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A Comprehensive Guide to the Process of Drug Detoxification

A Comprehensive Guide to the Process of Drug Detoxification

Addiction is an incredibly destructive disease. And if you finally want to break free from its clutches once and for all, you simply must go through drug detoxification.

Detox is often identified as the very first step down the road to recovery.

It sets the vital foundation for healing that other treatment programs like rehabilitation and 12-step groups are built off of. Plus, it’s also a critical step for preventing relapse.

And if you or your loved one is struggling with addiction at this very moment, it’s absolutely essential that you learn more about what drug detox is, why it’s so important for recovery, and what to look for when seeking out a professional detoxification clinic.

And if you’re worried about your or your loved one’s addiction, simply taking the time to seek out this information means you’re already closer to recovery than most.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of people suffering from drug addiction don’t ever get the help they need. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health(NSDUH) from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  • Only about 4.5% of the 17.7 million U.S. adults that met the clinical criteria for needing treatment for substance abuse admitted they had a problem. 16.9 million felt that they didn’t have a problem at all.
  • Around 6 million Americans had an illicit drug problem in 2016. About 93.3%(or 5.6 million) of them were in denial about their addiction.
  • Of the addicted Americans who recognized they needed treatment, almost 1 out of 5 didn’t receive help simply because they didn’t know where to go for treatment.

As you can see, denial and misinformation when it comes to addiction is a very serious problem, especially since there are so many drug detox and rehabilitation options to choose from.

But even though addiction is so common today, achieving sobriety and living a clean and sober life is still possible.

This comprehensive guide will take you through everything you need to know about drug detoxification and more so that you can finally live the life you were meant to live.

What Is Drug Detoxification & How Does It Work?

Before jumping into some of the specifics about different detox programs and what to expect during your stay in a detoxification facility, let’s first take a closer look at what detoxing from drugs really is.

First off, addiction is defined as “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

In addition to these compulsive behaviors, many addicts are also physically dependent on their substance of abuse (though they aren’t always).  

When someone becomes dependent on a substance, their body goes through many physical changes as a result. That’s because the body is always trying to move towards a state of homeostasis or balance. And when you’re high, it makes your body less stable and throws off that balance. As a result, the body changes to try and even out these instabilities.

These changes often occur on a cellular level. Certain receptors may become more or less common, the potency of neurotransmitters might increase or decrease, and entire hormone systems can wax and wane in activity levels.

When the substance of abuse is removed entirely, the body has to reverse all of these physical changes in order to get back to normal functioning. And that process can cause a host of uncomfortable (and possibly lethal) physical and psychological effects known as withdrawal symptoms.

Drug detoxification, then, is the process of keeping you safe and comfortable as your body readjusts to life without drugs. Physicians and staff of detox facilities will administer various treatments and therapies to reduce the severity of these symptoms and try to shorten the duration as well.

And when you partner with a professional drug detox facility, you significantly reduce the risk of relapse and deadly complications during detoxification.

Do I Need to Detox from Drugs Before Rehabilitation?

The short answer here is YES. You do need to go through detoxification from drugs before entering a rehabilitation or aftercare program.

But why? Why can’t you just go straight to rehab or into a 12-step program? Is drug detox really that important?

One of the most essential components of a quality drug detoxification program is having the medical know-how to protect you from dangerous complications. While the withdrawal symptoms of most drugs won’t kill you directly (though some will as we’ll see later), these symptoms can add up to create dangerous conditions that may put your life in jeopardy.

Respiratory failure, dehydration, cardiac arrhythmias, and even suicidal thoughts are all common risks when it comes to especially severe cases of withdrawal. And without proper expertise, they may pose a serious risk to your health during drug detoxification.

Beyond the risk of deadly complications is the fact that a professional detox from drugs will also reduce and even eliminate your risk of relapsing throughout the process. That’s because most programs operate on a closed campus. While you can certainly see friends and family that stop by for a visit, patients are generally not allowed to leave campus grounds during detoxification.

This restriction is meant to stop patients from turning back to drugs. And considering that many people return to using simply to find relief from the overwhelming symptoms of withdrawal, having a responsible party there to stop you can be an invaluable service.

What Kinds of Detox Programs Are Available?

In your search of a drug detoxification program, you'll likely come across two kinds of facilities: inpatient detox and outpatient detox. And while each program has its own set of pros and cons, inpatient is largely considered to be the “gold standard” of programs for detox from drugs.  

Let’s take a look at what separates these two kinds of facilities.

Inpatient Drug Detoxification – As the name suggests, an inpatient program requires patients to stay on campus grounds throughout the detoxification process. As we saw earlier, this helps reduce the risk of relapsing during detox. But beyond that, it also provides patients with a host of activities that can help them deal with their cravings more effectively and even learn valuable strategies that aid in fostering long-term sobriety as well.

