Updated on February 28, 2024
6 min read

How to Detox From Drugs and Alcohol

What Does it Mean to Detox From Drugs and Alcohol?

When you discontinue substance use, it triggers the body to readjust to the absence of these substances, including drugs and alcohol. These adjustments can cause withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Blood pressure or heart rate instability
  • Seizures 

Drug and alcohol detox aims to manage these effects and cleanse the body. It also restores your physical and psychiatric health and prepares you for long-term addiction treatment and recovery.1, 2, 3

Detoxing From Drugs & Alcohol at the Same Time 

Detoxing from both drugs and alcohol simultaneously has challenges and benefits. While it may be more demanding, it provides comprehensive healing for your entire body and offers essential support for achieving sobriety. 

Seeking professional help and participating in programs designed for co-occurring addictions can significantly improve the chances of long-term sobriety. It also facilitates necessary lifestyle changes.

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How Long Does Drug Detox Take, and What Should You Expect?
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How to Detox From Drugs or Alcohol 

Here are five common detox methods for drug addiction: 

1. Inpatient Detox

With inpatient detox, you receive the following benefits:1, 2

  • Stay in the hospital or treatment facility
  • Round-the-clock availability of healthcare professionals and staff
  • Limited access to drugs
  • A safe and controlled environment
  • Great for those with severe addiction, severe withdrawal, a high risk of relapse, or health complications

Because of the added services, inpatient detox is more expensive than outpatient detox. It also sometimes encourages residents to depend on staff rather than developing the tools to stay sober on their own.

2. Outpatient Detox

Outpatient detox is suitable for those with a strong support system at home and who are highly motivated to overcome their addiction.

Outpatient detox has the following benefits:3

  • You go home after receiving detox treatment from the hospital or treatment facility 
  • Less expensive than inpatient detox
  • Less time-consuming than inpatient detox

Unfortunately, outpatient detox tends to have lower success rates than inpatient detox. In this option, you have outside access to drugs and can skip treatment sessions, increasing your chances of relapse.

3. Medically-Assisted Detox

Medical detox can occur in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Doctors and staff are available to help you during the detox process.  

Medications are often involved in this treatment. They reduce or block the effects of drugs on the brain, making withdrawal more manageable. 

Some examples of detox medications are:

  • Methadone: An opioid that acts on the same brain receptors that illicit and misused prescription opioids target.4,5
  • Buprenorphine: Another opioid that works similarly to methadone.4,5
  • Naltrexone: Blocks receptors in the brain to prevent attachment of opioids.4
  • Lofexidine: Stops the release of norepinephrine, a hormone that contributes to opioid withdrawal.6
  • Clonidine: Works similarly to lofexidine.7
  • Diazepam: Helps relieve withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepine, methamphetamine, and cocaine.8

Other Medically-Assisted Approaches

Other medically-assisted approaches include:

  • Tapering: You gradually reduce your drug intake to lessen withdrawal effects. It’s a common approach for benzodiazepines and opioids.9,10
  • Rapid detox: You go under anesthesia while the body gets rid of drugs.11

4. Social Detox

Social detox doesn’t utilize medications or routine medical care. Instead, it relies on a supportive, non-hospital environment. 

It’s rare nowadays to find a purely medical or social detox program. Some social detox programs use medication but employ non-medical staff. Some medical programs have components for addressing drug addiction’s social or personal aspects.3

5. Natural or At-Home Detox (Not Recommended)

Some people attempt to detox without professional assistance, which healthcare professionals don’t recommend. Despite that, quitting “cold turkey” and at-home detox are common approaches. 

There are detox cleansing kits marketed to help avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms. These include cleansing pills or drinks that aren’t FDA-approved or medically proven to succeed. 

Natural detox approaches, like supplements, teas, and spiritual support (like yoga or acupuncture), are also options. 


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Which Detox Method is the Safest?

