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Understanding Drug and Alcohol Detox: The First Steps to Sobriety

Developing a dependence on or abusing liquor or drugs causes certain structural, physiological, and biochemical changes in the brain, making the path to sobriety quite challenging. Detoxification is one of the first steps recommended by experts to help with recovery, but how long does it take your body to detox from alcohol or drugs? How does it work? We’ll answer those questions and more to help you understand the process better.

Addiction and Gender

Contrary to popular belief, substance dependence differs from abuse and misuse since abuse leads to addiction, wherein the user already significantly depends on a specific substance. For years, researchers focused on understanding substance dependence in males, but with the increasing number of women getting addicted to drugs or alcohol, they started explaining the differences between the two genders. That led to a better understanding of abuse and dependence, plus specific treatment programs for each gender.


According to data, males abusing or depending on alcohol are more likely to get injured or die due to liquor-related accidents. They also tend to become more violent than women addicted to liquor. On the other hand, females are more prone to weight gain and develop cardiovascular problems and cancer, especially breast cancer.

Illicit Drugs

In terms of illicit drug dependence, women experience more side and adverse effects than men because their sex hormones make them more sensitive to the substances (source: Females may experience more cardiovascular issues, overdose, hallucinations, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety due to drug addiction.

Additionally, the fact that women can bear a child puts them, not to mention the unborn child, at higher risks of complications and death. One is the higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth and giving birth to a child with congenital disabilities and low weight. Pregnant women may also experience seizures, migraines, and increased blood pressure.

What Is Detoxification?

People who can’t go through the day without consuming a certain substance are the ones who already need to undergo detoxification. Although not considered a treatment, it is a valuable step in ensuring a person’s substance dependence recovery. The process helps flush out by-products or metabolites from one’s system.

The Side Effect

The detox‘s main and normal side effect is withdrawal because the body is ridding itself of certain compounds that it got used to receiving for a long time. How long withdrawal symptoms last will depend on several factors, such as:

  • Dependence duration and severity
  • Amount of the substance used at one time
  • Family history and genes
  • Underlying conditions, including mental health
  • Method of abuse
  • Specific substance used

In relation to the last factor, let’s look at the expected symptoms and timeline for the most commonly abused substances.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

A liquor-dependent individual who stops drinking will experience withdrawal symptoms within six to twenty-four hours after the last consumption. That is even though there is still a small amount of alcohol in their body. Some of the common things they’ll experience are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Delirium tremens (DTs); a combination of fever, confusion, restlessness, seizures, and hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Sweating
  • Unstable heart rate and BP
  • Vomiting

In terms of how long do alcohol withdrawal symptoms last, it will depend on how much alcohol and metabolites are present in the body. Typically, it will take five days.

Opioids Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

When it comes to opioids, the timeline for experiencing withdrawal symptoms will start within six hours of non-consumption up to seven days. Symptom-wise, it will depend on the withdrawal stage.

From six to thirty hours, the person will typically experience the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Body and muscle pain
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping problems
  • Sweating
  • Tiredness

On the other hand, in about 72 hours, the person will usually experience:

  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache
  • Vomiting

Marijuana Withdrawal and Timeline

For marijuana users, they’ll experience symptoms after a week of discontinued use and the peaks on the tenth day. Then, the experienced symptoms decline between the eleventh and twentieth day.

Some of the most common symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling angry and restlessness
  • General malaise and irritability
  • Loss of appetite and sleeping problems

Why Alcohol and Drug Detox at Home Isn’t Advisable

In reality, the first stage to recovery from dependency is recognizing the dependence and having the will to stop using or consuming the substance/s. Hence, nowadays, you can find at-home detox products or kits.

However, experts don’t recommend clearing your body from drugs or detoxing from alcohol at home because of the possible dangers arising from withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, these cleansing products aren’t too specific, unlike programs guided by professionals. Plus, they will include withdrawal symptom management for your comfort and safety.

How Does the Expert-Guided Detox Process Work?

As noted, it’s best to have professional teamwork on your cleansing program and guide you throughout the process. Generally, the process has different stages, namely evaluation, stabilization, and preparation.


Every substance-dependent individual has different needs and conditions, so they need to undergo evaluation. The medical team will review your history, request certain laboratory tests, evaluate mental health, and check prescription drug intakes. With the information collected, the team would be able to develop a personalized cleansing and post-cleanse program.