An inpatient drug detox facility will also be able to provide 24/7 nursing care in most cases. And when you're dealing with anything but a mild addiction, this level of medical care can not only make detox much more comfortable, but it might even end up saving your life.

For these reasons, inpatient drug detoxification is usually the detox option recommended for most recovering addicts.

Outpatient Detox from Drugs – While an inpatient program may confine patients to the campus grounds, an outpatient program for detoxing from drugs allows recovering addicts to carry out their daily obligations and come in for treatment once a day.

And although an outpatient drug detox program might sound more appealing at first, there are a couple of important points to consider before checking into these programs.

First, an outpatient program won’t offer the same level of relapse prevention as an inpatient program simply because it won't be able to monitor your drug use throughout the day. An enormous degree of self-control, then, is required for outpatient drug detox.

Second, outpatient programs won’t be able to provide 24/7 medical oversight. As such, you might be more at risk for developing deadly withdrawal complications simply because medical care won’t be as readily available.

And finally, an outpatient program won’t include the numerous supplementary treatments that will help keep you from relapsing further down the path to recovery.

So, while outpatient drug detox might sound more appealing because of its flexibility, it might not be right for the majority of recovering drug addicts.  

What’s the Difference Between Medicated & Holistic Drug Detox Programs?

Another difference between programs you’ll likely see as you hunt for drug detox programs is whether a facility calls itself medicated or holistic. And while many programs tend to offer a mix of the two philosophies, understanding the distinction between the two is an important part of finding the right detox facility for you.

Drug Detox Information

Medicated Drug Detoxification – A medicated detox program tends to focus on treating withdrawals with prescription medications alone. Though some of these medications can be quite effective, there are a few risks involved that make this type of treatment less than ideal.

For instance, many of these medications often have their own set of nasty side effects. The Methadone, for example, is commonly used in treating opioid withdrawals and may itself cause side effects like:
  • Anxiety
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irritability
  • Weight changes
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual irregularities

And when you add those to the already-uncomfortable withdrawals you’re likely experiencing, it can be a lot to handle.

Beyond that, some of these medications are addictive by themselves. Benzodiazepines, which may be used to treat anxiety during drug detox, are some of the most addictive drugs used today. Plus, they can even be deadly in some cases.

The Holistic Approach – Rather than treating withdrawals solely with prescription medications, a holistic drug detox program focuses on supporting the body so that it can detoxify more naturally.

As it turns out, the human body is actually pretty good at clearing out toxins already. But in most cases, addicts are suffering from numerous nutritional deficiencies due to their addiction. With a holistic program, patients are given nutrient-rich meal plans to replenish the body’s natural detoxifying abilities.

Added to that, programs for holistic detox from drugs also use exercise and numerous other behavioral therapies to strengthen both the body and the mind during detoxification and reduce anxiety.

Can I Go Through Detoxification from Drugs at Home?

As addiction becomes increasingly common, more and more addicts are considering going through drug detoxification on their own rather than partnering with a professional facility.

It might have to do with the shame and guilt that’s so common among substance abusers. It could be the stigma attached to addiction. Or maybe it’s even the money (though detox is more affordable than ever as we’ll see later).

No matter what the reasons, though, it’s important to truly understand both the dangers of at-home detox from drugs and the advantages that a professional detoxification facility provides.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes at-home detox such a bad idea compared to a professional program.

Medical Oversight – Perhaps the biggest benefit of a professional program is having access to medical care during your drug detoxification. Whether it’s dealing with the lethal withdrawals that are possible with some drugs or treating the serious complications that can occur, a professional program will keep you safe throughout the course of your detox. Going through withdrawals at home, then, may end up being a risk to your health.

Expertise & Proven Treatments – Protocols of a professional facility are often built off of evidence-based strategies that are proven by science. Studies have shown that they can reduce both the severity and duration of your withdrawals. If you detox at home, then, expect a much longer, more painful detoxification process.

Supplementary Therapies – Many programs for detoxing from drugs also incorporate additional therapies to teach you valuable coping strategies and help you deal with withdrawals in a healthy way. Not only will these therapies help with your detoxification, but they can also even be used later to support your long-term recovery as well.

Emotional & Motivational Support – Getting through recovery takes an enormous amount of support. And when you’re being assaulted by numerous psychological withdrawal symptoms, that support is even more essential. A professional drug detox program will help provide that vital emotional and motivational support throughout the process. So, you can always be sure someone is cheering you on towards sobriety.

Relapse Prevention – Last but not least, a professional program for detox from drugs will also protect you from your own worst enemy: yourself. Withdrawals during detoxification can often be exceedingly uncomfortable and sometimes overwhelming. And that might lead you to try and start using again just to stop feeling these symptoms. A professional detox program will help stop you from relapsing during recovery. But if you try to get through withdrawals by yourself, it’s likely willpower alone won’t be enough.

