Drug detox

One way to get a better understanding of your journey toward recovery is by educating yourself about drug detoxification. You’ll leave this discussion with a broader understanding of detox and rehab in better preparation for getting the right kind of help for you.

When taking a drug, major chemical changes are happening in your brain that actually alter the way that it functions, and over time, how it grows. Once addicted, the brain needs the chemical to function properly, meaning it actively craves it and goes into a type of shock when it doesn’t receive it. This is what keeps an addicted individual coming back to use the substance over and over, despite the obvious harm, depression and overall grief that repeated use will cause.

The path to substance abuse may start with the person voluntarily choosing to use the drug. Maybe it’s just once at first but over time, a pattern begins to form that alters and bends many of the primary structures of one’s life in order to make room for the alien chemical the addict uses to escape or numb themselves to the pressures of life.

Once addicted, it can be extremely hard to break the addiction. Because of the deep, physical and mental roots that drugs and alcohol grow into, making such a radical change from dependency to a sober life can often times be too much for a person to do on their own. When one realizes that their problem may be more than they can handle alone, they often turn to treatment programs that have been specially designed to handle the problem of substance abuse and help its patients take the appropriate steps toward recovery.

medikit drug detox

Detox or rehabilitation?

Any rehabilitation program starts with a drug detox that removes drug-induced chemicals from your brain. This is also where the patient experiences withdrawals and begins the process of understanding and overcoming them. Patients often choose detox because of an inability to leave obligations such as school, work, or the caretaking of children or other family members. It’s important to note that if you’re in a dire situation and need more help with a drug addiction than inpatient, rehabilitation would be the right option. However, if other obligations are limiting your commitment and you sincerely don’t feel inpatient rehabilitation would be better, a detox will be beneficial for you, especially as rehabilitation programs often take 30 to 90 days. Due to its less intensive nature, detoxes cost much less than rehabilitations. That being said, state-funded and faith-based free rehabs are in existence, though there are certain qualifications and the more destitute are prioritized. A great number folks are taking an honest look at their needs and passing it up for detoxes and outpatient rehabilitation afterward.

drug detox

What to Expect During Drug Detox?

As the name suggests, during detoxification your body is being purged of drugs. As with any detox, physical withdrawals are a given but don’t let this scare you away from getting rewarding treatment. Medical professionals are there to help you through withdrawals and try to make it as effective as possible. Twenty-four-hour access to nurses is available to you and medication to help ease the withdrawals. Expectedly, different drugs used will determine what specific withdrawal symptoms you will experience, such as sweating, diarrhea, confusion, etc. Similarly, detox time varies uniquely for each person; heroin, an opiate, can take a week of recovery, while LSD could take only a few days. Detoxing from an opiate usually takes the longest, and patients are given other kinds of prescription opiates to make withdrawal less painful. Patients will become dependent on these prescription opiates, and then another detoxification from the prescription drug will begin.


Your body’s wherewithal to withdrawal

Each person’s withdrawal is unique in length and intensity but a loose prediction of how your withdrawal will transpire can be inferred from your degree of drug dependency and the following factors:

  • The span of time using a particular substance
  • The type of substance
  • The size of intake each time
  • Mental health
  • Medical health
  • Family history with addiction and genetics

There are common withdrawal symptoms expected from different types of drugs. Although each person’s toxification and withdrawal experiences are unique based on the above factors, you can expect these general symptoms.

Cocaine withdrawals

Cocaine is a stimulant and has the particular trait of a non-physical withdrawal. Because of its relatively discrete symptoms, many people don’t recognize when someone close to them has a cocaine addiction. This is also the reason cocaine withdrawals are not considered a threat to the patient’s life.

A cocaine withdrawal starts only a few hours after the last dose and generally has three parts beginning with the Coke Crash, which could last between nine hours and four days, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Symptoms during this time include lethargy, sleeping for days, depression, agitation and an increased appetite.

One might infer that these symptoms are very much the opposite of the usual high-on-cocaine characteristics. The crash peaks a few days later and the acute withdrawal sets in, bringing in one to three weeks of body chills, anhedonia (the state of being unable to experience pleasure due to reduced dopamine levels), crazy dreams, and paranoia, which can lead to psychosis and violence.

The third and final phase is duly named “extinction” and usually happens at around 30 weeks or more. This phase still includes periodical cravings but generally after 30 weeks (or 200 days), cravings disappear. However, they may still continue for a few months along with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Heroin withdrawals

Heroin withdrawals begin in under 12 hours from the last dosage, peaking between 12 and 48 hours and continue for a week to a few months. Opioid withdrawal symptoms are flu-like, producing muscle aches, runny nose, sweating, insomnia, yawning, agitation and anxiety.

In the late withdrawal period, the patient will experience more severe symptoms of heroin withdrawal, which include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, body chills, and yawning but being unable to sleep, cramps in the abdomen, and dilated pupils. Evidently, a heroin withdrawal for most people is one of the most challenging drug-related withdrawals one can have.

Although not considered a life-threatening withdrawal, it can still be very dangerous and should only take place under professional medical aid as complications may eventually become life-threatening.

Prescription opiates

Prescription Opiates (including methadone, morphine, Vicodin, OxyContin) withdrawals begin between 8 and 12 hours for most people and steadily peak between 12 and 48 hours; This continues for 5 to 10 days. Methadone treatment, an opiate used to treat heroin withdrawals, begins between 24 and 48 hours and peaks at a few days, which usually lasts for 2 to 4 weeks.


