What Happens During Widthdrawal & Detox From Drug Addiction or Alcoholism?

Compare Rehab UK | What Happens During Widthdrawal & Detox From Drug Addiction or Alcoholism?

As a crucial initial stage in their recovery from addiction, people dependent on alcohol or drugs frequently need to undergo the detoxification (detox) procedure.

The idea behind detox is that someone physically ill will find it challenging to address any underlying mental health issues. In order to prepare patients for managing the psychological aspects of their addiction as part of an intense addiction rehab programme, the goal of detox is to address the physical aspect of addiction as a first step.

What is Detox?

The detoxification process ensures that a person is physically stable and prepared to begin therapy to overcome their addiction by removing all traces of alcohol and drugs from their body. Although it is not usually included in addiction therapy, it is frequently anticipated when entering recovery.

The outcome of drug or alcohol addiction is that a person’s body adjusts to having these drugs in it. The brain will need to adapt to the abrupt decline in these chemicals when these substances are gradually lowered and removed during detox. People commonly endure a set of unpleasant symptoms called “withdrawal symptoms” as a result of this.

Making the detox process as safe and painless as possible seeks to lessen withdrawal symptoms’ negative effects. The most effective type of detox is one that is supported by trained professionals and receives medical assistance. This typically takes place at a specialised detox centre or facility under the supervision of medical staff members like doctors and nurses. It is uncommon for people to successfully detox on their own, and it is likely that they may undergo unwanted withdrawal symptoms and lose motivation after numerous failures.

Can I Detox At Home?

Making the decision to detox at home might be risky and even fatal. Without medical care, quitting “cold turkey” can result in catastrophic and serious withdrawal symptoms like seizures and extreme dehydration.

Programs for detoxification, both inpatient and outpatient, can assist avoid harmful side effects. Because withdrawal can be lethal, those with severe addictions should undergo inpatient detox. With inpatient detox, there is constant supervision and assistance.

Side Effects Of Detox

Drug detoxification can be risky and painful. This is the reason why medical detox is so crucial. Patients can detox under medical supervision in a secure and comfortable setting. Inpatient and outpatient rehab have varying levels of monitoring.

A detox under medical supervision avoids potentially harmful side effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal.

Although medical detox reduces withdrawal symptoms, some will still occur.

What Happens During a Medically Assisted Drug or Alcohol Detox?

Medical assessment

Patients undergo a thorough medical evaluation as the first stage in a medically assisted detox to create a precise image of their unique needs. A professional will gather details about the patient’s addiction during this assessment and utilise this information to create a specialised detox strategy.


A patient will normally start to experience withdrawal symptoms when the amount of alcohol/drugs in their system is steadily decreased. Many people going through detox may encounter symptoms that are comparable to those of alcohol withdrawal or drug withdrawal. However, depending on a person’s length of alcohol or drug addiction, the substance they are addicted to, how much they have been using, and their overall physical and mental condition, withdrawal symptoms can vary in form and severity.

It’s crucial to realise that every individual goes through detox in a different way, and every detox experience—regardless of whether someone has gone through detox before—is completely unique.

A wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms can be brought on by withdrawal.

Physical withdrawal symptoms could be:

  • Nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • High temperature and chills
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams

Symptoms of psychological withdrawal include:

The following are some of the most severe withdrawal signs:


In the course of medical detox, prescription drugs are often used. These lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms and assist in easing withdrawal symptoms, making the person less likely to revert to substance usage. The user is less likely to abuse the medications because a doctor watches over each prescription, and most medical detox programmes offer 24-hour supervision.

The existence of so many addictive chemicals makes it impossible for one detoxification method to be effective for everyone. One drug does not always reduce withdrawal symptoms for everyone because each addictive chemical might produce unique clusters of symptoms. While some medications are used to address specific withdrawal symptoms, some pharmaceuticals are approved for addiction treatment of particular drugs. Medication options include tapering off of opiates with drug replacement therapy, anti-seizure, anti-nausea, antidepressant, and anti-anxiety drugs.