Can You Die from While Detoxing?

One of the most important reasons for siding with a professional detox program is because drug detoxification can be deadly. It’s true – certain drugs do have life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal. And if you go through detoxification by yourself at home, you might be putting your life at risk as a result.

Below are the two types of drugs that can end up having lethal symptoms of withdrawal: benzodiazepines and opioids.

Benzodiazepines – Most commonly prescribed as anti-seizure medications and as medications used to treat anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines are some of the most highly-prescribed drugs in the United States. In fact, studies have shown that benzo prescriptions have more than tripled in the past 20 years.

However, detoxing from these drugs can end up causing life-threatening grand mal seizures without proper treatment. That's because benzos interact directly with the brain's main inhibitory chemical called GABA by making it more potent. Over time, the body tries to counteract the stronger GABA by increasing the strength of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate.

The problem is when benzodiazepines are abruptly removed from an addict’s pattern of use (as in drug detox for example), the GABA returns to its normal potency while glutamate stays just as strong. As a result, the brain is overwhelmed with excitatory impulses and is launched into a flurry of electrical activity which can end up causing life-threatening seizures.  

With proper medical interventions from professional drug detox programs, these seizures can be prevented. But without help, detoxing from this drug alone may end up costing you your life.

Opioids –The risk of death with opioids is a bit different than benzodiazepines. Rather than directly causing life-threatening symptoms, opioids instead prime your body for a catastrophic overdose which could result in death.

To explain, opioids are notorious for building up tolerance incredibly quickly. In fact, some studies have even shown that high doses of opioids can actually result in heightened tolerance within just a few hours. This phenomenon is known as tachyphylaxis.

But tolerance to opioids can drop quite quickly too – often faster than most people might expect. And this can be especially dangerous when it comes to relapsing.

For instance, if an opioid addict successfully goes through detoxification over a week, their tolerance will like drop dramatically. However, if they relapse and go back to using the same dosage of opioids that got them high before, their body may not have to tolerance to handle it. As a result, they may end up experiencing a deadly overdose as a result.

And given that relapse rates for some opioids have been shown to be as high as 91% in some cases, it’s especially important that you get all the help you can to prevent returning back to opioid abuse.

What Kinds of Drug Withdrawals Can I Expect?

Not everyone’s drug detoxification process is going to end up being the exact same. In fact, your withdrawals could end up being drastically different from someone else who abused the same drug for the exact same amount of time.

That’s because your experience detoxing from drugs of abuse is determined by a number of different factors. These include:

Accurately predicting the precise physical and psychological symptoms you’ll experience during drug detox, then, is almost impossible. That being said, many substances of abuse have a list of documented withdrawals that have been observed in the past. We’ve listed those symptoms below organized by drug type.

Remember though; this list is not meant to be a 100% accurate roadmap of the symptoms you will go through during drug detoxification. Rather, think of it more as the possible side effects of detox that you might experience instead.

Prescription Opioids – Prescription opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Fentanyl are some of the most widely abused and dangerous drugs being used today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 46 people die every single day from overdoses involving prescription opioids. Added to that, more than 40% of all drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved prescription opioids.

As you can see, prescription opioids have a huge hand in the current drug epidemic. And part of that is due to just how difficult it can be to weather the symptoms of withdrawal during this type of drug detoxification. Most people describe the process as a being similar to the flu, but ten times worse.

According to MedlinePlus, the most common symptoms you can expect to go through during this kind of drug detox are:
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Cocaine – Cocaine has long been one of the most problematic and widely abused illicit drugs in the country and indeed across the world. This illegal stimulant has a strong connection with the party scene, and while abuse statistics have gone down since the early 2000s, cocaine abuse is on the rise once again.

NIDA reports that in 2011, cocaine was involved in more than 1 in 3 emergency room visits involving the misuse or abuse of a drug (505,224 of the nearly 1.3 million visits). Beyond that, overdose involving cocaine numbered well over 5,000 in 2014 alone.

Drug Detox from cocaine addiction is usually limited to psychological symptoms. However, cravings during cocaine withdrawals can be incredibly intense and often times overwhelming. Without professional help, pushing through these cravings and maintaining sobriety can be especially tough to do.

According to Mental Health Daily, the long list of symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
  • Agitation
  • Concentration problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Goosebumps
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hot flashes
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Vomiting
  • Yawning
  • Watery eyes
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle aches
  • Itchiness
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dilated pupils
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Anxiety

Heroin – Undoubtedly one of the most infamous illicit drugs in the world today, heroin has continued to be a serious problem for decades. A combination of high risk of addiction, deadly side effects, and particularly powerful withdrawals makes heroin abuse not only especially habit-forming but also quite dangerous as well.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that over half a million U.S. citizens were struggling with a heroin use disorder in 2015. In the same year, heroin was involved in almost 13,000 overdose deaths as well. And finally, almost one-quarter of all individuals who use heroin end up developing a full-blown addiction to opioids.

