Footprints to Recovery

Drug and Alcohol Medical Detox

Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC

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Medical detox is the first step in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. Detoxification is a process of cleansing the body of toxins from addictive substances. The first step in detox is to stop using the substance in question. This can be difficult—sometimes even dangerous—without professional medical help. That’s where medical detox comes in. Medical detox involves supervising a person as they stop using a substance and providing them with medical support and care throughout the process. This may include things like:

  • Managing withdrawal symptoms
  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Providing emotional support
  • Administering medication to help manage symptoms or reduce cravings

Why Choose Medical Detox?

Stopping the use of drugs or alcohol can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and even life-threatening.

That’s because substance abuse affects your:

  • Brain
  • Body
  • Nervous system
  • Vital organs

When you abuse drugs and alcohol, your body and brain become used to and even dependent on those substances. Drugs and alcohol change the way your brain functions. That affects your:

  • Behavior
  • Decision-making
  • Judgment
  • Self-control

When you cut off the supply of alcohol or drugs, it throws your brain and body into shock. That’s because the absence of substances leaves chemical and neurological imbalances. In some detoxes, such as alcohol detox, urgent and quick medical assistance is needed to ensure your well-being. That’s why quitting cold turkey—suddenly, and on your own—is never a good idea.

Medical detox puts you in the care of healthcare and psychological professionals. They monitor your progress, help keep you comfortable, and give you medical help if you need it.

Unique Treatment

Some drugs need to be tapered off so you don’t experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Other drugs cause withdrawal symptoms that require prescription medication to manage. The safest way to detox is with a team of professionals ready to help whenever you need it.

Medical and Co-Occurring Conditions

If you have a medical condition or another mental health disorder, it’s especially important to detox in a professional setting. You need experts who can manage the complexities co-occurring disorders. The same is true if you use more than one drug.

A Safe Environment

Medical detox is the best option for those who don’t have a stable environment in which to withdraw from a drug. Being in an unsafe, uncontrolled environment can put you at risk for dangerous withdrawal symptoms and relapse.

Highlights of Our Medical Detox Program

  • 24/7 medical care
  • 24/7 transportation
  • One-on-one counseling
  • Daily group therapy
  • Private rooms
  • Customized treatment
  • Board-certified medical staff
  • Licensed & credentialed clinicians

More About the Detox Process

A medical detox center helps you safely, comfortably, and effectively cleanse your body of alcohol and drugs. It ensures you are treated with the latest medical, holistic, and therapeutic approaches. If you or a loved one needs drug or alcohol medical detox services, our Footprints to Recovery admissions coordinators can help you begin the rehab process.

After medical detox, our addiction treatment specialists will recommend a specialized treatment approach to help you fully recover from addiction. Detox is the first step in the process; treatment helps solidify your lifelong sobriety.

What Affects Withdrawal Symptoms?

Multiple factors can impact the intensity of your withdrawal symptoms:

  1. The type of drug you’ve been taking regularly
  2. If you used multiple substances
  3. Your level of dependence – This can be influenced by:
  • How long you’ve been taking the drug
  • The size of the doses you regularly take
  • The way you take the drug (injection, inhalation, snorting, orally, or smoking it)
  • Biological and genetic factors, such as your metabolism and a family or personal history of drug dependence and/or addiction
  • Whether you also struggle with a co-occurring mental illness (dual diagnosis) or a medical condition
  • Abuse of several different types of drugs

The longer and more frequently you used drugs or alcohol, the harder it might be to quit. If you have been taking a lot of drugs for a long time, your level of dependence is probably high. Because drug tolerance increases over time, you need higher doses to get the same effects. Since your body needs the substance to function, detox will take longer.

Co-occurring Conditions And Underlying Medical Issues During Detox

Medical and mental health disorders can complicate drug withdrawal symptoms and make them worse. Since addiction causes physical and psychiatric symptoms, having disorders that also  trigger them can make diagnosis and treatment more difficult.

If you have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder, like depression or anxiety, you need a specialized treatment plan. Both disorders must be addressed, as they feed off each other. Not treating one can make the other one worse or lead to relapses.

Any physical restrictions or problems you have affect how withdrawal symptoms show up. Even allergies can affect the medication that should be used for detox and could make withdrawal symptoms worse.

Any prescription medication you take will also influence withdrawal symptoms and treatment.

For these reasons, medical detox is especially important. Medically trained professionals will take your background into account as they create your treatment plan, and they’ll keep you safe during withdrawal.

What Is The Detoxification Process Like?

Detox typically lasts three to seven days, depending on:

  • The drug used
  • The level of dependence
  • The significance of withdrawal symptoms

As a general rule, withdrawal symptoms can kick in as soon as the drug stops being active in your bloodstream. That’s usually between a few hours and a day after the last dose. Symptoms usually peak in the first two or three days. Then they wane as your brain works to achieve chemical balance.

The first few days of drug detox are a crucial time. A professional detox program can help manage and regulate your brain chemistry during this vulnerable period.

