Medical Detoxification

For many of those suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, medical detox is often the “first step” on the road to recovery. Addiction is a chronic disease, and long-term use of drugs and alcohol can lead to chemical dependency. Medical detox is often recommended for those with a history of addiction.

What is Medical Detox?

When the body becomes dependent on a substance it requires that substance be removed. Removal can cause physical and behavioral symptoms, and for each person the symptoms can be different. The medical detox setting provides a safe and comfortable environment for the withdrawal process under medical supervision. If necessary, you will receive medication(s) to relieve some of the symptoms that accompany withdrawal during detox. Since it addresses the very real physical symptoms of withdrawal, medically assisted detox is recommended for some substances more than others.   Medications and medical supervision provide a safer and often more comfortable option for those seeking help.

What Substances Require Medical Detox?


In the body, alcohol affects the central nervous system. The central nervous system controls functions like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature regulation, and stress and motor movements. There is potential for elevated temperature, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and tremors. Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. Symptoms can include seizures and hallucinations. The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens, can be fatal without intervention.

Prescription Opioids & Heroin

Prescription opioids and heroin mimic the body’s own natural opioids, endorphins. Regular use of prescription opioids or heroin will lead to the shutdown of endorphin production in the body. This shutdown causes the body to become reliant on external opioids. As the body no longer produces endorphins, the absence of these opioids causes withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are often compared to having the flu. This can include clammy skin, anxiety, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting. While opioid withdrawal is not a life-threatening condition, its symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable.


Benzodiazepines are sedatives often used to treat anxiety and unrelenting seizures. Benzodiazepines have a remarkably similar chemical effect on the body as alcohol and often have similar withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are often emotionally and physically painful and can be life threatening if someone chooses to quit “cold turkey”. The most common withdrawal symptoms are anxiety, panic attacks, headache, excessive sweating, and heart palpitations to name a few. While less common, more severe symptoms include psychosis, hallucinations, and seizures. The withdrawal process and timeline differ from person to person, the type of benzodiazepine used, frequency of use, and amount used are factors.


How Long Does the Detox Process Take?

The length of time the detox process takes varies from person to person. Factors such as a co-occurring disorder, how recently the substances were used, and the length of time in your addiction can have an impact on the duration of your stay.

Detox – Is It Treatment?

For many detox is the first step in leading a new and healthy life in recovery. Detox helps your body cleanse itself of addictive substances and can also relieve the acute symptoms during the withdrawal process.

While detox does not address the root cause of your addiction, detox does set the stage so that you are able to receive therapeutic measures needed to assist you in achieving your long-term goals.

What Happens After Detox?

Detox is just the first part of addiction treatment. Detox on its own is usually insufficient for a successful recovery. Addicted people need to treat the psychological part of their addiction. They can accomplish this with counseling, support groups or an inpatient rehab program. An addiction provider will help you transition into your new treatment plan.


Northlake Behavioral Health System is here to answer any questions you may have about medical detoxification. Please reach out to a member of our addictions team today at (985) 626-6300.