Following are some popular drugs and alcohol detox medications and how they are used in medical detox:

  • Suboxone (opiates): This substance abuse treatment combines buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist that is often administered to treat opiate addiction, with naloxone, an opioid antagonist. Buprenorphine has a long half-life and binds to opioid receptors in the brain for a long time, reducing cravings for the drug and lessening withdrawal symptoms in those suffering from opioid addiction. By rapidly attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, naloxone stops the effects of buprenorphine and sends the user into withdrawal if the drug is snorted or injected rather than taken orally, preventing this medication from being misused. When a patient is no longer physiologically hooked on opiates, doctors who prescribe Suboxone gradually reduce the dose.
  • Valium (alcohol): The benzodiazepine drug family includes Valium, the brand name for the drug diazepam, which is used to treat a number of illnesses, most often anxiety and panic disorders as well as alcohol withdrawal. Like buprenorphine for opiates, Valium, in particular, has a long half-life that makes it beneficial for tapering in a clinical context. Additionally, some types of seizures are treated with this benzodiazepine, as well as muscle spasms, which can occasionally be brought on by alcohol withdrawal. When used in medical detox, a prescribing doctor will keep an eye on the patient to make sure there are no Valium-related addictive tendencies.
  • Bupropion (nicotine): Despite being a nicotine antagonist, it is still unclear exactly how this medication aids in quitting smoking. Bupropion must be used as prescribed, starting one to two weeks before stopping smoking to let the body become accustomed to the drug, and for a minimum of seven weeks and a maximum of six months after quitting. This is one of the first treatments for nicotine addiction that does not involve gradually weaning the body off of nicotine. Although bupropion appears to be effective for people who do not have depression but do have a nicotine addiction, it is also sold to treat depression under the trade name Wellbutrin.

Around-the-clock support

According to research, supporting and caring treatment is just as crucial to a successful detox and the greatest outcomes for patients as medication. As a result, each person undergoing detox at a specialised facility can anticipate being closely watched throughout the procedure, 24 hours a day.

You’ll Have a Team to Help You

The detoxification programme will assign you a group of medical specialists. This will involve a doctor who will examine you and treat any physical problems you have. Additionally, you will be assigned a qualified counsellor who will be in charge of handling the disease’s psychological effects. You will also have access to licenced nurses and certified behavioural health technicians throughout the detoxification process.

You’ll Be in a Safe Environment

You will meet your team and be admitted into the programme whenever you decide to start detox if you choose a private facility. Depending on your condition, you can be in a setting that resembles a hospital or somewhere with a little more privacy. This part of the programme will take between 24 and 72 hours, possibly longer.

Detoxification procedures vary from person to person and are dependent on individual requirements. Your team won’t let you use the drugs or alcohol you were abusing while you’re there. Instead, as your body goes through the detoxification cycle, its general health will be closely observed. Your team will have access to the medications and therapies required to support you during this process.

You will always receive considerate and respectful treatment. You must get the impression that you are in a secure setting. And it’s crucial to understand that the discomfort of detox and any emotional difficulties will pass with time. Your doctor and counsellor will then transition you into the proper inpatient treatment once this has occurred.

Withdrawal & Detox From Drug Addiction

Drug Detox During Pregnancy

A pregnant woman has a compelling reason to give up narcotics. Because these substances penetrate the placenta, drinking alcohol or using drugs while pregnant can be harmful to both the mother and the foetus. Detoxification, particularly when done abruptly, might stress the foetus and result in preterm labour or severe foetal distress.

For pregnant women, detox under medical care is essential, as withdrawal symptoms may be particularly damaging to the foetus. Detox for expectant mothers aims to manage discomfort and stop relapses.

By treating pregnant women in detox, detox specialists can protect the safety and well-being of the foetuses.

To keep pregnant patients in detox stable, doctors frequently administer medicines. The biggest threats to the foetus typically come from alcohol and opiate withdrawal.

How long does detox last?

The detoxification procedure normally takes 7 to 10 days to complete. However, this can differ for many individuals and depends on a number of variables, such as:

  • How much alcohol or drugs they had taken.
  • How bad their withdrawal symptoms were.
  • Their health—both physical and mental.
  • The kind of substance ingested. For instance:
  1. Alcohol withdrawal can last up to two weeks or as little as 24 hours.
  2. Withdrawal from prescription painkillers might linger for up to two weeks.
  3. Withdrawal from nicotine can last up to five days.
  4. Withdrawing from heroin might take several weeks.

What comes after detox?

No matter how long withdrawal takes, it is a necessary phase in the process of treating addiction. The detoxification process is safe and comfortable under medical supervision. It is crucial to undergo extensive addiction therapy following detox because quitting drugs alone does not guarantee you will beat addiction.

Patients who have completed detox are prepared to move on to an alcohol or drug rehab programmes, where they will be provided with psychological counselling. Usually, a 28-day addiction rehab programme includes therapy.

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Last Edited: September 19th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 15, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | What Happens During Widthdrawal & Detox From Drug Addiction or Alcoholism?
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.