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What Happens In Detox?

Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Eddie Richardson, MD

Medical Director

Dr. Eddie Richardson, Board certified family medicine doctor with a specialty in geriatrics and palliative medicine, GA License # 052047

What Happens In Detox?

People may seek detoxification, aka detox, for various reasons, typically to reset their bodies and minds, improve their health, and break unhealthy addictions. For individuals struggling with substance abuse, detox refers to the period in which their body metabolizes drugs and alcohol.

Detox is like pressing a reset button for your body and mind. Detox involves purging the body of harmful substances. The body naturally expels toxins while keeping necessary elements. Detoxification guides your system back to balance, ridding the body of accumulated stress and toxins over time. 

What happens in detox is a journey of self-care and self-discovery to a sober-free life. Understanding how detox works plays a crucial role in the path to recovery, as it’s a comprehensive approach to overcoming substance dependency. Detox programs ensure the health and safety of clients and prepare individuals for the next steps in their journey to lasting sobriety. 

Detox vs. Rehab

The terms detox and rehab are often used interchangeably. While they are both vital in overcoming substance abuse, there are some distinct differences. 

Detox typically involves the physical process of removing toxic substances from the body, managing withdrawal symptoms, and achieving stabilization. It focuses on the immediate cessation of substance use and often occurs in a medical setting. 

On the other hand, rehabilitation encompasses a more comprehensive approach, addressing the psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of addiction. 

Rehab helps individuals understand the root causes of their addiction, develop coping strategies, and learn essential life skills to maintain sobriety long-term. 

Rehabilitation commonly involves therapy, counseling, support groups, skill-building activities, and a holistic recovery approach.


group therapy during detox in Georgia

What Happens During Detox and Preparation

Education and preparation on detox works are vital in a treatment program. Preparing for a detox involves thoughtful planning and commitment to a healthier lifestyle. 

Start by consulting with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable detox plan for your needs.  There are typically three stages of preparing for detox.

  • Evaluation: Patients are screened for physical and mental issues, including their history of substance abuse.
  • Medical stabilization: Patients are stabilized with medical and psychological therapies
  • Preparing to Enter Treatment: Preparation for comprehensive addiction treatment follows after the patient has completed detox. 

 Furthermore, boosting your immune system by gradually eliminating processed foods, refined sugars, and caffeine is essential going into detox. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Exercise and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and herbal teas. 

Lastly, set realistic goals and stay motivated by focusing on the long-term benefits of detoxing, such as increased energy, improved digestion, strengthened immune system, and, most importantly, sobriety. 

Types of Drug Detox Programs

There are a variety of detox programs. Each type of detox offers different levels of support and supervision tailored to individual needs and the severity of addiction. 

Here’s a summary of what happens during detox and what to expect in inpatient detox and various types of detox programs:

  • Inpatient Detox: Structured and supervised process in a medical facility. 24/7 care.
  • Outpatient Detox:  Allows individuals to receive detoxification treatment while still living at home, providing flexibility and support during the recovery process.
  • Medical Detox:  For severe addictions, a medically supervised detox is essential. This method should always be under the strict watch of healthcare professionals.
  • Self Detox: While not recommended, some people choose to detox independently by abruptly stopping substance use, known as “cold turkey.” This method often fails. Undergoing detox in a regulated setting like a detox center is safer and more likely to succeed.
  • Holistic Detox: This approach integrates alternative treatments such as nutritional advice, group and private counseling, yoga, and meditation to tackle both the physical and psychological sides of addiction.

Regardless of the detox method selected, it should always occur in a detox center, where specialists can safely and effectively help eliminate drugs and alcohol from the body.

Individuals may choose a detox program associated with a treatment center or a detox program within a hospital or medical facility. Either way, they should never detox alone because the detox process can be dangerous. Medical supervision is a necessity.

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clients in group therapy in Georgia

How Long is a Detox Program? 

The timeline of a drug detox varies depending on factors such as the type of substance used, the duration and intensity of use, individual physiology, and the detox method employed. 

