Getting off drugs or alcohol through detoxification is the first step for overcoming drug addiction and beginning the journey towards recovery.
Drug and alcohol detoxification programs, also known as detox, can help people with substance use disorders begin this journey by providing them with the clinical support they need.
How Drug And Alcohol Detoxification Works
Drug and alcohol detoxification is a process that is necessary for anyone who has become physically dependent on a substance. This can develop through chronic or heavy substance use.
If you seek out a detox program, this process will begin with a clinical assessment, during which time you may be asked questions about your drug use history and health.
After this comes the actual detoxification and withdrawal process, which may be followed by a transition into a comprehensive treatment program. That’s when the real recovery work begins.
Read more about how detox programs work
Detox Side Effects
Detox can be a physically and psychologically uncomfortable process. This is normal. Unfortunately, this is also part of what can make getting off drugs and alcohol so challenging.
The detoxification process may cause physical sickness, as well as symptoms such as anxiety, difficulty sleeping, drug cravings, and other symptoms that can vary by substance type.
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Illicit Drug Detox
Many illicit drugs are highly addictive physically and psychologically.
The experience of detoxing off illicit drugs will look and feel different depending on the type of substance, as well as the severity of a person’s dependence.
Cocaine is a highly addictive, illicit stimulant that can cause a “crash” and withdrawal symptoms in people who use it regularly and become physically dependent.
Cocaine withdrawal is not generally dangerous or very uncomfortable physically. However, it can cause intense cravings for cocaine, as well as other psychological symptoms.
Heroin is an illicit opioid, also known as an opiate. Detoxing from heroin can cause a number of physical symptoms, including vomiting, sweating, tremors, and diarrhea.
Heroin detox, or heroin withdrawal symptoms, are not typically life-threatening, but the experience can be very uncomfortable and should not be attempted alone.
Methamphetamine, more commonly known as “meth,” is an illicit stimulant that can cause rapid dependence in people who use it regularly.
Meth detox may cause depression, anxiety, psychosis, and cravings strong enough to cause a person to return to meth, in the absence of clinical support.
Marijuana is not known for being very addictive. However, people who misuse it may still develop drug dependence, which can cause symptoms of withdrawal.
Ecstasy, also known as “molly” or MDMA, is a recreational drug that can cause symptoms of withdrawal in people who take it very frequently or in high doses.
Flakka is a synthetic drug, also known as “bath salts” or synthetic cathinones.
Although less is known about flakka withdrawal compared to other addictive drugs, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse says flakka detox may cause symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Hallucinogens are mind-altering drugs that can alter one’s sense of reality and one’s perception of themselves and surroundings.
- mescaline (peyote)
Kratom is a natural, psychotropic substance with opioid-like effects that is currently legal for use in the United States.
Regular use of kratom can lead to drug dependence, and consequently, symptoms of withdrawal, such as muscle aches, insomnia, hostility, and mood swings.
Read more about how to detox from kratom safely
Alcohol abuse, or a pattern of problematic drinking, can lead to severe alcohol dependence, which will require a detox program to safely overcome.
Alcohol detox programs last anywhere from three to seven days, on average, and can provide medical support for severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Opioid And Prescription Opioid Detox
Thousands of people in the United States seek help for opioid abuse and addiction each year—with detox often serving as the first step on the road to recovery.
Opioid drugs that may require detox include:
- oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin) detox
- hydrocodone (Vicodin/Norco) detox
- codeine detox
- meperidine (Demerol) detox
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid) detox
- fentanyl detox
- morphine detox
- tramadol detox
Opioid detox is not life-threatening by itself, but does carry a high risk of relapse and potential overdose when attempted without clinical support.
Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are a class of prescription sedatives that can cause mild to severe drug dependence with chronic use. Stopping benzodiazepines cold-turkey is not advised.
