How to Detox From Drugs: Tips and Strategies for Your Recovery

Last Updated: February 5, 2024

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Drug detoxification, often just called detox, is the process of allowing your body to clear all substances from its system. As drug detox occurs, levels of drugs in the bloodstream drop, often triggering withdrawal symptoms. The strong withdrawal symptoms that occur as the body adapts to the absence of drugs can be very unpleasant. In some situations, they can be deadly.

Article at a Glance:

  • Detox is the process of stopping a substance and letting your body adjust to its absence.
  • Detox should typically be done under medical supervision, as trying to detox by yourself can be risky.
  • Detox experiences vary significantly based on the substances used prior to detox.
  • While detox is important, aftercare that promotes continued sobriety is equally important.

Because of the discomfort and dangers that detox often creates, detox is typically safest at a detox or rehab center. This allows for medical monitoring and treatment by professionals during the detox process. This also increases the chances that someone will successfully complete detox, as those who detox at home are more likely to end the discomfort by relapsing.

The Detox Process

Detox isn’t simply stopping a substance and seeing what happens. In the medical field, it involves a well-developed process that takes into consideration the end goal of staying clean from a substance rather than just helping you stop it.

Stage 1: Evaluation for Detox

Prior to stopping a substance, your healthcare team will evaluate your overall health, how you are likely to respond to detox and the issues you are likely to encounter. Evaluation involves anticipating problems and developing a comprehensive, individualized plan to follow during detox.

Stage 2: Stabilization with Detox

As detox begins, your healthcare team will monitor for the development of new symptoms and address them as they occur. This helps you avoid any potential complications while keeping you as comfortable as possible while detox is occurring.

Stage 3: Ongoing Treatment after Detox

Detox is just the beginning of the recovery journey. While it is the most difficult step in overcoming addiction, it is important to also maintain your newfound sobriety. After detox, a good healthcare team will direct you to ongoing treatment that equips you for long-term success.

Methods of Drug Detox

Drug detox is a very important step in recovering from addiction, but it is only the first step on the road to recovery. Detox involves getting through the difficult and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms while the drug is eliminated from your bloodstream.

There are several ways of detoxing from drugs. 

Medical Detox

Medical detox centers are often crucial as you stop using a drug, as they provide medical support and monitoring during detox. Having medications to treat some of the symptoms of detox can make the process much easier. Additionally, medical detox can help ensure that any dangerous effects of detox are quickly recognized and addressed.

Inpatient Medical Detox

Inpatient medical detox is a medical detox that requires you to stay in the detox facility. This can be somewhat disruptive to your normal routine, but it provides 24/7 care. This form of detox ensures that any symptoms that occur are rapidly detected and treated before they get out of hand, providing you with maximal comfort and safety.

Outpatient Medical Detox

Outpatient medical detox allows you to detox at home with medical support provided during healthcare provider visits. Monitoring is more intermittent. You still have the help of medical professionals; however, symptoms are likely to take longer to detect, and treatment can be delayed in some situations. While this form of detox is less disruptive to your normal routine, it does not involve 24/7 support like inpatient detox does.

Tapering Under Supervision

Another method of detox that may be used by some medical professionals is tapering. This involves taking smaller and smaller amounts of the drug. This makes withdrawal symptoms less intense but can prolong the discomfort of these symptoms. Dangerous symptoms can still occur, and success can be less likely due to the prolonged nature of this type of detox.

Detoxing at a treatment center may involve some combination of cold turkey or taper detox while being monitored by healthcare professionals. They can treat uncomfortable symptoms as they occur and help prevent dangerous symptoms. Detox centers also provide ongoing support that can help someone stay clean once they have completed detox.

Rapid Detox or “Cold Turkey”

Detoxing “cold turkey” involves stopping your drug use all at once. While this can be done safely under continuous medical supervision, it is likely to be ineffective and uncomfortable when done by yourself, requiring you to put up with withdrawal symptoms as they occur. Some withdrawal symptoms may be dangerous, so those who detox cold turkey at home should have someone with them at all times and be prepared to visit the ER if dangerous symptoms occur.

Natural Detox

There is a growing interest in “natural” detox methods, which typically involve practices or remedies believed to help cleanse the body at home. Such methods may include hydration, eating a clean and balanced diet, practicing mindfulness and avoiding harmful substances. While these strategies can support overall health and well-being, it’s essential to use this approach with caution and to always consult with a doctor first. Detoxing can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms that may require medical supervision, and seeking the input of a doctor is important to ensure your safety.

What Happens When You Detox from Drugs

Addictions develop because chemicals in the brain accommodate the presence of a drug by changing the way receptors respond. When detox occurs, levels of the drug drop, and the brain has to readjust to normal function. This can create symptoms that vary significantly based on the drug that was used.

What To Expect from the Detoxification Process

Detox symptoms typically begin about a day after you stop using most drugs. If you are using a professional detox center, the staff will assess your overall health and learn what drugs you have used. They make an individualized treatment plan to help predict which symptoms you are likely to experience and prepare to treat those symptoms. Detox will have different considerations based on each drug.

  • Alcohol Detox: Alcohol detox is the most dangerous type of detox. It can lead to seizures and potentially death. The medical monitoring that a detox center provides is almost always essential in these situations. 
  • Meth Detox: The symptoms of meth detox are more fatigue and mood-related. A detox center will help you with the depression that is often experienced.
  • Opioid Detox: Opioid detox is not often dangerous but can be extremely uncomfortable and painful. A detox center will help alleviate some of these unpleasant symptoms.
  • Cocaine & Amphetamine Detox: Stimulants have less severe withdrawal symptoms, which tend to be psychological. Severe depression often occurs, which requires treatment.
  • Benzo Detox: Benzodiazepine detox can cause seizures, so a detox center is often necessary to help stop seizures from occurring. Severe anxiety and other unpleasant symptoms that often occur will also be treated.

