The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that as of 2013 9.4 % of US adults had engaged in the use of an illegal drug in the previous month.

The physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms that addicts experience when they stop using the substance in question and are detoxing can be extremely difficult to cope with. This is so much the case that a person often turns back to the substance and relapses. This is why it’s so important to get help through the detoxing process.

Detox is the first step of treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. The purpose of detox is to find an initial level of physical and mental balance so that a patient is more capable of continuing to abstain from the addictive substance.

The Detoxification Process

On a basic level, the term “detox” simply means that the body is expelling all of the toxins that have accumulated as a result of the alcohol or drug abuse. When a person has professional medical assistance and treatment for this initial phase of treatment, it tends to be more effective since caregivers will also be attending to withdrawal symptoms.

The process will vary from person to person and can take place either at an outpatient or inpatient method.


Withdrawal symptoms will depend on the type of addiction a person has as well as the severity of a substance. It also may depend on various other health factors and the type of ingestion that occurs.

Some of the most common substance abuse issues treated in detox programs are alcohol, heroin, prescription drugs, and cocaine, and often there is more than one addiction that needs to be treated concurrently.

Alcohol Withdrawal 

According to the US National Library of Medicine, typically people will start to feel the effects of alcohol withdrawal after 8 hours and those may last for 24-hours to a few weeks. It’s quite common for alcoholics to feel mood changes like depression and anxiety, shakiness, and an inability to concentrate. They may also be nervous, unable to sleep, or in the most severe cases, experience fever and seizures.

 Benzodiazepine Withdrawal   

In general, those using prescription drugs can expect flu-like symptoms to appear when you stop taking them. Benzodiazepine is a type of prescription drug typically prescribed for anxiety or as a relaxant. Withdrawal from this type of medication can put a person in a state of serious anxiety to the point where they have trouble concentrating, experience panic attacks, have headaches, problems sleeping, nausea and hypertension, just to name a few symptoms.

Because withdrawal from this class of drug can be so severe, some researchers recommend a graduated and supervised discontinuation process.

 Cocaine Withdrawal 

The US National Library of Medicine reports symptoms of cocaine withdrawal as fatigue, anxiety, paranoia, general restlessness, nightmares, increased appetite, and even suicidal thoughts in extreme cases.

The initial “crash” usually happens a few days after the last dose, but cravings, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can last for months. It is often the distinct feeling of darkness and depression that leads users to relapse.  

Heroin Withdrawal 

When a person decides to stop using heroin, withdrawal results in a number of symptoms — body pain, diarrhea, and cold flashes are common. Symptoms are usually most severe within a week after the last dose, but ongoing support is usually needed to manage residual effects.

Heroin is notoriously difficult to stop using because the withdrawal symptoms can be so severe. At the mild end, a user typically experiences bad stomach pain and nausea, along with other flu-like symptoms. Severe symptoms include difficulty breathing, anxiety, hypertension, severe cravings and muscle spasms.

Medical Treatment

Detox is typically the first step in addiction treatment. Treatment more often than not involves medical supervision to help ease the painful process of recovery. Medical professionals will also closely monitor blood pressure and other vitals in case of seizures or other serious reactions. Sometimes sedation is necessary.

Even if sedation or other substances are not necessary, and the addiction is not in its most severe phase, it’s important to have a medical professional monitor you at a treatment center to make sure that you are safe and as comfortable as possible.

Medications are often used to ease detox symptoms and according to NIDA were used 80% of the time through treatment in US facilities. For instance, Methadone and levo-alpha-acetylmethadol (LAAM) are often administered for those with opioid dependence. Sometimes modafinil can help to manage those coming off of cocaine.

It is not uncommon for those going through detox to be prescribed medications like antidepressants in order to cope with the emotional changes that are common reactions in almost all cases. Anxiety and depression can be expected as the brain attempts to re-balance itself without the assistance of substances.

Getting Help

Rehab treatment can benefit patients in various ways, and helping them get through the initial detoxification phase is key to a successful treatment plan. In addition, detoxing can be dangerous and even fatal if attempted without medical assistance.

Many people resist quitting “cold turkey” for fear that the detoxification process alone will be too much to bear. That’s why it’s so crucial on both a physical and emotional level and is the initial step in almost all kinds of professional treatment plans.

NIDA reports that while over 22 million Americans in 2013 required addiction assistance, only 2.5 million were treated at a facility. If you’re one of the millions of Americans who need treatment for substance dependence, don’t hesitate to contact a trusted treatment center today.