Common benzodiazepine drugs include:
- alprazolam (Xanax) detox
- lorazepam (Ativan) detox
- diazepam (Valium) detox
- clonazepam (Klonopin) detox
- triazolam (Halcion) detox
- temazepam (Restoril)
- chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
Getting off a benzodiazepine drug may require a gradual tapering or detoxification program, in order to prevent serious and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Barbiturates are a class of old-school sedative-hypnotics that are addictive and have largely fallen out of favor among prescribers due to associated dangers of use.
Types of barbiturate drugs include:
- amobarbital (Amytal) detox
- phenobarbital (Luminal) detox
- pentobarbital (Nembutal) detox
- thiopental (Pentothal) detox
- secobarbital (Seconal) detox
- butalbital (Fioricet) detox
Barbiturate detox is a process that should be closely monitored by a doctor, due to a high risk for severe symptoms such as seizures and psychosis.
Amphetamines are stimulants that can be misused recreationally and may become psychologically addictive. This includes prescription stimulant/ADHD medications.
Commonly used amphetamines include:
Amphetamine detox programs may offer support for amphetamine withdrawal and connect individuals with a follow-up drug rehab program for substance misuse.
Sleeping Pill Detox
Prescription sleeping pills, including ‘z drugs,’ can be misused for their sedative properties and may require a detoxification process in order to safely stop taking them.
This includes detox from:
- zolpidem (Ambien) detox
- eszopiclone (Lunesta) detox
A detox program for addiction to a sleep medication may be recommended in order to prevent dangers and other health risks associated with sleeping pill detox.
Some antidepressant medications, including SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants, can be habit-forming and may require a tapering or detox program in order to stop taking them.
Common antidepressants that may require detox:
- atomoxetine (Strattera) detox
- bupropion (Wellbutrin) detox
- fluoxetine (Prozac) detox
- sertraline (Zoloft) detox
- mirtazapine (Remeron) detox
- amitriptyline (Elavil) detox
Antidepressant detox may be recommended for people who have either been taking an antidepressant for a very long time, or for those who misuse one or more medications.
Detoxing From Other Prescription Drugs
Various prescription drugs, including those prescribed for seizures or muscle spasms, can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal with stopped use.
Other prescription drugs that may require detox include:
- cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) detox
- trazodone detox
- gabapentin (Neurontin) detox
- provigil (Modafinil) detox
Find answers to frequently asked questions about detoxing from drugs and alcohol.
How Long Will Detox Last?
On average, detox lasts anywhere from five to seven days, or up to one week. Detox from long-acting drugs, like methadone, may last up to 20 days.
The detoxification process can vary in length, depending on the type of drug, how long you’ve been taking it, and other details related to your substance use history.
Is It Safe To Detox While Pregnant?
When it comes to detoxing during pregnancy, health experts say medical supervision and support, such as that offered within a detox program, is key.
Detoxification is an intense process. This may pose risks to both fetal and maternal health if detox is attempted alone or without supportive care from medical professionals.
What Is It Like To Detox From Alcohol?
Detoxing from alcohol can make a person feel physically sick, as well as very agitated, anxious, and irritable. In serious cases, hallucinations, fast heart rate, and seizures can also occur.
What Medications Are Used During Drug Detox?
Many medical detox programs offer medicine to ease drug withdrawal symptoms, including symptoms such as nausea, runny nose, fever, and drug cravings.
- For opioid detox: Medications such as buprenorphine (after 24 hours of withdrawal), methadone, or clonidine for flu-like symptoms.
- For alcohol detox: Benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, or other sedatives for severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- For other forms of drug detox: Other forms of medicine, such as anti-nausea medications, may be used to relieve specific symptoms that can develop during drug withdrawal.
Not all detox programs may offer medicine during withdrawal. Social detox programs, for instance, rely on behavioral treatments, such as behavioral therapy, and clinical care.
What Comes After Detox?
Detox is only the first step towards recovery. After detoxing, it’s highly recommended that individuals with substance use disorders transition into a full drug rehab program.
A drug rehab program can offer medical treatment, as well as behavioral treatments such as individual counseling, support groups, family therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.
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Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Commonly Used Drug Charts
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — DrugFacts
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alcohol withdrawal
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Alcohol Use Disorders in Pregnancy