During detox, trained professionals may use the following to stabilize any psychiatric and physical symptoms:

  • Medications
  • Supportive measures
  • Therapies
  • Holistic methods
  • Medical interventions

The end goal of detox is twofold:

  1. To cleanse your body of toxins
  2. To help your brain and body become physically stable, so you can have psychiatric treatment

Treatment professionals will ensure you stay safe and healthy while helping to control cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms.

Options For Medical Detox

There are three main detox options:

  1. Inpatient detox
  2. Outpatient detox
  3. At-home detox

No matter which route you take, always consult a medical professional before beginning detox, so they can ensure you will be medically safe during the process.

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Inpatient Medical Detox

Inpatient detox requires that you check into an addiction treatment facility and leave once treatment is over. It is an in-depth, intensive treatment approach, so it tends to be short. You’ll stay in a controlled environment and have medical and psychiatric supervision 24/7. This service setting is highly recommended as the safest way to detox from alcohol and drugs.

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Outpatient Medical Detox

Outpatient detox allows you to receive the help you need to detox without staying in a residential facility. It’s important to note that outpatient care is not right for everyone. It requires a high level of commitment and motivation, as well as a solid support system.

For those who are able to commit to an outpatient program, the detox process typically begins with a medical evaluation. This ensures there are no physical risks associated with detoxing. This is followed by a period of close monitoring by medical staff, who provide support and guidance throughout the detox process. The number of visits to your physician’s office depends on your individual needs. In most cases, detox takes place over a period of 7 to 10 days.

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At-Home Detox

Detoxification comes with many risks, which is why doctors often do not recommend at-home detox. Though it might be tempting to try to maintain your routine, at-home detox requires more than just willpower. It could work, but the chances of relapse are extremely high. And not detoxing properly can lead to medical complications. You should consult a medical professional before going this route to make sure it is safe.


For those who are able to commit to an outpatient program, the detox process typically begins with a medical evaluation. This ensures there are no physical risks associated with detoxing. This is followed by a period of close monitoring by medical staff, who provide support and guidance throughout the detox process. The number of visits to your physician’s office depends on your individual needs. In most cases, detox takes place over a period of 7 to 10 days.

Can Medicine Make Detox Easier?

Medication is often used during detox to balance brain chemistry and treat major physical symptoms. These can include over-the-counter drugs, such as:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Gastrointestinal medications
  • Antihistamines

Professionals in a medical detox setting make sure to use medications that don’t trigger or worsen the effects of withdrawal symptoms.

The following prescription medications are commonly used during detox:

  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Clonidine (Catapres)
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Beta-blockers

Certain drugs, such as opioidsalcohol, and benzodiazepines, are usually not stopped abruptly. In cases like benzos, the drug you’re on might be replaced by other medications while you transition to lower doses. This can help stabilize your brain and central nervous system during detox. Once you transition to the new medication, you can begin a taper schedule in medical detox.

In other cases, prescription drugs might be used to treat your symptoms but not the addiction itself. For instance, there are no specific medications that are FDA-approved for the treatment of stimulant dependence. During stimulant detox, medications that treat specific symptoms of withdrawal, such as sleep aids for insomnia and mood stabilizers for anxiety and depression, can help.

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Do All Drugs Require Medical Detox?

Some drugs have more serious withdrawal symptoms than others. When you use psychoactive drugs, your brain chemistry changes to accommodate them. Eventually, your brain becomes used to that level of neurotransmitters, hormones, and chemicals. Drug abuse can also cause a flood of dopamine or serotonin, the elements that help regulate your moods and emotions. This is what causes the high associated with drug abuse. When these drugs wear off, you experience a crash as your brain tries to balance itself.

The more you use drugs and the more drugs you take, the longer it can take for your brain to get back to normal. You might become dependent on the drugs. If you stop taking them, you will go through withdrawal.

Symptoms Of Withdrawal

Many people go through a range of symptoms in detox. Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the substance abused. Physical withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Seizures
  • Muscle twitching
  • A tingling sensation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Headache
  • And more

Not all withdrawal effects are physical; some are psychological. You may experience:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Intense mood swings

People who are addicted to opiates (heroin, fentanyl, painkillers, etc.) or alcohol tend to experience particularly serious withdrawal effects.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused addictive substances. It’s legal, cheap, and socially acceptable to drink. Many people who drink alcohol don’t suffer from alcohol dependence or addiction. But regularly consuming high doses of alcohol, as well as mental and genetic factors, can lead to addiction.

Typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually start about eight hours after the last drink. Their intensity depends on your level of addiction, your general health, genetic factors, and more. While not everyone experiences all of them, some of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Shaking

In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures, irregular heart rate, and death.


Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioids, or opiates, are drugs that derive from the opium poppy. This class of drugs includes illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, but prescription painkillers and morphine are also opioids. While they can be safe to use when prescribed and properly used, opioids are highly addictive.

During opioid withdrawal, cravings for the drug and symptoms can be very intense. Though symptoms themselves are not usually life-threatening, the high level of discomfort makes relapse likely. Because of this, medical detox is usually recommended.

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweats
  • Sleeplessness and/or insomnia
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • Irregular/accelerated heartbeat


Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzos are a class of prescription drugs that includes:

They’re often prescribed to manage anxiety or sleep disorders. B