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What is Medical Drug Detox?

Before you can begin treatment for substance use disorders, it’s essential to remove the substance from your body. Medical detoxification is the process of flushing a substance out of your system with the supervision of medical professionals. During this time, you’ll stay at a detox facility where your vitals will be monitored and, if necessary, medication provided to aid in drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

In this blog, we’ll look at the following:

When Is Medical Detox Necessary?

Medical detox is for anyone who has become dependent on a substance. Many people experience mild to moderate withdrawals when the substance they’ve become addicted to is leaving their system. In extreme cases, withdrawals can be dangerous to a person’s health. Because of this, medical detox is a necessary piece in the addiction recovery process. You’re placed in a safe detox setting with access to medical support.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms may manifest physically and at varying intensities depending on how dependent your mind and body are on the substance. These can be alarming to an individual and quickly lead to relapse when not managed professionally, including:

  • Sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain

Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms

Along with the physical symptoms of withdrawal, there are also psychological effects. Without the proper support system, it’s challenging to overcome the mental barriers of withdrawal, especially the intense cravings people experience. Some of the most commonly seen psychological withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Cravings
  • Irritability
  • Problems with focus
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Which Drugs Require Detox?

If you’re unable to quit using a substance or find yourself experiencing withdrawals when you do stop or reduce intake, then detox is the best choice for you. It’s not so much about the type of drug as it is about its hold on you. 

That said, some drugs are so addictive you are putting your health at risk to go cold turkey without medical supervision. These include alcohol,  heroin, prescription opioids, and benzodiazepines. The power that these drugs have on the mind and body can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them.

A severe alcohol use disorder can cause what’s called “delirium tremens” when drinking is halted. Delirium tremens can create visual and auditory hallucinations, body tremors, fever, and sometimes life-threatening in extreme situations. We say this to motivate you to seek professional help with detoxing, not to scare you away from recovery. With the support of an expert team, you can safely detox no matter what the substance or how extreme the addiction is.

What Happens When You Detox?

When you detox, you stop all substance intake and allow your body to flush out the remaining toxins. The dependence that you’ve developed as a result of addiction tricks your brain into believing the substance is needed for survival. Because of this, withdrawals take place as an adverse reaction to the absence of the substance. 

As you power through these symptoms with medical supervision, you’ll eventually come to a point where withdrawal and cravings subside. This places you in the best frame of mind to begin the next step of addiction treatment, which is typically inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.

How Long Does Medical Detox Last?

How long medical detox lasts is based on each patient’s individual case. On average, detox lasts as short as three days to as long as two weeks. The range varies because of factors like how dependent your body is and how long it takes to break down the substance.

What Medications Are Used in Detox?

Medication isn’t always necessary but may be prescribed to aid in soothing withdrawals and cravings. If your doctor does decide to prescribe medication during the detox process, it will likely be in the form of one of the following.


Naltrexone hinders opioid receptor agonists in the brain, thwarting the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals associated with drug or alcohol use. The lack of this rewarding sensation may decrease the likelihood of relapse.


Acamprosate reduces cravings and works to restore the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain that alcohol can disrupt (GABA and glutamate). Studies have shown this medication to be most effective after a person has stopped drinking.


Disulfiram is prescribed at a minimum of 12 hours following your last drink. It deters you from drinking by creating unpleasant symptoms when you consume even a small amount of alcohol. Your medical team will warn you of these symptoms, including vomiting and nausea, before application of disulfiram.


Suboxone is a brand name for buprenorphine. It provides the most effective outcome for our patients during detox. Suboxone can ease withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings to make the detox process much more manageable.

Harmony Junction Recovery Is Here to Help You Thrive in Recovery

Forget the excuses and the lies of addiction. Help can start today, and it comes down to whether you’re willing to commit. We understand that recovery is no small step, but that’s why we exist. With top professionals in the field of addiction and mental health, we can help put a plan in place to help you overcome the challenges you face. Contact us to learn more today about how we can serve you.