Benzodiazepines (including Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan) withdrawals can begin in 1 to 4 days, and peak anywhere in the first or second week. Interestingly, this drug has been known to produce lingering withdrawals that without treatment may last months or even years. During the peak of this withdrawal, many symptoms often occur such as irritability, anxiety, short-term memory loss, panic attacks, tremors, tension, hypertension, headache, interrupted sleep, headaches, sweating, nausea, muscle pain, rigidity and irregular heart rate.

“Benzos” as they are often called, introduce the possibility of extreme withdrawal side effects such as hallucinations, extreme confusion, seizures, fever and delirium. This kind of withdrawal is considered life-threatening as grand mal seizures are on the list of possibilities that can lead to coma or death for people who abruptly stop taking them and have been dependent on them for a long time.

Different types of detox

Due to the unique nature of each drug, different drug detoxes take different amounts of time.

Each drug detox process is dependent upon a myriad of factors ascertained from a professional assessment of the patient’s needs, drug use history, and mental and medical health. These should be assessed by a professional and detoxes should be done in detox facilities where 24-hour help is often available.

Detoxing from cocaine

During the actual detox, drugs are given to the patients to help ease the difficult withdrawal symptoms and err them from relapsing. The cocaine withdrawals are an integral part of the entire cocaine detox.

The primary goal during this time is to keep the patient away from the substance so all cocaine is removed from their system and to deter them from relapsing, which is difficult during this time as their addicted bodies are telling them to stop the pain through another hit of cocaine.

Detoxing from heroin

Chemicals in this drug fit perfectly on opioid receptors in the brain, providing a surge and multiplication of the chemicals liable for feelings of happiness and pleasure. As noted earlier, the intensity and length of the withdrawal depend on the amount of heroin commonly used and the amount of time.

Those with a relatively unstable mental health are also more predisposed to become dependent on substances they abuse. While this withdrawal from heroin is not commonly thought of as life-compromising, there is always the possibility of psychological and medicative symptoms becoming further complex and risking the patient’s life. For instance, a patient experiencing impaired respiration, as is common in severe withdrawals, may begin hyperventilating in order to get more breaths. Or a patient thrown under a wave of depression may contemplate suicide.

Types of drug detox programs

Inpatient detoxes are best for those who are in more extreme cases and would do well with 24-hour assistance in which their withdrawals can be better managed. During outpatient detoxes, patients attend meetings often but do not stay the night, as with inpatient care.

medical treatment

Medically-assisted detoxes focus primarily on achieving equilibrium in physical health through medication. Sub-acute detoxes are designed for those in fine physical and mental health but still committed to a full recovery and are flexible for both inpatient or outpatient.

holistic drug detox

Holistic detox utilizes traditional and unconventional ways of removing toxins from the physical and spiritual realm of the body or the mind. Techniques include yoga classes, acupuncture, massages, herb-based antidotes in addition to Western medical remedies.

Medication use in drug detox

Unlike cocaine, opioids and heroin have prescription medications for aiding in withdrawals and aftercare abstinence. Recovering heroin addicts are usually prescribed buprenorphine (branded as Suboxone or Subutex), naltrexone, or methadone.

Primarily, these drugs aid in decreasing cravings for heroin and preventing a relapse. Although addictive themselves, they are less so than heroin. For further sobriety maintenance, methadone is riskier than buprenorphine due to methadone’s more addictive nature and notoriety for being bought and sold by heroin addicts. Suboxone is specifically known for appearing in casual spaces, away from hospitals and rehabilitation centers, as something to ease the pain in between hits of heroin.

Similar to methadone’s ability to satiate a heroin addict’s craving, benzodiazepine addicts are treated with a similar drug that produces a comparable but longer effect in order to wean the addict off it.

“Methadone is a slow-acting opioid agonist,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist.”

As such, both drugs partly trigger your brain’s opioid receptors. This is similar to heroin’s ability to perfectly fit around the brain’s opioid receptors.

Another drug called  naloxone, is mixed into buprenorphine with the goal of barring the opioid receptors from accepting other opioids such as heroin. Using naloxone is precarious because if used with another opioid, it could draw on precipitated withdrawals, another type of opioid withdrawal that brings on numerous, sudden withdrawal symptoms. If untouched by any other opioid agonists, naloxone remains inoperative. This is used as a deterrent from misusing such drugs and other opioid agonists while the patient is detoxing and moving forward in rehabilitation.

Additionally, other medications such as mood-moderators and antidepressants are prescribed to patients undergoing detox to counteract these common symptoms (panic, anxiety, depressive mood, suicidal thoughts) in drug withdrawal.

Undoubtedly, every detoxing patient has their own unique needs. Their medical and mental state, drug use history, and other factors should always be carefully and honestly assessed before beginning detox treatment. Already existing mental health issues, medical health complexities, complicate the recovery and rehabilitation process and could be the difference between a swift recovery and a long-winded one.

sober housing

What now?

Those who finish just drug detox often go on to outpatient rehabilitation. If you feel you need more intense, in-house rehabilitation, you might consider joining an actual residential, inpatient, rehabilitation center. There, the drug detox is followed up with comprehensive therapy treatment and rehabilitation. If not, joining an outpatient rehabilitation program is a viable option.

This option is likely as many choose not to attend an inpatient rehabilitation because of other demanding life obligations such as kids, a job or schoolwork. Your detox program can direct you to both inpatient and outpatient programs.

It’s crucial for you to remember that a lasting sobriety is your ultimate goal. Graduation from a detox program doesn’t guarantee you this. On that note, neither does graduation from rehabilitation of the outpatient or inpatient variety.

Although these programs help immensely, all the sobriety techniques and tips learned can fall short if you or your environment is not committed to recovery. Ongoing encouragement and effort are necessary to achieve long-term sobriety and a recovery because it will provide independence from drugs, freeing you from your addiction and allowing you to live fully as your true self.