And when you consider the symptoms of withdrawal during drug detox from heroin, it isn’t hard to imagine why so many people have a hard time overcoming this drug dependency. According to MedlinePlus, the symptoms of withdrawal most typically experienced include:
  • Agitation and restless behavior
  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue
  • General feeling of discomfort
  • Increased appetite
  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams
  • Slowing of activity
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of pleasure (anhedonia)
  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme suspicion

Benzodiazepines – Despite just how much a part of daily life these drugs are for many people, benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium have some of the most unbearable withdrawal syndromes of any other drug. That even includes illegal heavy hitters like heroin and crystal meth.

In fact, according to the online community BlueLight, over 38% of survey respondents reported that benzodiazepine withdrawals were the worst.The next two highest responses were Methadone and heroin at 14.24%and 13.77% of respondents respectively.

According to renowned benzodiazepine researcher Professor Heather Ashton of the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, the most common withdrawal symptoms you may experience during benzodiazepine detoxification are:
  • Excitability (jumpiness, restlessness)
  • Headache
  • Insomnia, nightmares, other sleep disturbances
  • Pain/stiffness – (limbs, back, neck, teeth, jaw)
  • Increased anxiety, panic attacks
  • Tingling, numbness, altered sensation – (limbs, face, trunk)
  • Agoraphobia, social phobia
  • Weakness (“jelly-legs”)
  • Perceptual distortions
  • Fatigue, influenza-like symptoms
  • Depersonalization, derealization
  • Muscle twitches, jerks, tics, “electric shocks”
  • Hallucinations, misperceptions
  • Tremor
  • Depression
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, poor balance
  • Obsessions
  • Blurred/double vision, sore or dry eyes
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Tinnitus
  • Rage, aggression, irritability
  • Hypersensitivity - (light, sound, touch, taste, smell)
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms - (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, pain, distension, difficulty swallowing)
  • Intrusive memories
  • Appetite/weight change
  • Dry mouth, metallic taste, unusual smell
  • Flushing/sweating
  • Over-breathing
  • Urinary difficulties/menstrual difficulties
  • Skin rashes, itching

Stimulants – In most cases, withdrawals from stimulants usually have to do with psychological symptoms rather than physical ones like other drugs. And while that might sound easier to bear to some people, the truth is that the effects of withdrawal on the mind can be even more overwhelming than the physical symptoms of other substances.

In fact, the withdrawals from stimulants might be so overbearing in some cases that they can bring about a type of psychosis where recovering addicts might become violent both to others and to themselves.

According to SAMHSA, some of the most common symptoms of withdrawal experienced during this kind of detoxification are:
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Dysphoric mood, which may become clinical depression, suicidal thoughts
  • Weight loss, gaunt appearance, anorexia
  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Dehydration
  • Impaired memory
  • Fatigue, lethargy, lack of energy
  • Hunger
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities (anhedonia)
  • Psychomotor lethargy and retardation
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Intense and vivid drug-related dreams
  • Chills
  • Insomnia followed by hypersomnia

Club Drugs – As the name implies, these drugs have a strong connection to the late-night partying scene. Clubs, raves, concerts, bars, and other venues are some of the most common places that they’re used and abused, though they certainly aren’t the only locations.

According to NIDA some of the most popular club drugs are GHB, Ketamine, LSD, DMT, and MDMA or ecstasy. Rohypnol and methamphetamine are a few others though they tend to be grouped under benzodiazepines and stimulants respectively.

The withdrawal syndrome of many club drugs is quite minor in some cases. That's because many hallucinogens aren't actually physically habit-forming. That being said, there are two factors in particular that can make it exceedingly difficult to get through this type of drug detoxification: club drug additives and psychological dependence.

Many club drugs are combined with other substances like illicit stimulants or anti-anxiety medications. As such, if you’ve become addicted to a club drug, you may experience benzodiazepine or stimulant withdrawal symptoms during detox.

What’s more, just because you aren’t physically addicted to a club drug doesn’t mean you aren’t psychologically addicted to it. When you go through detoxification then, you may experience symptoms like depression, fatigue, irritability, and more as a direct result of your psychological dependency.

Additionally, some club drugs like GHB do have physical withdrawals. According to the DEA, the most common of these withdrawals are:
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Psychotic thoughts

Synthetic Drugs – While technically there are a number of other drugs that fit into this category like LSD and even fentanyl, synthetic drugs, in this case, refer to substances like synthetic marijuana, bath salts, and designer drugs like N-BOMe.

One of the biggest problems with these types of drugs is that in many cases they're legal for a brief period of time. Eventually, they do become outlawed, but manufacturers often tweak the chemical makeup enough to make it technically a new compound but still retain the same high-inducing qualities.

