What Is the Drug Detox Process?

Learn about the drug detox process and key factors to consider for a safe detox in this comprehensive article.

Table of Contents

What Is Drug Detox?

With over 40.3 million people in the United States struggling with addiction, treatment is more important than ever. Drug detox is the first step to recovering from substance abuse. Dependency is a primary characteristic of addiction, causing the body to rely on the substance to function. Thus, when the body no longer has that substance in its system, it goes into a state of “panic.” This panic is what’s known as withdrawal. 1

Withdrawal symptoms are a significant part of why the drug detox process should occur under medical supervision. They can range from mild to severe. Some common symptoms include cravings, depression, muscle pain, and seizures. As a result, detoxing at a medical facility, such as a rehabilitation or treatment center, is essential to a safe detox and recovery.

Drug Detox Process

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What Is Meant by Detoxification of Drugs?

Drug detox is the process of eliminating unwanted substances from the body. The elimination can include quitting altogether or gradually tapering from the drug. A gradual taper is typically the safer route, as it reduces the risk of more severe side effects, also known as withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxification is a necessary step in the addiction treatment plan because it reduces the body’s dependency on the substance.

How Long Does Drug Detox Take?

The drug detox process normally takes a few days to a few weeks. A large part of this depends on the substance, the patient’s general health, and the form of treatment (e.g., cold turkey vs. tapering).

Drug Detox Symptoms

Several symptoms of detoxification can occur, depending on the substance, duration, and frequency of addiction. Some of the most common side effects of drug detox include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking or shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Changes in appetite

What Is the Process for Drug Detox?

There are three main steps to the drug detox process: Medical assessment, withdrawal, and stabilization. These will be detailed below.

Medical Assessment

A medical assessment is necessary before beginning any treatment procedures. The doctor will conduct a physical and psychological exam on the patient. This includes discussing the patient’s addiction, personal and family medical history, and physical and psychological symptoms. They will review existing diagnoses and take note of possible co-occurring disorders.

Performing a thorough medical assessment allows the medical team to develop a treatment plan that sufficiently addresses the patient’s needs. A good treatment plan is essential for a safe and successful detoxification.


One of the most challenging aspects of the drug detox process is the withdrawal symptoms. The side effects and their severity will vary from person to person. That is why it is crucial to withdraw under close medical supervision.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Common physical withdrawal symptoms include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger or loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors

Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms

Common psychological withdrawal symptoms include:
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings for the substance
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

Severe withdrawal symptoms can include:
  • Delirium tremens
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts


Stabilization is the last step in the drug detox process. This is when the body no longer relies on the substance of abuse. Patients usually reach stabilization after a few weeks. During this final stage, the patient receives therapy, learns helpful coping mechanisms, and may attend support groups and family therapy.

Different Types of Drug Detox

There are five main types of detoxification. Depending on the situation, a doctor may recommend different solutions. Here are a few of the options:

Medically Managed Inpatient Detox

Medically managed inpatient detox is when a patient is admitted to a hospital during the drug detox process. This is normally used if tapering is necessary. Tapering is when a doctor gives small doses of the addicted substance during the drug detox process. This method can lessen withdrawal symptoms, making it an excellent choice when a patient is at high risk for severe side effects.

Medically Monitored Inpatient Detox

A medically monitored inpatient detox process is for patients with a lower risk for severe withdrawal symptoms but still require to be monitored. This drug detox process occurs in medical facilities where doctors and psychiatrists are present. The patient stays at the facility while tapering off the substance.

Clinically Managed Residential Detox

A clinically managed residential detox involves the patient staying at a rehabilitation facility throughout the duration of their detox. Like medically managed detoxes, patients will have access to doctors and nurses. Patients generally have some freedom during the day, with appointments for individual and group therapy and scheduled activities.