With the expected withdrawal side effect, you’ll get support from a team of experts while undergoing cleansing to ensure you remain physically and mentally healthy. You’ll have regular vital sign checking. They will also prescribe drugs for alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms, such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, naltrexone, and anti-convulsants. These meds help make the process more manageable and avoid possible complications.


Since the cleansing process is only the first step to sobriety, the last thing the experts will do for you is to prepare your rehabilitation for drug addiction, liquor dependence, or prescriptive drug addiction. The next programs will also depend on your specific needs and conditions.

Types of Professional-Guided Programs

Several institutions offer two types of cleansing programs, and the recommended one for you will depend on the specific substance/s you’re addicted to and the severity of your dependence.


Also known as residential detox, this is the most common program that requires you to stay in the facility. This way, you’ll get immediate attention in case of an emergency. It’s suitable for individuals with severe addiction, whether or not accompanied with mental health issues. With an all-inclusive or almost-all-inclusive solution, this costs more than the second type.


In contrast to inpatient care, this cleansing program allows you to stay home and continue working. However, it requires you to travel to the facility to get and take your prescribed meds, regular check-ups, and more. This is more affordable but only recommended for mild cases wherein the expected withdrawal symptoms are easy to tolerate and prevented.

Best 24/7 Medically-Supervised Detox or Recovery Centers in the USA

If finding drug users and alcoholics rehabs that offer medically-supervised detoxification seems daunting, below are some popular options you can check out.

Best Overall: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

As a result of merging two different established companies, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offers alcohol and drug detox programs for adults and young teens.

  • Headquarter: Minnesota
  • Other Locations: Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Florida, California, Colorado
  • Insurance Coverage: More than 35 companies
  • Cons: Doesn’t accept Medicare or Medicaid; Not all locations offer programs for young teens

Best for In-Patients: The Ranch Tennessee

Offering cleansing programs for liquor and multiple drugs, the facility’s natural and peaceful surroundings can help with your recovery.

  • Headquarter: Tennessee
  • Other Location: Pennsylvania
  • Insurance Coverage: PPO plans
  • Cons: Adult programs only; no private accommodation

Best for Out Patients: Oxford Treatment Center

This large facility has professionals with flexible working hours to ensure their out-patients receive the help they need at their most convenient time.

  • Main Headquarter: Mississippi
  • Insurance Coverage: Selected private insurance
  • Con: Doesn’t accept Medicare or Medicaid

Best for Insured: Recovery Centers of America

Also offering inpatient and outpatient programs like the rest on this list, this institution accepts most USA insurance plans.

  • Headquarter: Pennsylvania
  • Other Locations: New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Indiana, and Illinois
  • Insurance Coverage: Most major insurance companies, including NJ Medicaid
  • Cons: No program for young teens

Best for Young Teens: Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center

Offering inpatient and outpatient programs, young teenagers on their road to sobriety would love this facility since they also ensure they keep up with their academics.

  • Headquarter: Houston
  • Insurance Coverage: More than 20 companies
  • Cons: Other branches don’t offer young teen programs; Doesn’t accept Medicare and Medicaid

Tips for Finding the Best Drug Addiction Treatment for You

To ensure you get the right help for your substance dependency, here are three of the most important things to keep in mind:

Seek Professional Help

The best treatment for you will depend on your specific case, so seeking professional help is essential. It would be best to choose a professional you’re comfortable with, not necessarily someone you know but the one you can trust. You can ask for referrals from people who’ve recovered from addiction or undergoing treatment. You can also research information about the institution or professional to ensure you get the best help in terms of substance abuse treatment planning.

Insurance Coverage

Let’s admit it; some people’s refusal to get treated roots back to finances. If you have insurance, make sure you check what insurance the institution accepts. You must also determine what your specific insurance covers. That way, you have a clear picture of how much out-of-pocket, if there’s any, you need to save.

Facility Location

The location of the facility is important both for inpatient and outpatient care. Of course, the best one would be nearest to your home. It will ensure you have a better support system because of the possibility of your loved ones visiting you once in a while. Supportive and family members, friends, or any loved ones will make your road to sobriety, from stage one to the last, easier. Also, for outpatient care, it can help you save transportation cost.

Alcohol and Illicit Drug Addiction Recovery: The Conclusion

Recovery from substance-dependence is a long and challenging road that requires your determination, professionals’ help, and loved ones’ support and understanding. Detoxification is only a part of your illicit drug, alcohol, and prescription drug addiction treatment plan, but starting is better than doing nothing at all. You’ll find many institutions that will help you start and ensure they’re with you post-recovery and prevent possible relapse.