The DEA and FDA, then, are usually playing catch up trying to outlaw version after version of these dangerous drugs.

Since synthetic designer drugs are often so varied and have chemical compounds that change from month to month, it can be hard to nail down specific withdrawal symptoms. However, according to addiction magazine The Fix, withdrawals from one synthetic drug, Spice, may include:
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Intense cravings
  • Tremors
  • Palpitations
  • Nightmares
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Confusion
  • Extreme sweating
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of motivation
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to sleep
  • Apathy for consequences of behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

How Long Does Detox from Drugs Take?

Just as your unique detoxification experience and the withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience depends on a variety of different factors, so too does the actual duration based on these same factors.

Some recovering addicts may skate through drug detox in only a few days while others may have to bear the overwhelming withdrawals for well over a week. It simply just depends.

However, each drug class is typically associated with its own unique drug detoxification timeline. We’ve listed those timelines below along with a bit of supplementary information about the detox duration for each of the most commonly abused classes of drugs.

Prescription & Illicit Opioids (7-10 Days) – The onset of the drug detoxification process for opioids like OxyContin, hydrocodone, and illicit versions like heroin typically depend on the type of opioid being abused.

Short-acting opioids like heroin, for example, may cause withdrawal symptoms to appear just 6 to 12 hours after your last dose. Withdrawals from longer-acting opioids like methadone, however, may begin as far out as 30 hours after your last hit.

In general, though, opioid withdrawals will fall into two separate stages of the drug detoxification process along with a possible protracted withdrawal.

Stage 1 (1-3 Days) – The first stage of drug detox with opioids begins as fairly mild but gradually progresses to the peak onset at around day 3 of the detoxification. Stage 1 withdrawals include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

Stage 2 (4-7 Days) – The second stage of opioid drug detox comes after the peak at about day 3 of your detoxification. Symptoms should subside in severity as this stage progresses. You may experience symptoms like:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Benzodiazepines (1-4 weeks; 3-5 weeks w/tapering) – As we saw earlier, the withdrawal syndrome associated with benzodiazepine drug detox is one of the most unbearable of any other substance – and that includes infamous drugs like heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. And part of the reason for that is due to the especially long duration of benzodiazepine detoxification.

The onset of the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal depends on the type of benzo that's been abused. Short-acting drugs like Xanax may cause withdrawals to appear within around 6 to 12 hours after your last dose. Longer-acting ones may take days for the withdrawal syndrome to begin.

Like opioids, Xanax detox can be broken down into two distinct phases as well along with a possible protracted withdrawal syndrome which we'll explore later.

Stage 1 (1-4 Days) – The first stage of drug detox for benzodiazepines largely consists of anxiety-related symptoms. Since benzodiazepines enhance the effects of the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter, you may start feeling more over-excited as a result of stopping benzo abuse. As such, symptoms during this time may include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Anger
  • Excitability
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Social phobia

Stage 2 (6 days to several weeks) – This phase is where you'll likely feel the bulk of the symptoms associated with benzo withdrawal during drug detoxification. It usually occurs around day 4 of the process but doesn't peak in intensity until about week 2 in most cases. If you go through proper tapering (i.e., reducing the dosage slowly), you may be able to avoid these symptoms entirely.

Prescription & Illicit Stimulants (1 to 2 weeks) – This category includes drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, and other drugs (both illicit and prescription) that have a stimulant effect on the body. The duration of your drug detox when it comes to stimulants will vary widely based on the particular kind of stimulant you’ve been abusing.

Cocaine, for instance, may take around 7 days to detoxify from. A crystal meth addiction, on the other hand, could end up taking several weeks. In general, though, most stimulant drug detoxes will last around 1 to 2 weeks.

Stage 1 (around 3 days) – Symptoms will likely begin just a few hours into your drug detoxification. Abuse of many stimulants will also be accompanied by a severe crash that will happen soon after abuse as well. Symptoms during this phase usually include fatigue, depression, and general aches and pains.

Stage 2 (4 days to several weeks) – Your symptoms will likely peak in intensity around the middle of this time. After that, you’ll notice a gradual decrease in severity. However, while your physical and psychological symptoms may become much more manageable, cravings during this period can become overwhelming for some. Insomnia too will likely remain common until your drug detox is over.

What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

While your individual drug detoxification timeline will depend on what class of drugs you abused over the course of your addiction, the one common thread among all of these classes during detox is the risk of post-acute withdrawal syndrome – a.k.a. PAWS.

This syndrome, which also goes by the names chronic withdrawal, protracted withdrawal, and extended withdrawal just to name a few, entails a host of symptoms that can remain for weeks, months, and even years after drug detoxification.