Ambulatory Detox With Extended Onsite Monitoring

If a patient has a stable home life and is not at risk for severe side effects, an ambulatory detox might be a good option. This is an outpatient program, meaning the patient goes to the facility several hours a day instead of staying.

Ambulatory Detox Without Extended Onsite Monitoring

Ambulatory detox without extended onsite monitoring is another outpatient program. However, this method is the least extensive of all the programs mentioned above. Medical professionals provide regular check-ins and evaluations to assist the patient during their detox.

Drug Detox Side Effects and Risks

During the drug detox process, the side effects are the most difficult part to manage. Doctors try to mitigate these symptoms in many ways, but a person is still bound to have some side effects. It is important to have medical supervision during this process.

Drug Detox During Pregnancy

Substance abuse can be fatal for the baby during pregnancy. If left untreated, the baby could develop mental and physical illnesses and become dependent on the substance. Doctors recommend an inpatient drug detox process while pregnant, as withdrawal symptoms can harm the mother and baby.

Treating Opioid Use Disorder During Pregnancy

Opioid use disorder continues to be a significant issue among the U.S. population, including pregnant women. Fortunately, research has shown that methadone and buprenorphine, common medications used to treat opioid addiction, are effective treatments for pregnant women. 2

Further, one study found that buprenorphine can produce better results than methadone. In fact, it lowered neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) by 10%, decreased neonatal treatment time by 8.46 days, and required less morphine needed for NAS treatment by 3.6 mg. 3

Drug Detox While Breastfeeding

Medications and drugs can enter the mother’s breast milk, passing it to the baby. So, medical professionals and breastfeeding mothers must stay wary and take precautionary measures during the drug detox process to ensure the baby is not exposed to harmful toxins.
For example, breastfed newborns with mothers prescribed a daily average of 40 mg of methadone had shorter hospital stays than bottle-fed babies and did not show adverse effects. 4

Quitting Cold Turkey

Quitting cold turkey means stopping use completely. Many people attempt to quit drugs or alcohol cold turkey. However, this can result in more side effects and increased severity. As a result, medical supervision is always recommended. Also, it is always best to seek professional advice before deciding how to detox from a substance.

Drug Detox at Home

The drug detox process can be very uncomfortable and have severe side effects. Detoxing at home prevents the patient from receiving medical care to prevent or manage some of the most dangerous and fatal side effects. Therefore, it is highly recommended not to attempt to detox at home. Instead, seek professional advice and detox at a medical facility.

Rapid Drug Detox Risks

According to the CDC, rapid drug detox can have fatal effects. Rapid drug detox normally increases the intensity of withdrawal effects and doesn’t allow the body enough time to become stable. Studies show that slower detoxification is more likely to lead to long-term sobriety and fewer adverse effects. 5

Other Side Effects

The most severe side effects of the drug detox process, such as tremors, hallucinations, and seizures, are more likely to occur when a person is attempting to detox at home without medical supervision. Additionally, drug cravings can reach their peak during the withdrawal process. Detoxing in a safe, medically supervised facility is essential to long-term success and reduced risk of relapse.

Drug Detox Process

Medical Drug Detox Services at Profound Treatment

At Profound Treatment, we provide safe and evidence-based treatments to help you through the drug detox process. We have several addiction treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient programs. Our recovery facility addresses both substance use and mental health disorders to ensure each patient receives treatment for all symptoms and issues.

How Can Our Detox Center Help?

At our detox center, we offer a variety of therapies to treat the whole patient, not just the disorder. Some examples include cognitive behavioral therapy, art and music therapy, and medication-assisted treatment. Our care team will develop a personalized treatment plan to meet your individual needs and provide support in every part of the drug detox process.

Life After Detox

Once you have reached stabilization, you are ready to live a happy and restorative life. Here at Profound Treatment, we’ll help you develop healthy coping mechanisms, build your support team, and expand life skills to prepare you for a healthy, substance-free life. Contact us at Profound Treatment today to learn more about our programs and how we can help with your drug detox process.

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