The word “detox” if often used as a shortened term to refer to the detoxification process that the body goes through as the first step in drug or alcohol recovery treatment. When drugs or alcohol are no longer taken into the body, detoxification occurs as the body tries to rid itself of any remaining substances or toxins related to substance use. This causes the body to develop withdrawal symptoms. When no longer taking certain substances, withdrawal symptoms can be painful and even dangerous.

The Detox Process

Detoxification can occur with or without help from a treatment facility or hospital assistance. However, when performed in a substance abuse treatment setting, there are typically three stages of the detoxification process. These steps include:

  • Assessment or evaluation
  • Stabilization and overcoming withdrawal symptoms
  • Preparing for treatment


Assessment or Evaluation for Detox

The detoxification process actually begins when drugs or alcohol are no longer being used. For those who enter into a hospital setting or treatment facility, the first step in this process will be an assessment or evaluation. An intake worker or other qualified professional will ask questions pertaining to drug and alcohol use. Blood work and urine testing may also occur to verify the type and amount of substances that are currently in the system. This will help workers understand what to expect through withdrawal symptoms and help decide on which treatment methods will work best.

Overcoming Withdrawal and the Stabilization for Detox

When no longer using alcohol or drugs, most former users will develop some form of withdrawal symptoms as a part of the detoxification process that the body goes through. Withdrawal symptoms occur because the body has become accustomed to the presence of certain substances. When these substances are no longer present, the body reacts to this loss due to physical addiction. In severe cases, or for those who have quit using specific substances, medications are available to help with the withdrawal process. For those withdrawing from severe alcohol use, heroin use, or heavy narcotic use, it is best to receive some type of medical detoxification rather than handle the withdrawal process alone. Withdrawal in these cases can become dangerous, often leading to changes in blood pressure, severe gastrointestinal symptoms, seizures, coma, and even death. Anyone going through withdrawal who develops extreme discomfort in withdrawal symptoms should also seek medical attention to help reduce the risk of returning to drug or alcohol use.

Preparing for Treatment as a Part of Detox

For those who seek withdrawal and detoxification assistance from a substance abuse recovery treatment facility, workers will wish to obtain an agreement for entering substance abuse treatment immediately after detoxification is completed. Many times this will involve the use of a contract that will be signed prior to trying to leave the facility. Obtaining substance abuse treatment after completing the detoxification process is necessary to help overcome any psychological aspects of the substance addiction, as detoxification and withdrawal only cover the physical aspect of addiction and recovery.

Specific Types of Detox and Treatment

The detoxification process can occur several different ways for the individual. Mnay times, the detoxification process chosen will be based on an individual’s ability to handle the withdrawal process, the type of substance being stopped, and the financial situation of the individual overcoming substance abuse. There are four basic types of detox:

  • Medical detox
  • Home detox
  • Outpatient detox
  • Rapid detox


Medical Detox

Medical detox occurs when the detoxification process and withdrawal takes place under medical supervision. This may be with or without the use of special medications designed to reduce the effects of withdrawal symptoms. This type of detox typically takes place in a hospital or treatment facility setting. There are advantages to receiving medical detox over doing so alone. These advantages include:

  • Higher success rate
  • Reduced risk of health risks
  • Less pain and suffering from withdrawal symptoms


According to statistics provided by DrugDetox.org1, 95 percent of those who try to quit drugs or alcohol without assistance are unsuccessful and return to using drugs or alcohol. This is because symptoms can become so agonizing and debilitating that the person gives in and uses drugs or alcohol again just to avoid the trauma that withdrawal and detoxification places on the body.

Home Detox

For those who are not overcoming a severe alcohol dependency, which can be life threatening, or certain opiates, which involves agonizing withdrawals, home detox might be a suitable option. Self treatment with no medical assistance is typically unsuccessful when going through the detoxification process. That is because withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that a person would rather go back to drug use than endure another minute of torture from withdrawal symptoms. For those who still wish to go through the detoxification process at home, it is important that they stay with a friend or family member, or have someone stay at their home with them, through the entire process. This way, someone is there to call for medical assistance in an emergency and is also available to be supportive through the agonizing aspects of withdrawal to encourage and offer some type of relief.

Outpatient Detox

Outpatient detox occurs when medical supervision is obtained to help go through the detoxification and withdrawal process, but the individual chooses to remain at home through the process. A person may also choose to stay in a hotel near the physician’s office for convenience and ease of access. This can be as ineffective and dangerous as home detox, as it is often important to have qualified medical professionals available around the clock to be prepared for any emergencies. As with home detox, it is important to have a friend or family member nearby at all times for support and assistance. Many physicians are not willing to give withdrawal medications on an outpatient basis, however, some methadone clinics will help when patients are overcoming certain substances.

Rapid Detox

Rapid detox is an expensive and controversial method of detoxification. It involves giving a patient massive doses of medications to force the detoxification process while the person is under anesthesia. This causes a shock to the body. There is the risk of the drugs used, the shock to the body, and the general anesthesia used. Upon awakening, the person still must deal with feeling extremely ill and having no energy for many days.