According to SAMHSA, some of the most common symptoms experienced during PAWS include:
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Alcohol or drug cravings
  • Impaired executive control
  • Anhedonia
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Dysphoria or depression
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained physical complaints
  • Reduced interest in sex

As you might imagine, these additional symptoms can make it quite difficult to remain sober long after detoxification from drugs. In fact, many people who experience persistent PAWS symptoms may be tempted to turn back to using simply to find relief from these aggravating side effects.

Added to that, research on PAWS is still relatively new. In fact, many addiction specialists didn’t believe PAWS was a real condition until not too long ago, making it even harder for those going through it to get the support they needed. However, clinical evidence has shown that these protracted symptoms are more than just a figment of the imagination.

Not all patients will experience the symptoms of protracted withdrawal after their drug detoxification though. What’s more, it can be difficult to predict who will experience protracted withdrawal and who won’t.

That being said, patients experiencing PAWS can benefit from the clinical treatment like that found in a professional drug detoxification facility as well as rehabilitation. In fact, SAMHSA even provides treatment guidelines for helping victims of PAWS. These guidelines include:
  • Educating patients about PAWS and setting realistic recovery expectations
  • Celebrating each accomplishment
  • Assessing for co-occurring disorders
  • Inquiring about sleep problems
  • Advising clients to be active
  • Advising clients to be patient
  • Prescribing medications as needed to control symptoms past the acute. Withdrawal stage
  • Encouraging clients to join mutual support groups
  • Including interventions that help clients strengthen executive control functions
  • Monitoring clients for symptoms during continuing care.

How Does A Professional Drug Detox Program Treat Your Withdrawals?

Partnering with a professional program for detoxification from drugs is one of the best ways of ensuring your detox goes as smoothly and safely as possible. But how do these programs actually treat your withdrawals?

There are a couple of ways in particular that many detox programs use to make sure you’re both comfortable and healthy throughout detoxification.

Nutritional Planning – Addiction can wreak havoc on your body both internally and externally. And in addition to the enormous strain it can put on your body’s organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys, your nutrient-starved body may not be able to cleanse itself as quickly while it’s in such a compromised state.

With the help of a nutrient-rich and healthy dietary plan during detox, though, your body can recover from the ravages of addiction much more quickly and painlessly than before.

Exercise – Believe it or not, exercise can be incredibly beneficial when it comes to expelling the massive buildup of toxins that have accumulated in your body thanks to your addiction. Getting your blood pumping can jumpstart your hormone systems into releasing a number of feel-good endorphins as well, helping you stay positive and motivated throughout your drug detoxification.

Plus, it’s a great way to keep your mind off of the cravings.

Behavioral Therapies – There are a host of effective behavioral therapies that you might encounter during your drug detoxification.

Some of these may be evidence-based and may have been extensively studied like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and others might include practices such as art therapy and mindful meditation. In the end, all of these therapies can help you overcome your cravings and develop more control over your addicted mind.

What Kinds of Medications Are Used During Detox from Drugs?

In addition to treating your withdrawals during drug detox using nutrition, exercise, and behavioral therapies, some facilities might also use what is known as Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT.

With MATs, addiction specialists can reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms of withdrawal during drug detox as well as help eliminate cravings along the way. The only medications currently cleared by the FDA for treating addiction are for opioids and alcohol. However, you might also be prescribed other medications.

Below are some of the medications most commonly used during drug detox.

Opioids – Addiction treatment research has recently been heavily focused on finding medications that can effectively treat opioid withdrawals in particular. That’s because opioids like OxyContin and heroin are some of the major driving factors for the rise in drug overdoses and deaths in the U.S. in the past few decades.

And while studies have been exploring the benefit of other medications for treating opioid withdrawals, three drugs specifically are considered the best options for medicated treatment: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

MethadoneLong considered to be the go-to choice for reducing the severity of opioid withdrawals, methadone is typically administered via a single liquid dose once a day at specialized clinics.

Doses of this compound help to stimulate certain opioid receptors in the body over a long period of time, though to only a small degree. Consequently, withdrawal symptoms are muted or eliminated entirely for someone going through opioid drug detox.

However, methadone is a full opioid agonist, meaning it binds to and activates receptors just like other opioids like heroin. As a result, methadone itself can, in fact, become addictive. If used improperly then, it is possible to become addicted to it during your recovery.

BuprenorphineSimilar to methadone, buprenorphine (marketed as Suboxone) also activates the same opioid receptors that certain substances of abuse bind to. However, unlike methadone, buprenorphine is only a partial opioid agonist rather than a full agonist. That means that while it does activate those receptors, it only can do so up to a certain point. After that, the intensity of activation doesn't change no matter how much buprenorphine you have in your system.  

This quality of buprenorphine makes it even less risky in terms of developing a dependency disorder since patients simply can’t keep taking the drug until they get high.

In fact, buprenorphine doesn’t even need to be dispensed at specialized and highly regulated clinics like methadone. You can get it right from your physician in some cases.

