What Is Drug Detoxification?

Learn more about drug detoxification, the types and processes involved, and how to seek drug detox at Soledad House.

Table of Contents

What Is Drug Detoxification?

Drug detoxification is the process of removing unwanted substances from the body. Clinicians often use drug detoxes to treat addiction to drugs and substances, including alcohol, nicotine, and opioids. Drug detoxification can also be referred to as “detoxification” or “drug rehabilitation.”

It’s important to know that not all drugs require detoxification. Certain drugs only cause temporary withdrawal symptoms while they pass through the body and exit via their metabolites.1

Opioid Use Disorder Statistics

Drug Detoxification Process

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the drug detoxification process has three significant steps – evaluation, stabilization, and treatment. They proceed as follows:2

  • Evaluation: The first step in the detoxification process is a comprehensive evaluation by a health care expert. These clinicians go on to determine if drug detoxification is necessary. Next, the patient will go through a complete medical history and physical examination to determine any underlying medical conditions or other factors that may contribute to addiction.
  • Stabilization: Patient stabilization is carried out after determining that drug detoxification is necessary and the extent of any co-occurring disorder or diagnosis. All the patient’s vital signs must be stabilized to safely withdraw from drugs without experiencing any adverse side effects or complications from withdrawal. Detoxification experts can do this through several different methods depending on the type of substance being detoxed and when substance use was stopped.
  • Preparing for Treatment: Finally, the patient is prepared for substance abuse detox and treatment by being placed on an appropriate medical regimen. The medication doses are frequency adjusted as needed until they are ready for rehabilitation.

Types of Drug Detoxification

Drug detoxification is the process of safely ridding the body of substances that it has been exposed to. The drug detox process is often better tolerated when initiated by a medical expert. Several forms of drug detoxification methods vary based on intensity and length of treatment. The types of drug detoxification will be detailed below.

Inpatient Detox

The most common form of drug detoxification is inpatient detox.3

This typically involves staying at a facility for several days or weeks while undergoing treatment. Inpatient addiction detox facilities are generally well equipped with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who can help guide patients through detoxing from substance abuse problems.

Medical Supervision

While inpatient drug detoxification can be effective, it’s not always necessary or recommended. Inpatient detoxes typically last between 3-12 days. Patients require a lot of medical supervision because the patients involved are considered at high risk for an overdose or other complications.

Outpatient Detox

Outpatient drug detoxification facilities are run by doctors and nurses who will do their best to ensure excellent care is delivered throughout the patient’s visits to the facility. Outpatient detox programs offer less intensive treatment than inpatient programs, requiring only one or two weekly visits and fewer detox medications than an inpatient program. Outpatient programs tend to last 2-6 weeks before patients return home or to rehab if they feel ready.

Additional Services

In addition to helping patients get clean and sober from drugs or alcohol, outpatient programs offer many other medical detoxification services. For example, they may provide counseling sessions for people struggling with mental health issues or addiction-related legal issues such as child support payments or child custody issues related to substance use disorder.

Opioid Detox

Opioid detoxification is the process of reducing or eliminating the presence of opioid drugs in the body through various methods. The most common way to achieve this is through medical detoxification of drugs at opiate detox centers. This will involve using medications to reduce and mimic the effects of opioids. At the same time, they are slowly cleared from systemic circulation.

Tolerance to Opioids

During the development of opioid use addiction, individuals have problems understanding what’s happening to them or why they’re feeling so bad. Opioids are often abused for pain control or to deal with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. When a person abuses opioid drugs, substance use tolerance gradually develops. This means that higher doses are needed to produce the desired effects, which leads to more frequent drug use and eventually an addiction.4

During opiate detox programs, opiate detox centers assess patients’ health and personal needs to find the right treatment program for them. Clinicians must also consider the time spent in recovery before starting the detox program. In addition, patients new to recovery must be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms experienced during opioid detox programs.

Opioid Withdrawal Considerations and Overview

How Long Does Drug Detoxification Take?

Detox for drugs usually takes about one or two weeks of daily treatment. The time it takes for an individual to properly detox depends on many factors, including the severity of addiction, length of drug use, and the substance use involved.5

Can I Detox at Home?

Drug detox at home is possible but comes with several difficulties. First, the person must be prepared for both physical and mental detox side effects. Without proper guidance from a health care expert, most people find detoxing from drugs at home very uncomfortable due to their inability to manage withdrawal symptoms.6

Outpatient Assistance

The first step is going to an outpatient treatment center where progress is monitored to help the patient get through withdrawal symptoms as quickly as possible. After that, it’s time for home detox programs where they’ll be able to live independently while receiving counseling services from professionals in the field.

