The Road to Sobriety: What Happens in Detox Programs?

In 2015, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicated that 8.1% of Americans aged 12 an older needed substance abuse treatment in the past year.

Often, detox is the first step toward recovery.

During the detox period, every remnant of the addictive substance leaves the body. However, withdrawal symptoms can be intense and unpredictable. Detox programs ensure that patients go through a detox in a safe, controlled environment where they can access medical care.

Detox is not the same as rehabilitation, but they are part of the same process. Rehabilitation typically refers to the long-term period of care that occurs after detox. However, there is no recognized definition of “rehabilitation.”

If you or someone you love is currently considering detox programs, keep reading to learn how these life-saving programs work.

During the Detox Program

There is a great deal of misinformation about what happens in a detox program. Many patients are concerned about what will happen during withdrawal and what type of treatment they’ll receive.

In truth, detox is similar to other in-patient medical programs. You’ll receive skilled care, medication, and counseling.

Even with rest and medication, the withdrawal period can be physically and emotionally taxing. Patients who go through detox may experience intense cravings and psychological changes. They may experience excessive sweating, anxiety, hallucinations, and possibly seizures.

These are all normal detox symptoms.

In detox programs, they are tempered with medication and therapies. Some detox programs include specialty detox services and holistic treatments, such as massage therapy.

Detox facilities are designed to house multiple people for short-term stays. The best facilities are built to be comfortable and tranquil.

Within a detox program, each day will be highly structured.

Typically, your day will start early. You’ll have scheduled meals and go to therapy sessions, classes, or group discussions. You will typically have a case manager and scheduled time with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist or another type of clinician.

You will also have some downtime. Depending on the facility, there may be group activities. Or, you may be able to take time to yourself to read or write in a journal.

After dinner, there may be another group therapy session. Some facilities have outside groups come in to speak to patients.

Throughout your time at detox, you will likely be put on a regimen of medications to mitigate the effects of your withdrawal symptoms and prevent dangers to your health, such as seizures.

Types of Detox Programs

The length of time you spend on detox depends on several factors. You could be in detox for 3 days or up to several weeks. You may also go to aftercare when you are finished with detox.

For example, several health blogs point out that alcohol detox programs don’t typically last as long as some drug detox programs, but this is not guaranteed. Your length of stay may also depend on how many days your insurance will cover.

Detox programs tend to be broken up into two categories: drug detox and alcohol detox.

Drug Detox

Addictive drugs include stimulants, depressants, opiates, and some hallucinogens.

Today, opiates like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers are perhaps the most notorious. Opioid withdrawal produces some of the most severe symptoms of any drug type.

Because they are often bought on the street, it’s often difficult to know how potent opioids are until they are used. This has caused many people to unintendedly use too much and overdose.

According to government statistics, more than 115 people in the U.S. die each day after overdosing on opioids. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose.

Opiate detox centers provide one of the most important services to those suffering from opioid addiction. They help them through the acute withdrawal period.

In any drug detox facility, you’ll receive the same level of care regardless of which drug you are addicted to. Your case manager and on-staff healthcare professionals will determine how long you should stay and what medications you’ll receive.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox is not always separate from drug detox. In some facilities, those detoxing from alcohol will be cared for alongside those detoxing from opiate and other drugs. However, they may receive slightly different care.

Those recovering from alcohol addiction are at a higher risk of seizures and may receive different medications. If they are solely addicted to alcohol, they may go to different classes or different types of therapy sessions.

After the Detox Program

Although detox can be a difficult experience, it’s what happens after detox that matters most.

When patients first finish detox programs, they often have the choice to go on to further treatment. This is sometimes known as rehabilitation or rehab.

Rehab programs are often outpatient. You visit the program for several hours each day but can go home at night. Many outpatient programs can work around your home and work schedules.

Other people in recovery have found help in halfway houses. These are sober, structured group homes where people in recovery work together to stay sober. They often have strict rules, but many people in recovery find that the structure is helpful. One such rule is to make sure you are eating right, and taking care of your body, health, and mind in many different ways. When it comes to any type of detox, it’s important to make sure you are in a good place from the start, which also means your personal and mental health.

When serious drugs like opiates are involved, extended in-patient treatment may be necessary. This is also known as long-term residential treatment. A typical treatment model is known as the “therapeutic community” (TC).

In this model, the patient may stay in treatment for as long as 12 months. The purpose of this form of treatment is to develop personal accountability and responsibility in the patient. It is sometimes coupled with job training and other support services.

Of course, some patients decide to go without any further treatment after detox.

It is very difficult to stay clean and sober unless you have some type of support after detox. The support of family and friends is important, but professional help and the help of support groups tend to provide better outcomes.

Support groups come in many shapes and sizes. If you are religious, you can typically find recovery support groups through your religious institution. However, there are many community-based drug and alcohol recovery groups that are not faith-based.

Whatever support you choose, your main goal after detox is to maintain sobriety in the long term.

Learn More About Detox and Drug Rehabilitation

Recovery is a lifelong endeavor, but it often starts with a single step. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-622-4357.

If you’re looking for more information about detox programs or recovery, read more on the Health section of

You must be logged in to post a comment Login