Any detox method is safe as long as health professionals are available for the possible case of severe withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox is a viable option because severe withdrawal symptoms can potentially lead to death.13 

You can receive it from either an inpatient or outpatient setting. However, an inpatient setting is safer because medical assistance is available 24/7. Inpatient detox also has a higher completion rate (70%) than outpatient detox (37%).12

Risks of Home Detox & Quitting ‘Cold Turkey’

Detoxing at home is rarely safe and is especially risky when dealing with alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. Without proper medical supervision, it can lead to painful and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

Attempting home detox can also increase the risk of relapse. It may also result in challenging medical and psychological effects that are hard to manage without professional support.

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Drug Detox Timelines (By Drug)

Because detox is managed withdrawal, it's usual for timelines to coincide with the start and end of the drug’s withdrawal period.

Here are some examples:8 

Drug TypeTime to Onset of WithdrawalDuration of Withdrawal
Opioids8 to 48 hours4 to 20 days
Benzodiazepines (short-acting)1 to 2 days2 to 4 weeks or longer
Benzodiazepines (long-acting)2 to 7 days2 to 8 weeks or longer
StimulantsWithin 24 hours3 to 5 days
InhalantsFew hours to few daysUp to 2 weeks
CannabisMild, not specified1 to 2 weeks

What are the Benefits of Detoxing From Drugs and Alcohol?

Starting treatment with drug detox has several benefits:

  1. Better withdrawal management: If withdrawal symptoms occur, medical professionals and staff are present to ensure safety and comfort.
  2. Lower chances of relapse: One reason people return to substance use is that they want to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms. Detox helps them endure withdrawal with less pain and misery than quitting ‘cold turkey’ or suddenly. 
  3. Preparation for long-term addiction treatment and recovery: People can proceed to inpatient rehab or outpatient treatment after achieving a stable and substance-free state. 

What Happens After Detox? 

After detox, continuing with a comprehensive addiction treatment program is essential. The goal is to address the underlying causes of addiction and develop healthy coping mechanisms for maintaining long-term sobriety. This may include:2,4

  • Inpatient or outpatient rehab
  • 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Relapse prevention
  • Individual or group counseling
  • Other behavioral therapies and outpatient programs

Detox alone isn’t enough to overcome drug addiction. Those who discontinue treatment after detox usually go back to drugs or alcohol.4

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The safest and most effective detox method involves seeking professional help from a healthcare facility. At-home detox or quitting 'cold turkey' isn't ideal due to the potential risks and negative outcomes.

After completing detox, continuing with comprehensive addiction treatment programs is essential. Detox alone isn't enough to overcome drug addiction, so it's crucial to continue further treatment after the initial process.

If you or a loved one are struggling with drug addiction, know that safe and effective options are available to help you start on the path to sobriety. Don't be afraid to reach out for help and support.

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Updated on February 28, 2024
17 sources cited
Updated on February 28, 2024
  1. Mayo Clinic. “Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder).” Mayo Clinic, 2022. 
  2. Alcohol and Drug Use.” HIV.gov, 2023.
  3. Ho et al. “Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment Programs for Substance Use Disorder: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines [Internet].” Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, 2017.
  4. McCabe et al. “Simultaneous and Concurrent Polydrug Use of Alcohol and Prescription Drugs: Prevalence, Correlates, and Consequences.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2007.
  5. Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health Publishing, 2014. 
  6. Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, 2022.
  7. Zhu et al. “National trends and characteristics of inpatient detoxification for drug use disorders in the United States.” BMC Public Health, 2018.
  8. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment [Internet].” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006. 
  9. Treatment.” National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  10. How do medications to treat opioid use disorder work?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
  11. Lofexidine.” University of Michigan Health, 2018.
  12. Wakeman, S. “Lofexidine: Another option for withdrawal from opioids, but is it better?” Harvard Health Publishing, 2018.
  13. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” World Health Organization, 2009. 
  14. Ten Questions You Might Have About Tapering (And Room For Your Own): An Informational Booklet for Opioid Pain Treatment.” UC Davis Center for Design in the Public Interest and UC Davis Health System.
  15. Ogbonna, Chinyere. “Tapering Patients Off of Benzodiazepines.” American Family Physician, 2017.
  16. Day et al. “Inpatient versus other settings for detoxification for opioid dependence.” Cochrane Library, 2005.
  17. Mark et al. “Factors associated with the receipt of treatment following detoxification.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2003.

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