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HomeHealthMental HealthDrug and alcohol detox: expectation vs reality

Drug and alcohol detox: expectation vs reality

Drug and alcohol detoxification is a standard treatment for people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many people seeking this kind of help expect detox to be an easy process with minimal discomfort, but the reality is often much different.

This blog post will discuss what expectations you should have before going through drug and alcohol detoxification. And address any misconceptions about the process that might lead you astray from your goal of sobriety. Also, we will tell you about how to safely detox from drugs or alcohol.

Image by günter from Pixabay

The following list contains some basic guidelines:

  • Withdrawal symptoms might occur during the first few days after stopping use
  • The side effects of long term addiction will become apparent in the withdrawal phase
  • Many complications associated with drug and alcohol abuse that need medical attention
  • You may experience cravings after detox

People going through drug and alcohol withdrawal could be prescribed medication to help them with the symptoms. Some strong medications can even induce sleep or a feeling of well-being while you go through withdrawals not to feel tempted by your old ways.

Those in treatment need to find other activities that they enjoy outside of what caused their addiction. The temptation will always exist if they don’t have something else occupying their thoughts. Drug and alcohol detoxification isn’t easy, but it’s worth it once you’ve achieved sobriety.

How the brain is affected

You might already know that drugs and alcohol work by changing the way your brain functions. They can cause extremely pleasurable feelings in some people when they stimulate specific areas of the brain involved with pleasure or reward responses. Unfortunately, drugs affect other parts of the brain. So a person will often experience withdrawal symptoms once he/she stops using them.

The brain is susceptible to the changes that drugs and alcohol have on it. It will adjust its balance to compensate for these changes, so if a person continues using them over time, they’ll need higher doses of both substances to feel normal again. This type of addiction can also cause mental health and physical problems like liver damage or cancer.   

Drug and Alcohol detox: Expectation vs. Reality

Expectation: Drug detox is the first step to recovery, which may include medication if needed

Reality: Some people will need treatment for a dual diagnosis with additional psychological issues such as anxiety/depression that could be treated by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in addition to their chemical dependency needs

Expectation: It’s safe and easy

Reality: The withdrawal process can be intense, requiring medical supervision, close monitoring of vital signs, including temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory function, among others – it also might not last very long depending on your substance use history.

Expectation: Detoxification is the only treatment needed

Reality: Addiction treatment may involve a combination of therapies. Including individual and group counseling, family therapy, behavioral modification techniques such as relaxation exercises, or exposure to social triggers to help individuals learn coping skills.  

Expectation: When you hear the word detox, it may conjure up thoughts of waking up feeling refreshed and forgetting about drugs or alcohol for a little while. However, this is not typically what happens during drug and alcohol detoxification (or withdrawal).

Reality: This process can be challenging to handle emotionally, mentally and physically. But it does get easier with time as your body adjusts back to functioning on its own again.   

Although detox isn’t easy, the upside is that it can help people get back to their pre-addicted state. You can imagine how good you would feel about yourself if your body was functioning well and free from drugs or alcohol! Unfortunately, when addicts withdraw, they may experience anxiety, insomnia, depression, and tremors, among other drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Image by Александр Александров from Pixabay

How it Helps

Detoxification helps people addicted for an extended period. This is because it relieves them of their addiction to focus on what’s important. Living life outside of what caused their addiction. They will also develop new coping skills before going through this challenging process again, which means less chance of relapse.

Drug and Alcohol detoxification isn’t just for those addicted to drugs or alcohol; it’s also a process that can help people with chronic pain issues.

Drug and Alcohol Detox Process

Detoxification from drugs and alcohol usually starts by gradually tapering the substance use down through what is known as ‘weaning.’ This means that you decrease your intake over time until there’s no more left in your system.

The length of weaning varies depending on someone’s drug/alcohol usage but typically lasts about three weeks. Sometimes doctors prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines (Benzos) to patients going through withdrawal. This is so they don’t experience severe symptoms like seizures which can be fatal without medical intervention! After the person has weaned completely, they will want to follow up with a rehabilitation clinic.

Drug and Alcohol Detox Symptoms:

●       Anxiety

●       Depression

●       Irritability

●       Fatigue and sleep problems

Mood swings/mood instability (including the possibility of severe mood changes or manic episodes) These are also signs that someone might be experiencing bipolar disorder.

Drug withdrawal symptoms vary depending on what drug has been used long term: amphetamine drugs like methamphetamines will cause psychotic reactions, including extreme paranoia and hallucinations; barbiturates result in intense rebound anxiety so strong it feels as though the stress will never end; benzodiazepines or benzos (Valium, Xanax) withdrawal symptoms include extreme rebound anxiety that can be paralyzing.


Detoxing without professional help carries risks for example seizures, heart attack, stroke, depression/anxiety relapse, overdose on another drug (usually because you didn’t realize what was in your system), hallucinations that can cause severe mood swings, and panic attacks, like mania or psychosis. The detox process itself typically lasts about a week for mild substances like marijuana. Prolonged than this if there are other factors involved. This is such a co-occurring disorder.


Addiction treatment should always occur under professional supervision because it might address physical addiction and psychological as well.

Always remember that detoxing from drugs or alcohol does not mean you are cured of addiction. This can be an ongoing struggle for some people. However, different programs offer support groups that have been shown in studies to help maintain sobriety once the withdrawal process has ended. This is how you can safely detox from drugs or alcohol.

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