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Why Detox Is Important

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

Once one has grown physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol or drugs, attempting detox can be an uncomfortable, frightening, and even painful experience. In fact, many may be more fearful if they don’t know what happens during detox. The prolonged use and abuse of alcohol or drugs create changes at the chemical level in the brain. This makes the user prioritize using alcohol or drugs over everything else in their life. They can even start to wonder if they need alcohol or drug detox.

At The Retreat of Atlanta, our goal is to help those struggling with addiction make it through this potentially difficult first step in the recovery process. With our hands-on support, we help them recover as smoothly and painlessly as possible. In short, we know why detox is important.

What is Detox?

Detoxification is the process of flushing toxic substances from the body while managing any possible withdrawal symptoms. The time it takes to detox from substances depends on the substance or substances that are being detoxed and the person’s age and body type. That said, most medically supervised detox programs last between three and seven days.

The terms “detox” and “rehab” are sometimes used interchangeably, but detox differs from rehab in that it merely aims to stabilize patients and minimize their withdrawal symptoms. Rehab refers to the ongoing services that attempt to promote lasting recovery from drug or alcohol addiction through various therapies, counseling, and peer support.

Why is Detox Important?

Understanding why detox is important is one of the first steps on the path to recovery. Detox represents the first step in recovery from substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder. What follows detox can be anything from a 30-day stint in a residential drug rehabilitation facility to bi-weekly visits to an outpatient clinic for therapy, coaching, and recovery support.

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Withdrawal Symptoms

During detox, drug and alcohol withdrawal produces some combination of symptoms, both physical and mental. These symptoms can vary widely in severity, depending on the person’s physical and psychological makeup, as well as how long the person has been using substances. Also, complicating medical conditions, like heart disease or a history of seizures, may increase the severity of withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms might be as mild as a headache or as severe as a seizure. With some substances, such as opiates or alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms can prove fatal. It is this very unpredictability of withdrawal symptoms that makes medical supervision necessary.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Sleeplessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure

Long-term alcohol abuse can force the brain and body to grow accustomed to the presence of alcohol. This creates a “new normal” for the body’s neurological pathways so that it can function with alcohol in its system.

Remove the alcohol, and the body is likely to respond with discomfort and pain. The appearance of alcohol withdrawal symptoms is a sure sign that a person will need alcohol detox. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is the name for the symptoms that often occur among long-term alcohol addicts.

These symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Hyperthermia or overheating
  • Rapid, abnormal breathing
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Tremors and Delirium tremens (DTs)

Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Drug withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug or drugs used. For many people in recovery, drug withdrawal feels like having the flu, particularly while coming off opioids or other painkillers. Not all drugs create life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, but withdrawal from drugs like benzos and opiates has proven fatal in some cases.

Therefore, it is crucial to understand why detox is important in this stage. Clients need drug detox to manage withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision. Drug withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Body aches and muscle cramps
  • Fever and chills
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Emotional difficulties (agitation, hopelessness, despair)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

man lying in bed with a headache has withdrawal symptoms

The Benefits of Medically-Supervised Detox

Detox centers provide a safe, medically supervised environment for people looking to kick drugs and alcohol. They also help transition patients into the next stages of addiction treatment and minimize the possibility of relapse. 

Detoxing at a dedicated facility has many benefits over home detox or solo detox. These include:

  • Regular monitoring of vital signs during the detox process
  • Access to specialists who can provide therapy and support
  • Access to prescription medications that can lessen the severity and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

For many people in detox, access to prescription medications sets a medically supervised detox apart from home detox or solo detox efforts. This medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, focuses on administering medications to address withdrawal symptoms while also implementing behavioral therapy.

MAT is considered one of the best treatments for the long-term avoidance of drug or alcohol relapse. Being able to maintain sobriety while focusing on the psychological aspects of addiction makes MAT a valuable tool in the arsenal of anyone in recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are among several medical authorities that have studied and recommended MAT to help people maintain their recovery over the long term.

The team at Retreat of Atlanta is capable of prescribing medications to ease withdrawal symptoms for patients undergoing detox from the following substances:

Still, MAT is not a “cure” for addiction. It is essential for those taking medications for their withdrawal symptoms to also participate in therapy to continue with their recovery.

In short, a dedicated detox center makes the process safer, more comfortable, and better positioned to succeed than solo or home detox. After all, such programs can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the client. A specialized detox center makes it effective at reducing withdrawal symptoms and offers future support for those beginning their recovery. This is why detox is important when handled professionally. 

doctor prescribes medications during detox

What to Expect at a Drug and Alcohol Detox Facility

The process of drug and alcohol detox can vary from person to person. However, almost everyone moves through the following three stages:

  • Evaluation. Patients are screened for physical and mental health issues. This includes a comprehensive review of the patient’s medical and psychiatric histories, as well as their history of substance use.
  • Stabilization. Patients are stabilized with medical and psychological therapies. It is during this process that a doctor may prescribe medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Preparing entry to treatment. With detox completed, preparation for the next steps in the recovery process begins.

What Happens After Detox?

During detox, most acute withdrawal symptoms peak between three and seven days before beginning their decline in both frequency and severity. However, a second withdrawal phase can occur after those first few days. This second withdrawal phase is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS is related to the psychological aspects of drug and alcohol addiction. 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 on end.

This is why a comprehensive addiction treatment program, immediately after detox, is a wise move. Addiction treatment can help people discover what motivated them to abuse drugs or alcohol in the first place. It can also impart practical coping skills to avoid relapse, even in the face of PAWS.

peer support group after detox

Discover Why Detox is Important at The Retreat of Atlanta

Do you ask yourself, “Do I need alcohol detox” or, “Do I need drug detox?” If you are looking for a safe and caring environment to receive medically supervised detox, The Retreat of Atlanta can help. Our team specializes in comprehensive, patient-focused care, offering the best first step toward lasting addiction recovery.

Contact us today to learn more about why detox is important.

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