That being said, buprenorphine like methadone can, in fact, be abused and even may become addictive. And that means this drug should only be handled with the utmost care.

NaltrexoneIn contrast to both methadone and buprenorphine, naltrexone doesn't activate the brain and body's opioid receptors at all. Instead, this drug latches to these receptors and blocks them so other molecules can’t stimulate them at all.

As a result, a recovering opioid addict may end up relapsing on heroin only to find that if they’re on naltrexone, shooting up will not produce any high at all. Essentially, then, naltrexone removes the appeal of returning to drug abuse almost entirely.

What’s more, this drug can be administered via a once-a-month shot under the brand Vivitrol, making it incredibly easy to use. Plus, studies have compared the effectiveness of Vivitrol and Suboxone and have found that they are surprisingly similar.  

However, Vivitrol can only be taken once the symptoms of withdrawal have subsided so this drug is suited more for rehabilitation than detox from heroin or hydrocodone.

Benzodiazepines – In addition to medications used to reduce symptoms like anxiety and depression during this particular drug detox, the main medications used are longer-acting benzodiazepines.

Longer-Acting Benzodiazepines – When benzodiazepines are used as a substance of abuse, oftentimes it’s the short-acting versions like Xanax that are most commonly used. Longer-acting benzodiazepines like Clonidine, however, may prove useful in treating the withdrawals by stimulating the same receptors thought to a much lesser degree and over a longer period of time. This can help reduce the intensity of the often-unbearable withdrawal symptoms.

Simulants – According to SAMHSA, medications used in the treatment of stimulant drug detoxifications are a bit hard to come by. Antidepressants have shown some effectiveness, but for the most part, behavioral therapies are largely considered to be far more effective.

However, there are a few drugs that have shown some promise over the years. They include:

Naltrexone – The same drug that's used in the treatment of opioid dependence, naltrexone's receptor-blocking effects might also be useful when it comes to stimulant detox too. One study showed that the ability this drug has on reducing cravings is especially powerful for recovering amphetamine addicts.

Modafinil – Developed as an insomnia treatment originally, some studies have shown that Modafinil may be helpful in preventing relapse for methamphetamine and other stimulant abusers. What’s more, it may even be helpful in reducing the cognitive deficits of long-term methamphetamine abuse.

Disulfiram – Also known as Antabuse, Disulfiram is most commonly used in treating alcohol addiction. However, this drug also intensifies anxiety when taken in conjunction with cocaine. Studies have shown that it can reduce the risk of cocaine relapse as a result.  

What Comes After Detoxification?

While drug detox is an incredibly important step in the recovery process, it’s only the first of many. This may come as a bit of a shock to some. In fact, many people believe that once you’ve gone through detoxification from drugs, you’re essentially cured of your addiction completely.

This could not be further from the truth.

After you've completed your detox program, it's critical that you continue your treatment with rehabilitation and other long-term aftercare support programs like 12-step group meetings.

These additional steps are crucial to your recovery. As NIDA puts it:

…medical detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use. Although detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence, for some individuals it is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment.

In general, there are three options when it comes to treatment after your drug detoxification program: inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and 12-step programs.

Inpatient Rehabilitation – Considered to be the "gold standard" of rehab, an inpatient program is best for individuals recovering from particularly severe drug addiction. That's because inpatient programs require patients to stay on campus grounds at all times. And that means no access to drugs and zero temptation to fall back into old bad habits.

The more intensive nature of these programs means that effective recovery can be achieved in a shorter amount of time. Consequently, inpatient rehabilitation programs are typically around 28 days. Residential rehab facilities usually offer longer programs that can end up lasting for several months.

Outpatient Rehabilitation – Outpatient treatment differs from inpatient rehabilitation in that patients aren’t required to stay on campus grounds at all times. Instead, recovering addicts can keep up with daily obligations like schooling, their career, or family matters while attending several evening treatment sessions a week.

The added flexibility comes at a price though – patients need to be able to maintain sobriety on their own since their drug use won’t be monitored outside of treatment sessions. Beyond that, an outpatient program will usually last for several months rather than just 28 days.

For recovering addicts who need even more care but can’t afford to check into an inpatient program, an intensive outpatient program or IOP might be the best option. These programs are the same as a typical outpatient program, but they often meet more frequently and for longer periods of time.

12-Step Programs (Narcotics Anonymous) – Most commonly known as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, 12-step programs are a proven method for helping maintain sobriety after drug detoxification and rehabilitation. In fact, these groups are even endorsed by NIDA as evidence-based behavioral therapy for treating addiction.

And while 12-step programs may have some principles rooted in religion, the truth is that people of any religion can find healing and recovery with the help of the 12 steps. But most importantly, engaging with 12-step programs after or during your drug detox and rehabilitation is a proven means of supporting your sobriety in the long-term.  

