Drug Detox Process

What is the Process for Drug Detox?

Learn more about what drug detox is, the detoxification process, and how to seek treatment that’s right for you.

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What Is Drug Detox?

Around fifty percent of all Americans over the age of twelve have abused substances at least once, with over twenty million developing substance use disorders in their lifetime. 1 Substance use disorders, also known as SUDs, can result in a variety of negative signs and symptoms, and they can be potentially life-threatening. However, only an estimated eleven percent of people suffering from a substance use disorder receive treatment. 2

Drug detox is the primary treatment for a substance use disorder. It involves taking time to allow the body to recover through the detoxification of drugs.

What is Meant by the Detoxification of Drugs?

Drug detoxification is actually a metabolic process. This means that it is a natural process involving the body processing a substance and then removing it as waste, similar to digestion. 3
Drug detox begins the second that a substance is administered to the body. As the body begins to break down and absorb the substance, its effects, or “high,” are felt. Eventually, the body will have processed all of the substance and begin to remove it as waste, such as through sweat. During this time, cravings may begin to become more noticeable. If the substance isn’t used again, the body will begin to undergo withdrawal. 4

How Long Does Drug Detox Take?

There is no single drug detox and withdrawal timeline. This is because several factors can impact how long it takes the body to process and remove a substance, as well as return to its natural chemistry and state. For most people, you can expect drug detox to last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Drug Detox Symptoms

The symptoms that occur during drug detox are known as withdrawal. These occur as the body begins to revert to its natural state and chemistry without the influence of any other substances. Many types of drugs produce euphoric effects by increasing dopamine, a natural feel-good chemical in the brain.

Although this process of decreasing dopamine is natural and results in normal brain chemistry, it is still a drop in dopamine that the body has to endure. This can be uncomfortable and result in a variety of drug detox symptoms, including:
  • Psychological cravings for the substance
  • Body aches
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shaking

What is the Process for Drug Detox?

Although each person’s drug detox will be an individual journey, there is an overall process. Detoxification occurs in three different phases: assessment, withdrawal, and stabilization. These will be detailed below.

Medical Assessment

A medical assessment is the first step in drug detox, and it’s a necessary one. Here, the medical provider in charge of overseeing the detox and withdrawal will assess the patient’s current health and establish a safe plan for detoxification.


Withdrawal is the most notable stage of drug detox. This is when the drug detox symptoms are most notable.

This stage of detoxification occurs because the body is learning to readjust after becoming accustomed to the presence of a substance. The brain will begin to revert to its natural levels of certain chemicals, which can feel unpleasant.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Physical symptoms are more severe in the first few days of drug detoxification. From here, they plateau before ultimately fading. Some of the most notable physical withdrawal symptoms include:
  • Nausea
  • Aches and pains
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Flu or cold-like symptoms
  • Cramps
  • Teeth chattering
  • Tingling hands or feet
  • Racing heart

Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms

Often, psychological withdrawal symptoms are regarded as the most severe. Certain symptoms can linger for months after the initial detoxification process, including psychological cravings for the substance. Other symptoms include:
  • Increased irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion or disorientation

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

Although withdrawal is necessary for recovery, it isn’t comfortable. It can even lead to several severe symptoms, which is why professional help is important. Some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced during drug detoxification include:
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts


Stabilization follows withdrawal and focuses on long-term recovery. As the patient recovers from their withdrawal experience, they can begin to collaborate with loved ones and healthcare professionals to decide the next best step in their recovery.

Different Types of Drug Detox

There are several different types of drug detox. These are designed to meet a variety of needs, and the right type of detox will be chosen during the medical assessment stage. Some of these types include:
  • Medically managed inpatient detox
  • Medically monitored inpatient detox
  • Clinically managed residential detox
  • Ambulatory detox with extended onsite monitoring
  • Ambulatory detox without extended onsite monitoring

Drug Detox Side Effects and Risks

Although drug detoxification is a necessary step in recovering from a substance use disorder, not all drug detoxes are created equal. In fact, in some instances, there are additional side effects or even risks to be considered. For instance, during pregnancy or breastfeeding, detoxing is important not only for the mother’s health but the infants. However, substance use disorder treatment will be limited. For instance, certain withdrawal-safe opioids like buprenorphine, which is used to treat withdrawal symptoms, may not be available.

It is also important that withdrawal is conducted with the help of a medical professional and not at home. This is because of the intense cravings that can occur as a symptom, which can lead to binge use and an elevated risk of overdose.

Risks of Rapid Detox

Rapid detox or quitting cold turkey can also pose certain risks and side effects. Tapering doses is an important part of recovery for certain substance use disorders. Rapidly or suddenly detoxing from certain substances can be dangerous and even causes seizures.

Drug Detox at Alta Centers - Los Angeles California

Although it can be difficult to navigate recovery, you don’t have to undergo this journey alone. At Alta Center – Drug Rehab in Los Angeles, California, you’ll find a professional staff dedicated to providing you with a medical drug detox along with compassion and care.

Our detox center is designed to meet you along every step of your drug detox journey. From your initial assessment to withdrawal to stabilization and beyond, Alta Centers is prepared to provide high-quality treatment paired with compassion to help you succeed.