Medically Supervised Detox

Detox From Alcohol or Other Substances

What Is A Medical Detox?

A medically supervised detox may be necessary if you or your loved one has seriously been abusing any substances, like drugs or alcohol, or has a been taking a drug or medication for an extended period of time. A medical detox is the safe and effective way to begin recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. The first step in any recovery process is to stop taking or using the addictive substance. There are many painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with abruptly quitting any substance. In some cases, these symptoms and side effects of withdrawal can be life threatening and result in death, if not the drug use is not stopped correctly.

What happens during detox?

During a medical detox, patients are admitted to a detox facility prior to starting primary care treatment plan. The facility has a highly trained medical team on site 24/7 to supervise the detox process. Patients will be monitored throughout their stay, as physicians design a plan of action for their recovery treatment. In some cases, certain medications need to be prescribed to help lessen the withdrawal side effects. Having a medical team around to both prescribe and watch over patients as they go through withdrawal is a huge advantage to participating in medical detox.

Which Substances Warrant Detox?


Not everyone that enters addiction treatment necessarily needs to go through a medical detox. It all depends on the substance that was abused and how long this abuse had been going on, among other determining factors. Withdrawing from certain substances can be deadly in some cases. When the body has become dependent on a substance, it often times can no longer function without it. This may lead to organ failure, respiratory issues and heart complications. Do not try to go through the detox process alone before seeking professional advice on treatment.

In general, someone will usually require detox if he or she is addicted to one of the following substances:

  • Cocaine/Crack
  • Heroin
  • Opioids (Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Methamphetamine
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, etc.)

The effects that every substance has on the body is different, which means the withdrawal symptoms associated with each differ, too. Although a medical detox is necessary to begin recovery for alcohol and many other drugs, detox will be different for each. For example, alcohol can be an especially tricky addiction to kick for severe alcoholics and can require the use of other substances to lessen the side effects of withdrawal. In some cases, benzos are actually used to prevent seizures that can occur as a result of stopping use of other drugs.

Addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. That’s why we encourage our residents to let us first determine if their dependence on alcohol or drugs necessitates detox. From there, we can design a plan that will work best for you and find you long term success in recovery.

What are the Withdrawal Symptoms that Occur in Detox?

The withdrawal symptoms and side effects that occur during detox are different for every user and every drug.

Some of the most common drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors and/or seizures
  • Nasea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Slowed breathing
  • Mood swings

What Determines the Length of Detox?

Medical detox generally lasts anywhere from 2 to 5 days, but can be longer depending on the individual and how much they have been using. Other determining factors include what type of substance the addict was addicted to, the method of abuse (i.e. smoked, injected, snorted, etc.), family history and other medical determinants. The body can rid itself of some drugs much faster than others, so depending on the substance a person may need to spend more time getting the drug out of their body. There are some substances that do not require detox because there are minimal withdrawal symptoms when stopping use. In these cases, the patient can start counseling and inpatient treatment right away. While the withdrawal process can be very exhausting and painful for the user, it is a necessary part of early recovery. After detox, recovering addicts can focus on gaining control of their lives with a healthier, drug-free lifestyle.

How Long Can Recovering from Drug and Alcohol Addiction Take?

Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction is a lifelong process. It isn’t something that happens overnight and most recovering addicts deal with the emotions and challenges that come with sobriety for a lifetime. For most people, the actual inpatient treatment lasts somewhere between 21 and 90 days. This wide range depends on the kind of treatment a person receives and how well he or she does throughout their time in the facility. When the addict and his or her clinical team feels they are ready to transition back into society, they will likely do so in a controlled environment.

What are the Treatment Options for When Detox is Over?

There are different options for treatment post detox, including outpatient and inpatient treatment. During outpatient addiction treatment, those in recovery reside where they choose, but attend meetings, therapy sessions and see a medical team when necessary.

However, inpatient addiction treatment is often a more viable option for long term success in sobriety. Inpatient treatment allows addicts to reside in a rehabilitation facility during treatment. The process includes attending 12-Step meetings, group and individual therapy, medical counseling, and on site care whenever need be. Because addicts are constantly surrounded by others going through similar struggles and who are looking to change their lives, they feel as though they are not going through the process alone. Having a solid support system and a safe and secure environment can be the difference in maintaining sobriety or not.

Ready to Find Help?

Upon admission at Pathfinders, you will receive a preliminary screening with our medical team.  If our physicians feel as though a medical detox is necessary, we can help arrange it. Medications that help ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal may be used during this time to help keep you from suffering severely.

More Resources: What’s an Intervention?