Medication Used During Detox

Many different medications are used during drug detox. Some prescriptions help alleviate anxiety and depression that occur during this time. Others will treat physical pain. Some drugs can be used to treat nausea and diarrhea that occurs with some detoxes, primarily during opioid detox. 

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves using medications like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone to gradually transition away from dangerous drugs. This treatment may begin during some opioid and alcohol detoxes. A detox facility will have professionals who understand which medication is best matched to each symptom or anticipated symptom to make your detox experience as comfortable as possible.

Types of Therapy for Drug Detox

Therapy, in its various forms, can play a crucial role in the detoxification process. While the physical act of detoxifying the body from drugs or other substances is essential, addressing the psychological aspects of addiction is equally important. Therapy can help provide the tools, coping mechanisms and emotional ability needed to navigate the challenges of detox and increase the likelihood of lasting recovery.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy offers a private, one-on-one setting where the person undergoing detox can work with a therapist to address factors that may have contributed to their substance use. During these sessions, individuals can gain insight into subconscious factors influencing their behaviors and develop effective strategies to avoid relapse. The personalized nature of individual therapy provides an environment ideal for promoting long-term recovery.

Group Therapy

Group therapy connects you with other individuals navigating their own detox and recovery journey and offers a space for shared experiences and mutual support. In the group setting, people can benefit from hearing others’ stories, perspectives and motivations. They can also build a sense of camaraderie that can reduce feelings of isolation and remind participants they are not alone in their struggles.

Family Therapy 

Substance addiction doesn’t only affect one person; it impacts the entire family. Family therapy provides a platform for family members to come together and discover ways to support their loved one during detox and the recovery that follows. The process can heal strained relationships, improve communication and establish boundaries. It allows the person’s family to become a vital support system, further enhancing their chances of successful recovery.

Alternative Therapies

There are a variety of other alternative therapies that can be beneficial during the detox process. Practices such as yoga, meditation and acupuncture can help manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Art or music therapy can offer creative outlets for expressing feelings and processing emotions. The right type of alternative therapy will vary based on the individual and their situation.

Life After Detox

Once detox is complete, true addiction treatment can begin. The time spent in detox is mostly focused on getting through withdrawal symptoms, but afterward, the focus shifts to understanding and treating the root causes of addiction. Together with therapists and your medical team, you’ll work to understand why you started using drugs in the first place and how to cope with life’s struggles without them. Treatment will also provide long-term strategies that reduce cravings and habits that could lead to relapse.

Drug Detox and Rehabilitation Facilities

Finding a detox program inside a rehab facility helps you be more comfortable and safe during the detox process. It also empowers you with resources and additional support following your detox. Without proper treatment aimed at the root of your addiction, relapse is more probable after detox. A rehabilitation facility will help you achieve long-term recovery by providing you with the guidance and resources you need to stay sober.

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers New Jersey residents and the greater Northeast the ability to safely detox and then immediately enter further addiction treatment. The center’s addiction treatment programs are personalized to meet each client’s needs and include:

The center also specializes in co-occurring mental health treatment, supporting the whole person for lifelong recovery. 

How to Detox from Drugs: Common Questions

How do you detox your body from drugs?

Not using a drug will cause your body to slowly detox from it. Many people, however, need medical treatment for the withdrawal symptoms they experience.

How long does it take to detox from drugs?

Typically, detox takes between one to two weeks but may last longer or shorter, depending on the situation. The time it takes to detox from drugs can vary heavily based on the type of drugs being used. 

How do you know if detox is working?

You can tell that detox is occurring when withdrawal symptoms develop. Detox is a natural process that will always occur if you stop using a substance you have developed a dependence on. You can tell that detox is done once the withdrawal symptoms have gone away while abstaining from the substance.

Can I detox from drugs naturally?

Your body will naturally detox from any drug when you stop using it. The withdrawal symptoms that occur, however, can be dangerous and may require medical treatment. To determine whether you can safely detox without medical intervention, you should speak with a doctor who can determine the likely risks for your specific situation.

Is there anything that helps you detox faster?

There is no safe way to detox faster. Your body has to naturally adjust to the absence of the substance. There are, however, medical interventions that can help make the process safer and more comfortable.

Does drug rehab really work?

The medical community widely sees drug rehab as the safest, most successful way of overcoming drug addiction. Though each person will experience drug rehab differently and relapse is common, drug rehab success rates are still higher than stopping drug use by yourself.

Sources

New Jersey Department of Human Services. “New Jersey Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment.” 2019. Accessed August 24, 2023.

World Health Organization. “Estimating mortality from COVID-19.” August 4, 2020. Accessed August 24, 2023.

McKeown, Nathanael. “What is the mortality and morbidity of a[…]withdrawal syndrome?” Medscape, August 15, 2018. Accessed August 24, 2023.

Mancino, Michael, et al. “Characterizing methamphetamine withdrawa[…]A pilot field study.” American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, March 2011. Accessed August 24, 2023.

Kattimani, Shivanand & Bharadwaj, Balaji. “Clinical management of alcohol withdrawa[…]A systematic review.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, July 2013. Accessed August 24, 2023.

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