Factors That Can Influence the Length of Drug Detoxification

Drug Overdose Statistics

Some relevant factors that influence how long drug detox will be discussed further below.

How Long the Person Has Been Using the Drug

The first factor is the length of substance use. This is usually analyzed based on the number of days, weeks or months. More extended drug use periods predispose those involved to higher drug dependence and tolerance levels. Also, systemic buildup and difficulty quitting drug use are higher in individuals with prolonged drug usage.7 

This can lead to worse withdrawal symptoms than those with shorter drug use timelines.

The Strength of Doses Taken

Higher dosing indicates higher drug tolerance levels. Heightened tolerance, on average, requires a more intense drug addiction detox process. For example, someone engaging in substance abuse with larger doses would have more severe withdrawal symptoms than someone with infrequent drug use in smaller doses. The same goes for other opioids and prescription medications like Vicodin (hydrocodone).

Underlying Physical Problems

Comorbidities make it much harder to complete a detox program. It requires a longer detox time for a person with mental health issues or a physical condition like heart disease or diabetes. Without proper medical supervision, they may risk serious complications such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and heart arrhythmia.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions such as persistent anxiety, hallucinations, and depressive states can also contribute to the length of detox. Patients experiencing mental distress during detox from drugs often experience cravings that could lead to relapse. On average, patients with comorbidities would need joint treatment for a dual diagnosis involving substance use and a mental health condition.

Comorbidity Overview

The Level Of Support The Patient Has

A patient’s level of support from family, friends, and the people around them also affects their ability to detoxify safely. When patients have a strong support network, they tend to do better while managing any challenges that might arise during their period of abstinence. These individuals often have a lesser detoxification timeline.8

Whether Pain Relief Medication Is Used During Detox

Pain relief medication can be used during detox to help patients manage withdrawal symptoms. This can help improve comfort while reducing pain-related anxiety. Suppose the patient does not have access to pain relief medication while undergoing the drug addiction detox process. In that case, it may take longer for them to feel relief from their symptoms.

The Motivations and Goals of The Patient

The motivations and goals of the patient are fundamental in determining how long their detox will take. Patients who have specific health goals in mind may be able to complete their detox faster than those without a plan. These patients also tend to be more motivated and comply better with their treatment plan.

Whether the Patient Is Detoxing of Their Own Free Will

Another major factor that can influence the length of detox time is whether or not the patient is detoxing of their own free will. This is because it takes much more time for someone forced into detox by their friends, family, doctors, or by law than for someone who has chosen detox for drug use voluntarily.

Dangers of Improper Detox

Detoxing, when done the right way by professionals, helps minimize patient discomfort and prevent relapses in the long run. However, when a drug detox is done hurriedly, improperly, or incompletely there can be negative impacts on the person involved. These include:


The abrupt removal of drugs from the body can cause a psychotic episode. Psychosis is usually induced during detox from addiction by patients with prolonged substance use addiction. The symptoms of psychosis are hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Patients or caregivers should contact a medical professional immediately if these symptoms are noticed.

Severe Pain

Detoxing from opiates or other pain-relieving medication can be excruciating and uncomfortable if the source of pain has not been treated. Patients or caregivers should seek emergency medical care as soon as possible if this happens.

Suicidal Thoughts/Actions

Certain people engage in substance abuse to help them feel better and to battle mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. This coping mechanism frequently doesn’t work and can complicate their mental health as substance use progresses. Suicidal thoughts and attempts are seen in substance use detox due to the sudden loss of euphoria provided by drug use.

Delirium Tremens (DT)

Delirium tremens (DT) is a severe and potentially fatal complication of withdrawal from alcohol and other central nervous system depressants. It occurs when people stop taking drugs suddenly instead of slowly tapering off over several weeks. People who take high doses of sedatives like Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam) can develop DT at any time after they stop taking these drugs, even if they’ve been off them for many months or years.

Natural Drug Detoxification

Medication Statistics
Substance abuse can be challenging to stop in cases of extended drug use. One way to detox from drugs is through natural methods. Natural drug detox involves the removal of drugs and substances from the body without the aid of medications. Overall, natural drug detox may be done at home and is cheaper than medical detoxification but has the lowest success rate.9

Likelihood of Relapse

In addition, the lack of strong medication needed to alleviate withdrawal symptoms makes relapses much more likely during detox from addiction. If natural methods are going to be employed, they mustn’t cause discomfort or pain. Natural release forms such as steam baths, exercise, massages, and dietary modifications are used to detox from drugs naturally.

