male detox doctor talking to patient at his desk

Detox is necessary for recovery because it allows a person to work on the complex underlying psychological issues that contribute to addiction with a clear mind, undistracted by the physical discomfort of withdrawal. When medical detoxification is complete, a person has a solid foundation to build recovery.

What Is Detox for Addiction?

The goals of detox are keeping a person safe during the detox process and ensuring they experience as few uncomfortable side effects as possible. During addiction detox, a person’s body rids itself of any remaining drugs or addictive substances. As a result, once a detox program is complete, a person won’t experience acute withdrawal symptoms and will be physically stable.

The First Step Toward Recovery

Detoxification is the first step toward recovery. It is an essential phase toward getting clean and well-established in sobriety. However, detox can be uncomfortable if it is not carried out under medical supervision. This is due to the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with most detoxes.

Withdrawal refers to a body of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms that arise when people no longer consume the addictive substances their body has grown dependent on. When someone suffering from drug addiction stops taking drugs abruptly, withdrawal symptoms will be intense and even life-threatening.

Some of the more common physical symptoms of unmanaged withdrawal include the following:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscles aches or spasms
  • Trouble thinking, inability to concentrate
  • Mood swings, outbursts of irritability or tearfulness
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Hallucinations (primarily seen in alcohol withdrawal symptoms)
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Sweats
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness, feelings of “the jitters”

Medical detox ensures a person stays safe and relatively free of these uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Inpatient detox facilities offer medications that reduce withdrawal effects while providing round-the-clock care from trained medical professionals.

When is Detox Necessary?

Several variables interact to determine the necessity of medically managed detox. The major factors include the person’s typical substance of abuse, their health, the amount of the substance they’ve been using, how long they’ve been using, and the presence of any co-occurring psychological disorders or serious chronic illnesses.

Commonly abused substances that must have medical detox include:


As with all substances, the amount of alcohol a person’s been drinking, combined with the duration of their alcohol abuse, general health, and history of alcohol withdrawal, influence how severe withdrawal will be. In all cases, medically assisted detox is necessary, as alcohol abuse makes fundamental and negative changes to nerve pathways and chemicals that control a person’s perceptions, emotions, and vital functions, like breathing and heart rate. Alcohol detox helps a person come through withdrawal safely and relatively comfortably.


Benzodiazepines are given as sedatives and anxiolytics. These drugs are frequently prescribed for anxiety disorders. Commonly given benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and chlordiazepoxide (Librium).

Benzodiazepines, particularly short-acting benzodiazepines like alprazolam, cause intense, painful withdrawal symptoms. As with alcohol, sometimes their withdrawal symptoms can be fatal, although that is rare.


Opiates and opioids are powerful painkillers with a high potential for abuse and addiction. They include heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycontin, methadone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and hydromorphone. All of these can cause painful opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Long-term opioid use changes the brain’s ability to control pain and regulate vital systems like a person’s heart rate and breathing. Because opioids change so many important neurological processes, opioid detox must take place under the 24/7 supervision of medical specialists.


Stimulants include drugs in the amphetamine family, such as dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, methylphenidate, and methcathinone (bath salts).

Acute withdrawal from stimulants lasts about 7 days and can produce dramatic mood swings, overwhelming feelings of paranoia, shakes, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations.

A person’s health status also affects detoxification. For example, someone with a chronic health issue like diabetes, high blood pressure, or liver disease is more likely to have severe withdrawal symptoms, as is someone with a history of traumatic brain injury or a seizure disorder.

People who have experienced serious withdrawal symptoms are also likely to do so again if they detox without medical assistance.

What to Expect During Detox

During detox, your body will start adjusting to the lack of addictive substances. When you go through detox at a detox management facility, you’ll experience as little physical and psychological discomfort as possible. Medically assisted detox is customized to meet a patient’s needs, including their unique health status and substance abuse history.

You will receive medications to alleviate the discomfort associated with detox, as well as supportive medications to assist your body in healing from addiction.

Contact Us Today for More Information on Detox

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Absolute Awakenings follows an evidence-based approach to treating substance abuse disorders. We are committed to providing long-term recovery for those struggling with addiction.

Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so every person that walks through our doors is provided with a unique and individualized experience. Our recovery specialists are waiting to assist you on the journey to healing from substance abuse.


  1. 1 Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2006. Accessed January 15, 2023.
  2. Saitz R. Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22(1):5-12.
  3. Shah M, Huecker MR. Opioid Withdrawal. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 15, 2023.
  4. FDA identifies harm reported from sudden discontinuation of opioid pain medicines and requires label changes to guide prescribers on gradual, individualized tapering. FDA. Published online April 9, 2019. Accessed January 15, 2023.
Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Infinite RecoveryAscendant NY, The Heights Treatment, New Waters RecoveryGallus DetoxRecovery UnpluggedOcean RecoveryRefresh Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed January 15, 2023