Is a Detoxification Program Necessary?

Using is Dangerous, But so is stopping

Using is dangerous, but so is stopping - withdrawal must be undertaken with caution and, often, with medical supervision.

Depending on the substance being abused, withdrawal symptoms might include:


  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation or hostility
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Seizures
  • Coma or death (in extreme cases)


Severity of these withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person. And, while some substances produce more serious symptoms than others, it is important to recognize that any substance used habitually can produce some symptoms upon withdrawal – even marijuana.

Using is dangerous, but so is stopping. Withdrawal should be undertaken with caution and, frequently, with medical supervision. It is best for anyone who has been using addictive substances to be evaluated by an addiction specialist to determine if a medical detox is necessary, and what kind of detox program would be optimal.

In this article, we will explain drug and alcohol withdrawal, discuss the detoxification process, explain when it is necessary, and make suggestions about how to choose the right detox program.

Drug and Alcohol Dependency Results in Withdrawal

The extended abuse of drugs results in physical dependency.

Dependency means that the body no longer functions properly without the drug, and coming off the drug can be painful and dangerous. This detoxification process is also known as withdrawal. Medical assistance may be necessary to make the process physically tolerable and safe.

Going through detox is not only a painful experience, it can also be life-threatening. Withdrawal from certain drugs (alcohol among them) can cause seizures, coma, or death. It is vital for someone in the throes of addiction to be evaluated by an addiction specialist to determine how best to detoxify.

What Is Medical Detox?

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that “medical detoxification safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal.” This is a basic explanation of a detox program. Let’s go a little deeper.

A medical detox is supervised by specialists in addiction medicine in a hospital setting, detox center, or rehabilitation facility. The individual who is experiencing withdrawal is stabilized and medical conditions preceding or resulting from detox are addressed. Round-the-clock evaluation and monitoring ensures that the detoxification process is safe, effective and therapeutic. Also, a medical detox is designed to keep the patient as comfortable as possible. There used to be a belief that a hard or traumatic withdrawal was essential to recovery; mostly medical professionals no longer think this way. An addict coming into recovery has suffered enough.

During detox, medications are used to provide comfort and prevent adverse reactions to the withdrawal process. These might include antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, anti-nausea medications, sedatives, or opioid-replacement drugs. These medications lessen withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.

Detoxification Is Necessary for Recovery

No one wants to have to go through withdrawal. Many people who are addicted continue to use simply because they fear the pain of stopping. Unfortunately, there is no way to experience the gifts of recovery without first arresting addiction through abstinence – and abstinence begins with detox.

Everyone who has been abusing addictive drugs must go through a detoxification process one way or another. While not everyone detoxing from drugs or alcohol will require medical supervision, certain circumstances require admission to a detox program. Those able to detox safely at home still benefit from the advice and support of professionals through the process. Using over-the-counter detox cleanses or kits can be dangerous, especially if someone has underlying health conditions or has been using chemicals like alcohol, opiates or sedatives that can have dangerous effects upon withdrawal.

What Kind of Detox Is Best for Me?

Most detox programs treat a patient in one to seven days. However, many who are addicted to alcohol, heroin, or prescription opioids choose Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which can take up to a year.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), MAT “is the use of FDA- approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.” MAT usually occurs in an outpatient setting; it’s slower, but especially for people with a high risk or history of relapse it may be more effective.

Proponents of inpatient detox and MAT may be strong advocates for their method; listening carefully and making a decision that is right for the addict is ultimately up to you. A confidential assessment with an addiction specialist can free you from guesswork.

Many detox programs provide free assessments over the phone. It is not a good idea to determine on your own whether you or your loved one needs a detox program – whether we want to believe that the addiction “isn’t that bad” or that “we can handle this ourselves,” our denial can put us or our loved ones in jeopardy.

When it comes to withdrawal from alcohol, benzodiazepines (like Valium or Ativan), heroin, and prescription opioids like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Fentanyl, medical detox is almost always recommended.

Loved ones may not have an accurate sense of what a person has been using, and his or her self-assessment may not be accurate. For example, it is very rare that a patient needs medical detox from cannabis. However, synthetic marijuana is saturated with toxic chemicals that can make withdrawal problematic. Bringing professionals in early can limit some of the danger that comes with this process.

We encourage anyone who has been abusing drugs / alcohol to undergo an evaluation by a qualified, licensed addiction expert to assess their individual situation.

Find a Detox You Can Trust

At GET HELP, we have simplified the process of choosing a detox program. When time is of the essence, all you need to do is open up the app and click the service you are looking for. Within seconds, we’ll search our database of over 20,000 facilities and show you what is available near you. Using your current location, we are able to filter services within a ten-mile radius of where you are. You can change the search location at any time. 

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