Drug detoxification, commonly known as detox, is any procedure that removes drugs from a patient’s body. The patient is typically under the influence of these drugs at the time of the detox treatment. Detox programs typically take place on an inpatient basis where health professional can monitor the patient’s vital signs continuously.


The purpose of detox is to eliminate the patient’s physical dependence on drugs. It is the first phase in a drug treatment program and must be followed by rehabilitation, which addresses the patient’s behavioral, psychological and social reasons for taking drugs.

Detox generally begins with evaluation, where medical professionals test the patient to determine the specific drugs that are present in the patient’s body. They may also evaluate the patient for existing conditions, especially psychological disorders. The stabilization stage includes informing the patient about what to expect during detox in addition to the actual detox process. The end of drug detox prepares the patient for rehabilitation and enrolls the patient in an appropriate program.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms occur when a patient who is physically dependent upon a drug suddenly stops taking it. The onset of withdrawal symptoms depends primarily on the type of drug. For example, withdrawal symptoms from heroin typically begin 12 hours after the last use. Methadone withdrawal symptoms take about 30 hours to appear.

The early symptoms of withdrawal can vary according to the specific drug, but typically include the following:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Watery eyes
  • Yawning

The late symptoms of withdrawal are more severe and include the following:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goose bumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


Detox programs may be classified into two basic types. The most common type involves gradually reducing the dosage of the drugs, which minimizes the severity of the withdrawal symptoms. A rapid detox program withholds all drugs from the patient, which requires less time but also has more severe withdrawal symptoms. This type of detox program may include sedating the patient while the withdrawal symptoms are at their most severe.

The length of time required for a detox program depends on the specific program and degree of addiction. A traditional detox program has an average length of two weeks, although this can range from a few days to a few weeks. The majority of the withdrawal symptoms will be gone when the patient awakes from a rapid detox program.


Drug use typically causes users to distance themselves from friends and family members as they spend more of their time trying to acquire drugs. A detox program generally allows patients to begin rehabilitation, so they can resume their normal lives. It also removes the physical, mental and legal risks caused by chronic drug use.

Alcohol abuse impairs a person’s ability to perform daily tasks and increases the risk of violent behavior. Cirrhosis of the liver is a common physical risk of alcohol. The legal risks of alcohol abuse also include being arrested for drinking while under the influence. Insurance companies often will not pay a claim for an accident that occurs while the policyholder is intoxicated.

Opiates are a class of drugs found in the opium poppy and include other drugs derived from natural opiates. They generally slow the functioning of the central nervous system and produce effects similar to those of alcohol. Opiates carry a higher risk of strokes than alcohol.

Stimulants such as meth amphetamines increase blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart failure. Their use often causes cramps, headaches, insomnia, irritability and vomiting. Some stimulants also result in a high body temperature, which can lead to seizures.

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