stopping the use of alcohol on your own is dangerous, and it can result in serious medical complications if attempted. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can become a life-threatening condition whether you have been drinking for weeks, months or years. Also, it can occur if you choose stop drinking abruptly, or if you even decide to cut down on your use of alcohol.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start as soon as two hours after the last drink has been consumed. The symptoms can last for weeks at a time, and some people even experience rebound symptoms long after they assumed they'd gotten through the worst part of withdrawal. As alcohol withdrawal symptoms progress, they usually increase in severity, and as time goes on, they can become unbearable. It's also common for additional symptoms to begin that were not associated with the earlier symptoms of withdrawal.

Some of the most common types of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Experiencing anxiety or panic attacks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Profuse sweating (hot or cold)
  • Painful headaches
  • Problems with sleeping (insomnia)
  • Shakiness in the hands

Sometimes people will experience hallucinations within the first 48 hours after they have stopped drinking as well.

The reason why it's so important to go through detox after you've stopped participating in alcohol abuse is because of the high risk of delirium tremens, or DTs. DTs can be very dangerous, and they've been known to cause death for as many as 5% of those who suffer from them. DTs usually peak at the fifth day after you've stopped drinking alcohol, and they are characterized by:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Becoming disoriented and confused
  • Experiencing visual hallucinations that are not distinguishable from reality
  • The onset of seizures
  • Profuse sweats
  • Irregular heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Low grade fever
  • Serious and severe tremors

Withdrawal Symptoms with Prescription Drugs

So many people begin using prescription drugs with only the best intentions in mind. They receive them because they're suffering from some type of ailment or condition, and they need the drugs in order to relieve pain, get to sleep at night, or even just to be able to focus properly in school or at work. Unfortunately, it's possible to become addicted to many different types of prescription drugs, and this type of problem is on the rise in the United States.

Once some people realize that they've become addicted to prescription drugs, it's relatively common for them to want to stop taking them immediately. Doing so is very dangerous, and it can result in a host of different symptoms. Of course, these symptoms vary depending on the type of drug you're addicted to. It's important to look at a few different drug classifications separately in order to understand the various withdrawal symptoms that can occur when they are stopped.

Opioid or Opiate Drugs Withdrawal Symptoms

When these types of drugs are stopped abruptly, the withdrawal symptoms that can occur include:

  • Problems sleeping, such as insomnia or nightmares
  • Severe anxiety symptoms
  • Achiness in the muscles
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Becoming very agitated
  • Mood swings

Stimulant Drugs Withdrawal Symptoms

When stimulant medications are stopped quickly, the resulting withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable or even dangerous in some cases. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Problems with sleeping at night
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Hot or cold sweats
  • Tremors in the body
  • Severe mood swings
  • Symptoms of depression

Benzodiazepine Drugs Withdrawal Symptoms

People often use benzodiazepines to help them with anxiety, and some will even use them to aid in sleep. Their withdrawal symptoms can be severe, and can include:

  • Becoming very confused
  • Abdominal cramping and nausea
  • Becoming severely depressed
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Experiencing heart palpitations
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Weight loss

It is also possible to experience seizures when these drugs are stopped abruptly, and many people have gone through DTs, which is very similar to what happens when people stop drinking alcohol.

Illegal Drugs and their Withdrawal Effects

Various classifications and types of illegal drugs also have their own withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped abruptly without professional guidance and supervision. These drugs are very dangerous, and many people fear going through drug detox because they're nervous about the legal problems they may experience by doing so. Fortunately, this is a concern that is highly unnecessary because of the fact that addiction treatment is highly favored in most states over any type of legal charges or incarceration.

Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal symptoms generally don't last as long as those of some other types of drugs because of its shorter half-life. However, the symptoms can be severe with heroin withdrawal. People often experience:

  • Muscle aches in the body
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • A runny nose
  • Insomnia or other sleep problems
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Digestive problems
  • Upset stomach

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone is facing cocaine withdrawal, that individual might experience a prolonged detox period that includes symptoms such as:

  • Feeling chronically fatigued
  • Experiencing an increase in appetite
  • Severe depression
  • Being very agitated
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Intense cravings for the drugs

Sometimes depression can become so severe that individuals can experience suicidal thoughts, and these can persist for several months after the drug has been stopped.

