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What Happens During 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

When a person develops an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they will often require professional help to recover from their addiction. This can be a scary and challenging time. Nevertheless, it marks a crucial step toward self-awareness, self-ownership, and personal growth.

The all-important first step in being effectively treated for one’s addiction is detox. The purpose of detox is to address the physical side of a drug or alcohol addiction so that a person can then move on to addressing the psychological aspects of their addiction. Because of its many elements of it, those in need may not know what to expect or may feel afraid and unsure of how to get started. 

What is Detox?

Detoxification is the process of flushing toxic substances from the body. Several factors affect what happens during detox and the time it takes to properly detox from any substance.

These factors include:

  • The person’s genetic makeup
  • Their physical health and mental/emotional wellness
  • How long the substance was used
  • Method of taking the substance
  • Amount of substance taken with each dose

The terms “detox” and “rehab” are sometimes used interchangeably. Detox differs from rehab because it aims to stabilize patients and reduce withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, rehab refers to the many services promoting addiction recovery. These services include several types of therapies, peer support, and medication management.

group therapy during detox in Georgia

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is the physical and mental state a person experiences after they stop using a substance, such as alcohol or prescription or recreational drugs. In some cases, the physical and behavioral symptoms of withdrawal can be uncomfortable and possibly dangerous.

For this reason, it is best to use a professional medically-supervised detox program during this phase. The severity of one’s withdrawal symptoms depends on several factors. Some of these include a person’s physical makeup, the amount of time one has been using the substance, and the substance itself.

Many withdrawal symptoms will differ based on the abused substance, including but not limited to:


  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthermia
  • Rapid, abnormal breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Tremors and delirium tremens (DTs)

Painkillers and Opioids (including heroin)

  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fever
  • Teary eyes and runny nose
  • Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Tremors


  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • General discomfort
  • Increased appetite


  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Seizures
  • Muscle pains or spasms

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What Happens During Detox?

When understanding the detox process, it’s common to wonder how exactly does detox work? In general, the drug or alcohol detox process includes these three stages:

  • Evaluation. Patients are screened for physical and mental health issues, including their history of substance use.
  • Medical stabilization. Patients are stabilized with medical and psychological therapies, including prescription medications to treat withdrawal.
  • Preparing entry to treatment. Preparation for comprehensive addiction treatment follows after the patient has finished detox.

clients in group therapy in Georgia

How Long Does Detox Last?

Most professional detox programs last between three days and two weeks. Of course, several factors play into how long each detox program lasts. Of all these factors, the most important one in determining how long the detox process lasts is which substance needs to be flushed from the body. After all, some substances leave the system faster than others.

Alcohol Detox

In alcohol detox, withdrawal features intense symptoms that sometimes require medical treatment. These symptoms can last from a few days to several weeks, depending on the individual. During the acute alcohol withdrawal phase, people may experience “the DTs” (delirium tremens). This condition causes tremors, hallucinations, seizures, and other symptoms requiring medical intervention. Physical withdrawal symptoms tend to ease after one week.

Painkiller Detox (including heroin)

Withdrawal from substances such as heroin, morphine, oxycodone, Percocet, and methadone can last from a few hours to several days or weeks. The most intense withdrawal symptoms usually arise within two days of abstinence.

Stimulant Detox

Stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines tend to leave the bloodstream relatively quickly. The high an individual experience doesn’t last long, and addiction patterns often involve bingeing on the substance. After a “crash” that can last anywhere between a few hours to several days, intense psychological cravings, anxiety, depression, and other common withdrawal symptoms tend to follow.

Benzos Detox

Depending, again, on the person, benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms may appear as soon as one day or only after a week of abstinence. (Benzos are a class of drugs that include Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan.) People tend to experience the most serious benzo withdrawal symptoms during the first two weeks of stopping.

medical professional provides consultation for detox

Medication-Assisted Treatment in Detox

For many people in detox, access to prescription medications to ease withdrawal symptoms is essential. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) focuses on the prescribing and administering of medications to address withdrawal symptoms. However, it is essential that those taking prescription medications for their withdrawal symptoms also participate in therapy as part of their treatment.

The Retreat of Atlanta can prescribe medications to ease withdrawal symptoms for patients undergoing detox from the following substances:

  • Alcohol
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin and opiates
  • Prescription drugs
  • Meth
  • Xanax

MAT is considered one of the most effective treatments for maintaining sobriety. Then it focuses on meeting the emotional and psychological challenges of addiction recovery.

The Dangers of Solo Detox

Solo detox, or self-detox, might seem like a more affordable option over medically-supervised detox. However, it’s an option that presents significant risks. First, solo detox could lead to a situation where the person needs medical assistance—they might experience heart palpitations or seizures, say—but cannot receive it in time. Also, it is far easier to relapse during solo detox, as cravings may overwhelm one’s willpower.

The Dangers of Rapid Detox

Rapid detox quickly removes substances from a patient’s system. The patient is “put under” for up to eight hours while Naltrexone is administered intravenously. Rapid detox flushes toxic substances from the body very quickly, but the procedure takes a heavy physical toll on patients.

Plus, administering anesthesia is inherently risky, particularly for those suffering from drug or alcohol withdrawal. Meanwhile, recovery support is provided, so the patient remains vulnerable to even the slightest drug or alcohol craving.

In conclusion, a medically supervised detox program positions a person to succeed in their recovery efforts. With its medical monitoring, access to prescription medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, and individual therapy, a medically supervised detox is highly recommended for those looking to recover from a substance use disorder.

woman stands up to share during peer support group

Life After Detox

Like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or asthma, there is no cure for addiction to drugs or alcohol. Therefore, successful management of the disease is within reach. The most severe drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to peak between three and seven days, before declining.

However, a second withdrawal phase can sometimes occur just days, weeks, or even months after those first few days: Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). PAWS symptoms may not be felt until weeks or even months after the person has stopped using. Once they do appear, though, a person can experience them for months afterward.

This is just one of the reasons why entering a comprehensive addiction treatment program after detox is recommended. Inpatient rehab, intensive outpatient, or a partial hospitalization program can help people work through PAWS. These programs also address any underlying mental health concerns that may have led one to abuse substances in the first place.

Such programs can also provide support systems and teach clients coping skills to avoid relapse. To be successful, an addiction treatment approach must be tailored to address the specific alcohol or drug use patterns of the clients, as well as any drug-related physical and mental health concerns. Additional therapies like family counseling, individual therapy, and holistic practices like yoga also help people avoid relapse.

Find Safety During Detox with The Retreat of Atlanta

The Retreat of Atlanta practices medically assisted detox programs for drug and alcohol addictions. We can guide your mind and body through the challenges of what happens during detox. Our compassionate and knowledgeable team uses our proven methodologies toward lasting recovery. Detox and treatment is the most successful option for lifelong sobriety.

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

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