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Drug and Alcohol Detox

So often, addiction is something that takes control of us. It turns us into people we do not recognize. We slip a few times, and before we know it, we have become someone else. Along with this, there is often great shame for our lack of self-control and fear of what our friends, family, and loved ones will think.

It does not have to be this way. Though it is difficult and there may be great fear, or even denial, we can begin taking steps in a new direction. One of the first steps for those who know and love someone with an addiction is to have an intervention. The next step to take, and often the first step of treatment, is medically assisted detoxification.

Drug and alcohol detox can be done in different ways, some of which are helpful and others that are not. It is useful to understand detox’s nature and the most effective methods to ensure that this important first step is taken effectively.

Drug Detox

Drug detoxification is a straight-forward concept, though its actual process is not always so simple. In essence, detoxification is the removal of toxins from the body. This process is actually one that the body does on its own. The complications, however, arise with the nature of the toxins that are being removed. Alcohol and drugs have a significant effect on the body and its processes, in many cases changing the physiology of the body (that is, the way the different parts of the body function together). The removal of these substances can have significant physiological consequences and can be fatal in some cases. For this reason, proper methods of detox are essential.

It must be remembered that the continued abuse of these substances is also extremely harmful, often life-threatening, and offers no hope for a future. Though detox can be dangerous, it is far less dangerous than continuing in addiction. Detox offers a pathway to hope and freedom, while addiction only ends in destruction.

The potential dangers of detox help to further understand the nature of withdrawal and the different detoxification methods.

Drug Withdrawal

Withdrawal refers to undesired and usually uncomfortable side effects that occur when one reduces or stops the usage of drugs. These side effects, usually referred to as “withdrawal symptoms,” are specifically related to the medicine being decreased or removed from the individual’s system.

Though withdrawal is not always a deadly or dangerous process, it can be. This often depends on the nature of the drug and the severity of the addiction. In many cases, medication may be needed to assist with the withdrawal process.

Some drugs which often required medications during the withdrawal process are:

  • Opioids (Heroin, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Codeine, Morphine, and others)
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and others)
  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Barbiturates (Amytal, Butisol, Nembutal, Seconal, Donnatal, and others)
  • Other forms of sedatives

Methods of Detoxification

Not all methods of detox are equal, and not all situations should be treated the same.

Any right detox treatment or program should contain three components:

  • Evaluation: testing and determining the scope and severity of the substance within an individual
  • Stabilization: administering any needed medical or psychosocial treatment to ensure an individual reaches stability during the detox process
  • Preparation for further substance abuse treatment: stressing the importance of continuing treatment through substance abuse programs, whether inpatient or outpatient

There are various methods or techniques used in the detox process, including “cold turkey,” tapering, home detox kits, and medical detox.

  • Cold Turkey: “Cold turkey” is a popular term for ending the use of a substance without medical assistance or any form of tapering. In some mild cases, there may not be any significant issues. However, with many drugs, an absence this sudden may have significant adverse effects for the user.
  • Tapering reduces the intake of a substance by gradually decreasing the importance over a sustained period of time. While tapering is often used in medical detox, attempting to taper without healthcare professionals’ medical knowledge may lead to problems. Different drugs often require additional decreases in usage or time periods over which to taper; additionally, it is often difficult to maintain the self-discipline of continuously decreasing usage of a substance without supervision.
  • Home Detox Kits: In some cases, home detox kits may be advertised or marketed as cheap and quick to detoxify the body from the home. Though things of this nature may have some limited usefulness in particular situations, they are generally poorly regulated and ineffective. Using home detox kits, one loses out on a medical professional’s individual attention and advisement. As stated earlier, detox can be different for different individuals; by using home detox kits, one only gets a “one size fits all” solution that is often no solution at all.
  • Medical Detox: Though some of the techniques, such as tapering, may also be used in medical detox, this form of detox differs most substantially from the other knowledge in one area: the experience of those using implementing treatment. Medical detox is performed under the guidance of medical specialists and experts who know the adverse effects of different abused substances, medications that can be used to mitigate withdrawal symptoms, emergency care should a patient’s body respond poorly, and much more. As listed above, a good detox should consist of evaluation, stabilization, and preparation for further treatment. It is only in medical detox that these components are sufficiently met.

Finding Help

Hopefully, it is clear at this point that the best and most assured way of beginning treatment for substance abuse is through a detox program overseen by trained and professional staff. Cycles of Change Recovery offers a residential detox program designed to serve exactly this purpose. We believe in the importance of the individual, personalized care, and the necessity of having qualified staff to oversee the process of detox. This process will often take somewhere between 2 days and 2 weeks, depending on the substance being abused.

While medically assisted detoxification is an excellent and crucial first step, it is only the beginning of the process. Detoxification helps aid in the withdrawal process, but it rarely helps in solving the problem of addiction. It is critical to take further steps to ensure that the patient can safely break free of addiction once the substance has been removed from the system. Here at Cycles of Change Recovery, our goal is not simply to get you through the detox stage of treatment but to come alongside you until you have begun a new cycle: a cycle of life and freedom. Following detox, it is highly recommended that individuals look into residential treatment as a next step on the road to recovery.


  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” NIDA January 2018. https://www.drugabuse.gov/.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA, 2015, https://samhsa.gov/.
  • NIDA. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).”