Club Drugs Withdrawal Symptoms

Abruptly stopping the use of club drugs, or party drugs, is very dangerous, and there are a number of different withdrawal symptoms that will generally be experienced. These can include:

  • Heart problems
  • Stomach problems, including nausea and stomach cramps
  • Experiencing delirium and confusion
  • Body tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • Tachycardia
  • Hallucinations as the withdrawal period progresses

Synthetic Drug Withdrawal

Synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous because of their ingredients, and when they are stopped, some of the withdrawal symptoms that can be experienced might include:

  • A loss of appetite
  • Intense cravings for the substances
  • A loss of motivation
  • Intermittent psychotic episodes
  • Profuse vomiting and diarrhea
  • Extreme hot or cold sweats

The Detoxification Process: Why Should it be the First Step in Recovery?

The detox process should be the first step in recovery for a few different reasons. First of all, it helps to alleviate many of the above withdrawal symptoms, as well as any other symptoms that might arise as the drugs or alcohol leave the body. Secondly, drug and alcohol detox is essential because it offers the individual the opportunity to stop using drugs or alcohol with a much lower risk of developing any serious medical complications as a result of doing so. Seizures, heart problems, stroke and even comas are all complications that can occur when the above substances are stopped.

Physical withdrawal symptoms are what drive most people back to using when they're attempting to recover from an addiction. It is important to get these symptoms under control so that the probability of a successful recovery can be increased. Those who go through drug and alcohol detox have a much better chance of sustaining addiction recovery long term.

Medically Managed Detox: Is it the Right Option for You?

A medically managed detox is the process of using medications to assist with the detoxification process. It's important for patients to receive a full and complete assessment prior to starting any type of addiction treatment because medications are not always necessary. However, there are many types of addictions that require it in order for the patients to detox safely and successfully.

There are a number of different types of medications that might be considered appropriate for use during medically managed detox. Some of these include:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Relapse prevention medicines
    Medications that are anticonvulsants
  • Medications that are antipsychotics
  • Barbiturate medications

Addiction treatment personnel take great care in assessing patients for medically managed detoxification, and they may be considered appropriate based upon:

  • What types of substances they have been using
  • How long they've been using
  • How much of their drug of choice they have been using
  • Whether or not they have histories of extreme withdrawal symptoms
  • Whether or not they are currently going through withdrawal
  • Whether or not they are still under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Medical Detox: Understanding the Most Common Methods Used

There are a number of different methods that are commonly used during medical detox. Some of these include:

  • Rapid Detox – During this type of detox, patients are either asleep under general anesthesia or they are awake. They're given medications through an IV that help to move toxins out of the body.
  • Tapering – Sometimes patients present with certain types of addictions that require that their medications are tapered down, rather than stopped abruptly. This should only be done under medical supervision because of the complications that can occur when these drugs are decreased, even slightly.
  • Administering Medications – There are some medications that have been approved for those who are addicted to certain drugs. For example, Suboxone is a medication that has been approved for those who have heroin addictions. These types of medications help to decrease cravings for the drug.
  • Ultra-Rapid Detox – This is a method that is largely not practiced much in the United States anymore because it can be incredibly dangerous for the patient. As many as one out of every 500 patients who undergo this process have died as a result of it. It is done under general anesthesia using the IV medication Naltrexone.
  • Holistic Detox – This method is one that many professionals are beginning to gravitate toward because of the fact that it is so much safer for the patients involved. It uses nutritional changes and exercise as a way to remove toxins from the body and improve the overall health of the patient.

Once patients are carefully assessed for the type of detox that would be appropriate for them, they are given a recommendation and treatment is started immediately.

Can Certain Medications Assist with Alleviating Withdrawal Symptoms?