How Much Does A Drug Detox Program Cost?

One of the most common concerns among addicts looking for treatment is how much a drug detoxification program costs.

In fact, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from SAMHSA, almost one-third of addicts who didn’t receive the treatment they knew they needed due to not being able to afford the costs.

And it’s true – detoxification may seem to be expensive for some. Usually, services range from around $250 to $500 per day.

But your overall costs will depend on a number of different factors. The extent of your addiction, the types of treatments required, the amenities used and requested, and the duration of your stay all play a role here.

Added to that, many drug detoxification programs have a number of services that can help make your treatments even more affordable.

For instance, many centers for detoxing from drugs offer financing options that let you pay back the costs of your treatment over time at an added interest rate.

Most drug detox facilities will also offer month-to-month payment plans to ease the financial burden a bit more.

And finally, some programs will even base your final costs on a sliding scale that adjusts based on your personal or household income.

In the end, the majority of drug detox programs are more than willing to work with you directly in order to get you the help you so desperately need. All you have to do is reach out and ask.

While individual payment plans and financing options are a great way to make your drug detoxification all the more financially manageable, one of the best ways to really cut down on the costs is by using health insurance.

In the past, many insurance providers didn’t offer coverage for addiction treatments. However, recent changes in U.S. legislation (the Affordable Care Act) have made it mandatory for health insurance providers to cover treatments like drug detox and rehabilitation.

As a result, many recovering addicts may end up paying little more than a copay for the full range of their drug detoxification and rehab treatments. Some may not even end up paying anything at all.

That being said, it’s still important that you take the time to verify your insurance before partnering with a particular drug detox center. That way you’ll know what to expect before it comes time to pay the final bill.

Beyond that, you’ll also likely want to find a facility for detoxing from drugs that considers your provider to be an in-network insurance company. An out-of-network provider may only be able to pay for coverage via rebates rather than direct payment, making it even harder to afford treatment immediately.

If you don’t have private health insurance, don’t worry – many facilities also accept federally funded health insurance programs like Medicaid and Medicare. Once again, though, it’s important to check with a facility beforehand to make sure you’re aware of how much your individual program will end up covering.

What Should I Look for In A Professional Drug Detoxification Program?

Not all programs for detoxification from drugs are created equal. In fact, one of the most important steps down your road to recovery is knowing what to look for when choosing a professional drug detox facility.

But when there are so many different options to choose from, finding the program that’s right for you can feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. That’s why we’ve put together this list of questions to ask as you search for the perfect program to help you detox from drugs.

So, have a look and remember: you shouldn’t have to settle when it comes to a drug detox clinic. This is the rest of your life we’re talking about after all.

Is your program an inpatient or outpatient detox for drugs?

Do you use holistic or medicated detox during your program?

What is your staff-to-patient ratio?

Do you offer individualized treatment plans?

Is your facility accredited and your staff qualified to treat drug detox withdrawals?

Are you qualified to treat co-occurring disorders and poly drug abuse?

How long do your programs for detoxing from drugs usually last?

Do you have connections with rehabilitation and aftercare options?

What kinds of amenities does your program offer?

Which insurance providers are in-network for your detox from drugs program?

Do you offer flexible payment options?

Amytal Addiction Treatment

Northpoint Washington: Your First Choice for Professional Detox from Drugs

Finding the right facility to help you detoxify from drugs can be difficult as you can see. There are so many different factors and options to take into account. Added to that, the perfect facility for you might not be right in your area.

However, here at Northpoint Washington, we take great pride in not only offering only the highest quality drug detoxification and rehab services, but we also treat a surprising number of out-of-state patients as well. Our facilities in Edmonds, Washington are bar none some of the best in the area and, consequently, attract recovering addicts from all over the nation.

Just some of the reasons to partner with Northpoint Washington include:
  • Individualized treatment plans (no cookie-cutter approach here)
  • A high staff-to-patient ratio for better personal attention
  • A variety of support therapies, nutritional programs, and exercise options to help ease your withdrawals and revitalize your body
  • 24/7 nursing care
  • A clean, comfortable, and inviting modern facility
  • A community of staff and patients that offer social support and motivation every step of the way

We also have a vast network of affiliate locations across the U.S. that operate under the same idealistic principles. So, even if our facility is a bit out of reach, we’d be more than happy to refer you to another quality drug detox center right in your area.

Ultimately, if you’re suffering from any form of dependency, it’s vital to recognize the fact that you don’t have to be a slave to your addiction. Recovery and sobriety are possible. And Northpoint Washington can help.

So, whether you’re a Washington resident or live anywhere in the United States and beyond, get in touch with us today for a free addiction assessment. Or you can just reach out for more information on addiction, detoxification from drugs, or to learn about our facilities.

We’d be thrilled to be a part of your journey towards recovery. Call us today to get started.

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Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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