Medical Intervention

Natural drug detox is often not advised when dealing with advanced substance use addiction that has gone on for several years or in substance use addiction involving powerful stimulants and depressants such as cocaine and heroin. Whatever the goal of treatment is, the moment withdrawal symptoms become severe, medical intervention should be sought immediately.

Medically Supervised Detox

A medically supervised detox may occur naturally without any medication. Still, a trained health care practitioner will be there throughout the process to ensure patient safety and determine when medical intervention is necessary.

It includes a full medical assessment by a medical professional to determine the severity of the addiction. Then the patient receives treatment in a medical facility until they are ready to leave.10

High Success Rate

The medical detox process lasts one to five days, depending on the severity of the addiction. The length of time that it takes to complete this process varies greatly from person to person and the substance use involved.

Medically supervised detoxes, on average, have the highest success rate of any detox program because of the access to expert care in managing withdrawal symptoms and preventing relapses. There are several types of detox drugs used by clinicians to manage cravings and withdrawal syndrome.

Support Groups and Counseling Services

After medically assisted detox, patients can access support groups and counseling services through their drug and rehab centers. This can help them transition back into society after spending time away while undergoing addiction treatment. There are several detox and rehab centers that offer quality drug detox treatment.

Support Groups to Help Maintain Sobriety: an Overview

Strategies to Get Through Drug Detoxification

With the right strategies, the success rate of any drug detox can be increased tremendously. Here are some of the best things to do when detoxing:

Check Into A Certified Detox Center

These detox centers are specially designed to help people overcome drug and alcohol addiction. Most certified detox centers have vast experience initiating drug detoxification and are the most comfortable way to get help.

People can find the right drug detox center by asking a doctor or looking online for a website that lists the top addiction detox facilities in the area, what type of care they provide, detox programs, payment plans, and other necessary information.

Stick With A Nutritious Diet

Substance use and detoxification can take a toll on the body. A proper diet is the best way to boost recovery. A nutritious diet can help boost energy levels and increase motivation. The right diet will ensure that the body gets all the nutrients it needs, which can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and make it easier to go through recovery.

Increase Your Water Intake

Increased water intake can help boost kidney function and make the detoxification process faster. Also, dehydration is a common withdrawal symptom that can be managed by drinking enough water. Patients should drink at least two liters of water daily during drug detoxification.

Stay Physically Active

Another great strategy involves exercising regularly during drug detoxification. Exercise can help reduce stress levels and boost overall wellness and motivation. Exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, signs of stress, and poor health habits associated with drug addiction. Exercise is often used as a healthy coping strategy to prevent relapses after detoxification and addiction treatment.

Get Into a Routine

Try to develop healthy habits and go through them daily. This routine could revolve around sleeping enough and waking up as early as possible while having a productive day. A healthy routine can help prevent relapses and make detoxification more manageable.

Practice Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises are essential because they can help ease feelings of anxiety and stress. Lower stress and anxiety levels can help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Start by lying down and relaxing for a few minutes. Next, concentrate fully on breathing by inhaling slowly through the nose and a controlled exhale through the mouth. Individuals should repeat this process until optimal relaxation is achieved.

Lean on Your Support System

A support system could be a friend or family member or a support group that understands the struggle of addiction. Getting through drug detoxification can be tasking for most people. Still, the entire detox treatment process is a lot easier with proper care and motivation.

Drug Detoxification

Get Help with Drug Detoxification at Soledad House

Soledad House is here to help anyone struggling with drug addiction and in need of detox. Our team of experts work to help women find the best substance abuse detox and treatment options in a comfortable, home-like environment.

Our highly trained medical professionals are committed to helping those in need of addiction detoxification, no matter the substance use involved. We take the time to understand our patients while providing the best care possible.

Program Offerings

We offer a variety of programs, including:

  • Opiate detox programs
  • Long-term residential treatment programs
  • Short-term detoxification programs
  • Support groups and counseling services
  • Individualized therapeutic counseling sessions

We have provided safe and effective detox treatment options for women struggling with substance abuse disorders for years. Our goal is to help you get on the road to recovery as soon as possible so you can live a healthy and happy life. Call us today if you’re ready to begin your journey toward freedom from drugs and alcohol through proper drug detoxification.