Addiction is a disease that does not have a cure, and withdrawal symptoms are a given whenever drugs or alcohol are stopped. However, there are FDA approved medications that can be used to help make the detoxification process easier on the patient, as well as safer and much more tolerable. It is important to manage any difficult withdrawal symptoms, and some of the medications that are commonly given for this purpose include:

  • For Opiate Users: Methadone, Subutex, Buprenorphine and Suboxone.
  • For Benzodiazepine Users: A barbiturate medication, or a different benzodiazepine medication. Medical tapering is often utilized as well, as a way to reduce the effects of withdrawal.
  • For Stimulant Users: Benzodiazepine medications have been found to be very effective for those with addictions to stimulants.
  • For Alcohol Users: Anticonvulsants and anti-seizure medications are commonly given, along with benzodiazepine medications.
  • For Synthetic Drug Users: Suboxone and Naltrexone are often given.
  • For Club Drug Users: Benzodiazepines may be given in some circumstances, as well as additional drugs that may be deemed appropriate to manage symptoms.

Even though there are a lot of detox centers in the United States that rely upon medical detox to assist their patients through the withdrawal phase for any addictions, many are beginning to lean more toward holistic detox as a way to facilitate recovery during the earliest stages of withdrawal.

Holistic Detoxification: Examining the Benefits

There are so many great benefits to going through a holistic detox program when you're suffering from an addiction. One of the reasons for this is simply because there are no additional substances introduced to the addicted individual that can lead to addiction.

During holistic detox, the patient experiences a natural release of all of the toxins that are in the body. This deep cleansing occurs because of the fact that the body was designed to be able to get rid of toxins on its own, as long as the right circumstances are present. Most people with addictions are generally unhealthy, which makes it very difficult for them to remove those toxins on their own. Once changes are made to the user's diet, and once exercise has been introduced, the user's health begins to become restored and this process can take place.

During holistic detox, patients are introduced to at least some of the following:

  • Relaxation and stretching exercises, like Yoga
  • Various types of massage
  • Meeting with a nutritionist to make improvements in the user's diet
  • Introducing exercise during the user's daily routine
  • Introducing meditation exercises

While it's true that holistic detox is very different from medical detox, in instances where patients would not be put at risk by not utilizing medications during the detoxification process, holistic detox might provide them with many more benefits, including a more successful recovery.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction: What is Self-Tapering?

Some addicted individuals are scared of the idea of going cold turkey, and yet, they're not entirely prepared to enter into a drug and alcohol detox program either. As a result, they will often attempt self-tapering. Self-tapering is the process of reducing the amount of substances that are being used over a period of time. The theory behind this method is that withdrawal symptoms will be less severe and the entire act of quitting with be much more tolerable.

There is no research that demonstrates any real benefits of self-tapering, although research does indicate that it may help to reduce the instances of medical complications.

Self-tapering is usually done in a number of ways, including:

  • Drinking a different type of alcohol than normal
  • Using weaker drugs or less alcohol when mixing drinks
  • Increasing the length of time between each use
  • Reducing how often alcohol or drugs are used
  • Gradually replacing alcohol or drugs with other non-addictive substances
  • Lessening the amount of drugs or alcohol that are used during the course of the day

At-Home Drug and Alcohol Detox: How is it Done? Is it Safe?

At-home drug detox is never recommended, but it if is attempted, it is always recommended to consult with a doctor first. Your doctor will be able to give you the appropriate advice regarding what supplies you should have on hand. He or she may even offer to prescribe medications to help make the process easier on your body and mind.

There are at-home drug detox kits that can be purchased, but most people who attempt this type of detox prefer to do so with a few supplies on hand, such as:

  • Plenty of fluids
  • Nutritious food
  • Sedatives to help with anxiety
  • Relaxation aids, such as herbal tea
  • Medications to help with vomiting or upset stomach
  • A thermometer to check body temperature regularly
  • Ibuprofen or Tylenol for aches and pains

Detoxing at home is something that should never be attempted without someone there to support you while you're going through it. You should also be able to get a lot of rest during the process. A comfortable bed, soft blankets and plenty of pillows will help with this.

