What Happens At Detox?

When a person is addicted to alcohol or drugs, the first step toward recovery is detoxification, or “detox,” for short. At detox, the patient rids their body of the substance they’re addicted to. Keep in mind, detox only addresses the physical side of addiction.

After completing detox, the patient can address the issues that led them to abuse the substance. For example, such factors can involve friends and family, personal circumstances, or an underlying mental health condition. Addressing these issues can be challenging, even painful, but personal growth and wellness await. Still, none of this can take place until detox is complete.

peers support upset man in group therapy during detox

What is Detox?

When a person becomes addicted to a substance—whether it’s alcohol, heroin, cocaine, prescription painkillers, or something else—their body adapts to the presence of that substance. Then, when that person cannot obtain the substance, or when they try to stop using, the body responds with uncomfortable, sometimes painful symptoms.

These symptoms occur during withdrawal. Sometimes withdrawal can feel so overwhelming that a person will go back to using the addictive substance to escape their withdrawal symptoms.

However, when a person enters a detox program, they benefit from the supervision and care of a team of medical professionals. This team can minimize the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms through encouragement, therapy, and prescription medications.

group therapy during detox in Knoxville

What to Expect From Detox

What happens at detox differs for everyone, depending on their physical makeup and the substance they were using. Read on to learn what to expect from the detox experience on a substance-by-substance basis:

Alcohol Detox

Many people living with alcohol use disorders do not realize they need help, believing instead that their drinking is “under control.” For those who can admit they need help, an alcohol detox is in order. Medically-supervised alcohol detox helps minimize the most intense symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. This includes trembling and shaking, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, and hallucinations.

In some cases, a patient’s alcohol withdrawal symptoms may warrant the delivery of medication. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved medications like naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate to treat withdrawal symptoms related to alcohol use disorder and alcoholism. Once detox is complete—usually within three to 10 days—an alcohol rehab program can help the patient maintain their sobriety over the long term.

Benzodiazepines Detox

The dependence that benzodiazepines—benzos for short—create in the body means that benzo withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. These symptoms can include suicidal thoughts and ideation, heart palpitations, panic attacks, and seizures. Therefore, attempting benzo detox without medical supervision is a bad idea.

Most benzo withdrawal symptoms start within 24 hours of the last use and last from a few days to several months. However, this depends on how long the drug abuse has occurred as well as the strength of the benzos involved.

Prolonged withdrawal from benzos is somewhat common, with roughly 10% of those who abuse benzos reporting withdrawal symptoms years after they stopped using. These symptoms are called PAWS or Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms.

Barbiturate Detox

Barbiturate detox can result in both psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms, usually starting on the second or third day of detox. Symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, rhythmic intention tremor, seizures, and psychosis. Seizures occurring from barbiturate withdrawal are very dangerous and can lead to coma, respiratory arrest, and death.

Cocaine Detox

Cocaine is infamous for its “crash,” that is, the lethargy one can feel within a few hours to a few days after last using the drug. Following this crash, the withdrawal symptoms of long-term cocaine use include spikes in blood pressure, muscle aches, paranoia, depression, and anxiety. However, patients can easily manage symptoms when under medical supervision. The withdrawal phase usually lasts between one and 10 weeks from the last use.

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Opioid (and Heroin or Fentanyl) Detox

Symptoms of withdrawal from opioids, including heroin, and fentanyl can begin within just a few hours of the last use. Mild withdrawal symptoms include chills and shivering, runny nose, muscle pain, and frequent vomiting. More severe symptoms include depression, hallucinations, and seizures. Any of these symptoms can lead to long-term side effects.

Seeking medical supervision when deciding to detox from these substances is highly recommended. This enables better management of withdrawal symptoms. Medications used during detox from these substances include methadone and buprenorphine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved these medications.

doctor discusses FDA-approved medications for opioid addiction

How Long Are Detox Programs?

The short answer to the question, “How long are detox programs?” is: it depends.

A variety of factors play into the length of any given detox program. Such factors include the type of detox program and the kind of substance the patient had been using. It also includes how long the patient had been using the substance, the severity of withdrawal symptoms involved, and whether the patient is taking medication to manage their withdrawal symptoms.

In general terms, detox from drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine typically lasts between three and five days. Alcohol and heroin detox, meanwhile, can easily last for 10 days, as the most intense withdrawal symptoms take their time to subside.

Some patients might opt for “rapid detox.” Rapid detox is a process that lasts about three days. With rapid detox, the patient takes anesthesia and remains unconscious as the toxic substances leave the body. When the patient does this, they will no longer have a physical addiction to the substance.

Rapid detox is not possible for all types of drugs, nor has its safety and effectiveness been proven beyond doubt. Additional therapy often happens at detox programs to empower patients to transition to a life of sobriety.

individual therapy session at detox center in Knoxville

What to Expect After Detox

Once a person has cleansed their body of toxic substances, the real recovery work can begin. This work entails addressing any underlying mental health disorders that may have developed during—or even contributed to—substance abuse.

It also entails the development of coping skills to avoid relapse while embracing a life of sobriety and wellness. In other words, detox alone is only the first step in a long journey. And knowing what happens after detox is also important to those in early recovery.

Because addiction is a progressive, chronic disease, much like asthma or diabetes, addiction treatment is not a cure. Still, one can successfully manage their addiction for the rest of their life. The best addiction treatment programs prepare their clients with ideas and skills to counteract the more insidious and disruptive effects of addiction and maintain control of their lives.

A rehabilitation program is one of the more effective means of obtaining these skills. Residential addiction treatment, lasting 30 to 90 days, offers a combination of therapies like individual “talk” therapy and group counseling. Meanwhile, partial hospitalization and outpatient programs provide similar therapies without round-the-clock care and monitoring.

peer recovery group in aftercare rehab program

Find Comprehensive and Quality Detox in Knoxville, TN

If you’ve developed a substance use or alcohol use disorder, the professional detox program of Tennessee Valley Recovery offers a refuge for safe detox. Our treatments address the complications and mental health-related issues that can come up for certain individuals during the detox process. Contact us today to begin your recovery journey.

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It is time to put your health and wellbeing first. Call us right now to learn more about how we can help you put a stop to your active addiction and begin living a life of recovery.

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