However, the timeline of detox is highly individualized, and some substances may have longer or shorter withdrawal periods. Proper medical supervision and support during detox can help manage symptoms and improve the chances of a successful recovery.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

For someone with an alcohol addiction, a professional alcohol detox. Withdrawal symptoms will typically begin to appear within 6 hours after their last drink.

For heavy drinkers, they could also experience a seizure at this point. Between 12 and 24 hours into detox, an individual may experience hallucinations. 

Between 1 and 2 days into detox for alcohol, symptoms like headache or stomach upset are common. For someone with a milder addiction, their symptoms may subside within several days.

Anyone with a more severe alcohol addiction may experience delirium tremens between 48 and 72 hours into detox. Around 72 hours is often the peak severity of withdrawal symptoms for someone with alcohol use disorder. After 4 to 5, they should begin to notice a decrease in symptoms. For some, moderate symptoms may persist for up to a month.

Drug Detox Timeline

Detox for drug addiction will vary, depending on the drug taken.

  • Some short-acting opioids, such as certain painkillers and heroin, cause withdrawal symptoms within eight to 24 hours, with symptoms peaking after four to 10 days.
  • Methadone and other longer-acting opioids may not cause withdrawal symptoms until two to four days into detox and may fade around 10 days.
  • Withdrawal symptoms from any benzodiazepine drug, such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, or the recreational drug cocaine, usually occur within one to four days and peak after about two weeks.

Without medical treatment, some people may experience withdrawal symptoms for months or even years.

Anyone with a substance abuse or drinking problem can benefit from a detox program, but it’s important to remember that detox is only the beginning of recovery from addiction. 

Additional treatment and support are needed to achieve long-lasting sobriety. That’s why seeking treatment immediately after detox is so vital.


medical professional provides consultation for detox

Withdrawal Symptoms

Detox is only the beginning stage for someone who is trying to get control of an addiction. Although detoxification is a natural bodily process, it can lead to intense and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

While drugs and alcohol will leave the body within a few days, the withdrawal symptoms someone experiences may last longer, sometimes even for several months, depending on the individual and the severity of their addiction.

Detox withdrawals encompass a range of physical and psychological symptoms as the body adjusts to the absence of a substance. These symptoms can vary widely depending on the substance of abuse and individual factors such as frequency and duration of use.

 Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating and chills
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Cravings for the substance

These symptoms may peak in intensity during the initial days of detox and gradually decrease over time. However, individual experiences may vary; some symptoms may persist for weeks or months. Proper medical supervision and support are crucial during detox to manage symptoms effectively and ensure a safe and successful transition to sobriety.


woman stands up to share during peer support group

Life After Detox

What happens in detox is not the end. Life after detox marks the beginning of a journey toward sustained sobriety and improved well-being. 

Following detox, individuals often transition into ongoing treatment programs such as residential or outpatient rehabilitation, continuing to receive support and therapy to address the underlying causes of addiction and learn coping strategies for managing cravings and triggers.

Beyond treatment, life after detox involves rebuilding relationships, establishing healthy routines, and finding purpose and fulfillment in activities that promote recovery. This involves connecting with support groups, participating in counseling or therapy, and making lifestyle changes to support long-term sobriety. 

While challenges may arise, life after detox offers the opportunity for growth, healing, and the chance to create a fulfilling and substance-free life. Detoxification alone is very rarely sufficient to sustain long-term recovery and is simply to be viewed as a preparation for someone to begin to participate in a rehab program.

What Happens in Detox Will Empower You

Life is precious. You and your loved ones deserve to break free from the grip of addiction. By seeking detox, you’re taking a step toward physical healing and embracing a path of emotional and spiritual renewal. 

Don’t let the fear of what happens in detox weigh you down. It’s time to reclaim your power, rediscover your worth, and embrace the beauty of a life lived without the chains of addiction. A successful detox is vital to your lasting sobriety. 

The Retreat of Atlanta practices medically assisted detox programs for drug and alcohol addictions. We can guide your mind and body through what to expect from detox and how detox works. Our compassionate and knowledgeable team uses our proven methods toward lasting recovery. 

Contact us today to give yourself the chance of a better life.


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