Home Detox and the Risks Involved

Even though many people attempt to do an at-home detox, there are a lot of risks involved with it, and these should always be taken into consideration before it is attempted. It's typical for the body to go into shock when a substance it has become used to is suddenly taken away, and this can have a profound effect on the body.

Some of the serious risks involved with at-home detox include:

  • Severe upset stomach
  • Risk of extreme nausea and vomiting
  • A high risk of cardiac arrest
  • Severe blood pressure changes
  • A risk of becoming dehydrated
  • A risk of having a stroke
  • The risk of a coma

Trained professionals at a drug and alcohol detox center understand the risks involved with detoxing from various substances, and they know what to do in the event of an emergency. More importantly, they also know the steps to take that can help patients avoid being in a situation that will result in a medical emergency. The risks involved with at-home detox are great, and they should not be ignored or taken lightly.

The Cost of Drug and Alcohol Detox and Insurance Coverage

It's normal for people to be very concerned about the cost of going through detoxification. Even though many health insurance companies will offer benefits to help pay for it, it's still possible that there are those policies that require some small amount to be paid out of pocket.

Every drug and alcohol detox center is different, and patients all require a different type of detox, based on their genetic makeup, the type of addiction they're suffering from, and how long they have been using. For these reasons, the cost of detox is going to vary from patient to patient. However, if the expense is being covered out of pocket, the cost could be as high as $5,000.

The best way to determine how much it will cost you to get this type of addiction treatment is to contact a drug and alcohol facility that offers it. They will help you understand the type of detox and addiction treatment you need, and they'll even contact your health insurance provider for you to ask about your benefits.

Continuing Addiction Treatment After Detox

Sometimes, patients get the false idea that going through alcohol and drug detox is a cure-all for their addictions. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. It's important to get this type of substance abuse treatment as the first step in recovery, but when patients fail to follow through with drug or alcohol rehab afterwards, their chances of relapsing go up tremendously. In fact, according to one John Hopkins study, relapse rates are as high as 80% only one month after discharge when patients do not receive another type of drug or alcohol treatment.

In short, detoxification should never be seen as the end of addiction treatment. It should always be utilized as the very first step on a long road of recovery.

Alcohol and Drug Rehab: Types of Ongoing Treatment

Once patients go through drug and alcohol detox, they're often curious as to what the next step for them will be. Some type of addiction treatment is recommended because it's important to address the immediate cause of the addiction.

There are a number of different drug and alcohol treatment programs, and these include:

Each of these has its benefits, and it's important to talk with a professional about which method would be right for you.

Your Addiction Aftercare: Continuing to Get Support

Once you have completed detox, and you've gone to the recommended type of addiction treatment, ongoing care is essential for you to continue to stay in recovery. The type of ongoing care that is appropriate for you might be different than what would work well for someone else; even someone with the same type of addiction.

Quite often, addiction treatment professionals will recommend a step-down approach for their patients who are finishing inpatient treatment. For example, it may be recommended for you to go to an intensive outpatient program for a period of several weeks, and then you may be referred to traditional outpatient treatment. Once you complete drug and alcohol rehab, you might be referred to one of the many Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings in your home town. Your therapist will help you understand and decide what will work the best for you.

The most important thing you can do is to avoid looking at detox as a quick fix. It will help with your recovery, but there is much work that still needs to be done once you complete it.

Is Alcohol and Drug Detox Right for You?

If you have been using drugs or alcohol for any period of time, and you believe that you have an addiction to them, the answer to that question is yes, detoxification is the right course of action for you to take. You may have a lot of questions about how to get started with a detox program near you, and it's important for you to get a recommendation for the appropriate type that will fit your needs according to the type of addiction you're suffering from.

Here at Northpoint Washington, we have had the pleasure of working with people from all over the United States, and we've been able to provide so many of them with our drug and alcohol detox services. You'll find that our caring and professional approach can provide you with the tools you need to recover successfully from your addiction.

Did you find this alcohol and drug detox guide useful? Are you ready to get help for your addiction? If so, please contact us today.

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