Drug Detoxification Process

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, learn more about the detox process here and what to expect from drug detox treatment.

What is Drug Detox?

drug detox

Undergoing a drug detox can be a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience, and it’s important to know what to expect before one begins. This article will outline the basics of drug detox and provide an overview of the steps involved. Keep in mind that every detox program is different depending on the person and the substance one is getting help for, so be sure to speak with a doctor or treatment provider before starting any process.

When individuals become physically dependent on drugs, their bodies will naturally go through drug withdrawals when they stop using. To alleviate the body’s physical and mental symptoms during the process of drug withdrawal, individuals can participate in medically supervised drug detox programs. During a drug detoxification program, the body safely progresses through the acute withdrawal process with the help of medical providers and specific interventions.1

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How Long Does Drug Detox Take?

Depending on a person’s drug of choice, frequency of use, and various other clinical factors, drug detoxification could take anywhere from a few days up to weeks. For instance, if a person participates in drug detoxification for a short-acting opiate such as heroin, their drug detox will usually last approximately four to ten days. In contrast, drug detoxification from long-acting opioids such as methadone typically lasts ten to twenty days. Generally, a person participates in medical drug detox for about one week before transitioning into inpatient drug detox.2

What Is the Process for Drug Detox?

Before undergoing drug detoxification, it can be helpful to learn about the process and what to expect. The following sections will explore the process of drug detox.


During the first step of a drug detox, a substance use professional will complete a comprehensive assessment. Generally, the evaluation includes a baseline urinalysis test, screening for concurring mental health disorders, and a physical health exam. Following the evaluation, the clinician will provide their recommendation for a treatment plan.


Following the evaluation stage of the drug detox process, an individual receives treatment for their drug withdrawal symptoms. The goal of stabilization is to support the client in achieving medical stability and sobriety. During stabilization, drug detox symptoms can sometimes be treated with drug detox medication.

Preparing Entry into Treatment

Once a person has safely completed a medical drug detox, it’s generally recommended to continue to receive care in an inpatient or residential rehab program. During this phase of the detox, the patient needs to understand the importance of following through with their treatment plan. For some patients, it’s helpful to develop a written treatment contract in coordination with their drug rehab case manager.

Different Types of Drug Detox

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), there are five levels of detoxification.3 The following sections will describe each of these levels of care.

Medically Managed Inpatient Detox

Medically managed intensive inpatient detoxification involves twenty-four-hour care provided by medical and nursing professionals. This form of drug detoxification is delivered in an acute care inpatient setting with constant observation, treatment, and monitoring. This level of care is specifically for individuals with severe acute medical detoxification needs.

Medically Monitored Inpatient Detox

This type of detoxification also includes twenty-four-hour care from nursing and medical staff. This level of care is delivered in a facility with inpatient beds and physician-monitored processes. Usually, this type of detox is not quite as intensive as medically managed inpatient detox.

Clinically Managed Residential Detox

Clinically managed residential detoxification, also known as social setting drug detox, is an organized service provided by trained staff members. Around the clock care is available for individuals who are experiencing drug withdrawal or intoxication. At this level of drug addiction detox, there is a strong emphasis on social and peer support.

Ambulatory Detox with Extended Onsite Monitoring

Ambulatory detox with extended onsite monitoring is an organized outpatient service delivered by a healthcare office or drug treatment facility. Trained clinicians provide evaluation, detox, and referral services with this type of detox. During this type of drug addiction detox, a licensed nurse also supervises the client medically.

Ambulatory Detox Without Extended Onsite Monitoring

Lastly, ambulatory detoxification without extended onsite monitoring is the least intense form of drug detox. It’s nearly identical to ambulatory drug addiction detox with extended onsite monitoring, except it does not require licensed nurses to supervise the patient. Instead, services are generally only provided following policies, procedures, or medical protocols.3

Drug Detox Side Effects and Risks

When a person is physically dependent on substances, it’s essential to understand the drug detoxification process, potential side effects, and the risks associated with drug withdrawal. The following sections will discuss each of these crucial components.

Common Side Effects of Drug Detox

There are many side effects a person can go through during the drug detox process. These can include:
Additionally, severe side effects of drug detox can include tremors, disorientation, confusion, and paranoia.4

Drug Detox While Breastfeeding

Drug and alcohol detox while breastfeeding is complex and requires medical supervision. If someone is currently breastfeeding or plans to start, we recommend speaking with a medical provider or drug detox center for guidance.5

Rapid Drug Detox Risks

Some drug detox facilities provide rapid drug detox services using anesthesia. For some individuals, this type of detox is quicker and more comfortable. However, rapid drug detox does come with unique risks, including fluid accumulation in the lungs, diabetes complications, worsened mental health, and increased symptoms for people with pre-existing medical conditions. If patients are considering rapid drug detox, be sure to discuss the potential risks with a medical provider before starting.6

Medical Drug Detox Services at Stillwater Behavioral Health

Begin the drug recovery journey today with our state-of-the-art substance use treatment programs! At Stillwater Behavioral Health, we are uniquely equipped to serve individuals in every stage of the process. Our team of highly trained clinicians provides patient-centered, individualized care to promote lifelong recovery.

drug detoxification process

Our Luxury Drug and Alcohol Detox Programs

We understand the decision to enter detox can be frightening and incredibly challenging. With that in mind, Stillwater Behavioral Health has established a luxury detox facility in Montecito, California. To provide the safest and most comfortable drug detox experience, Stillwater Behavioral Health has created an oasis for clients to escape the chaos of addiction.

Get A Free Assessment Today

Call us today and speak with our friendly concierge team to schedule a complimentary assessment. One of our trained clinicians will be happy to provide you with a thorough drug assessment so that you can make the best decision for your recovery.