Drug detox and treatment overview

People often assume that ‘detoxification’ and ‘treatment’ mean the same thing. However, while a drug detox is a fundamental part of the rehabilitation process, the two describe very different stages of the recovery process. This page will explore what a drug detox involves, what you might experience, and the treatment methods used to help you cope with it.   

Drug addiction doesn’t discriminate; and dangerous habits can form quicker than you realise. Most substances can be unforgiving in their ability to get you hooked and once you develop a physical dependence, it can be extremely difficult to stop. In the absence of this substance your body may react adversely. It’s for this reason that following a controlled detox program is the safest way to begin your road to recovery.

What is a drug detox?

A drug detox refers to the process your body goes through in order to eliminate substances that you have been taken for a long period of time.

Everyone’s experience of drug detox will vary, and there are many factors to consider when it comes to what you should expect. You will have to take into account the type of drug you’re taking, the severity of your addiction, the duration and method of abuse as well as any pre-existing medical conditions. 

A detox program is designed to deal with the physical aspects of addiction as the first step to recovery. Safely managing withdrawal symptoms and minimising their negative impact is the most important part of the detoxification process, as some drugs can be dangerous if they’re stopped suddenly without the dose being properly tapered. Once you’ve completed your detox, the psychological features of your addiction are then addressed as part of an intensive addiction rehab programme.

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What happens during a drug detox?

Each person will experience detox differently, but the process is usually always the same if you opt for a medically assisted detox:


The first part of the detox process is a thorough assessment carried out by a medical expert. At this stage, you will be asked to provide details about your drug use in order to provide you with the best course of treatment. It’s important you are honest when answering questions, as, failing to disclose any important details means that you may not be given with the treatment you require.


Withdrawal symptoms will typically manifest around 24 hours after your last dose and can be extremely unpleasant. It’s during the withdrawal phase that most relapses occur. This is why completing your detox at a residential rehab is encouraged, as patients have around the clock care. 


Depending on which drugs you have been taking, you may be prescribed medication to help you cope with your detox and withdrawal symptoms. 

Ongoing treatment

During your detox, if the doctor deems you fit to participate in sessions, you will be given a treatment program tailored to your own recovery where you can begin to tackle the psychological aspects of your addiction. 

During your detox it’s more than likely you will experience some extremely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and while they’re not always dangerous, they can be agonising. This is a result of so many chemical ups and downs over a period of time. Initially you may fear that you can’t cope, but it’s vital to remember that it’s actually just your body’s way of trying to regulate itself and function without the use of these substances.

The benefits of inpatient detox

While outpatient treatment may be convenient for various reasons, inpatient detox is still proven to be most effective when it comes to overcoming drug addiction and staying clean. 

At The Lighthouse, we provide a medically-assisted detox, which means clients are prescribed the appropriate medication to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Our dedicated medical staff are on hand to prescribe higher doses where necessary, in order to alleviate any unpleasant side effects of detox. We know that withdrawal can be an extremely challenging time so having 24-hour care available to you is invaluable during this stage of your program. 

Alongside the physical aspects of detox, it is also psychologically taxing, especially if you don’t have the right help. One of the main benefits of inpatient detox at the Lighthouse is the support you have from your peers as well as our dedicated staff. Being surrounded by people who understand what you’re going through plays a big part of getting through the detox period. 

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At Step-by-Step Recovery, we are dedicated to providing the very best quality of care for each and every one of our clients and our ultimate goal is to provide you with the tools you need to maintain a clean and sober life free from drug addiction.

Drug detox signs and symptoms

There are a range of both psychological and physical symptoms that come with a drug detox. The longer you abuse drugs, the higher the chances of developing a physical dependence, and with some drugs such as heroin and most other opioids, it’s not long before you reach that stage. Over time, your body will adapt to the presence of drugs and will need them to feel as though you are functioning normally. However, once you lower the dose or cease taking it completely, your body tries to adapt to the sudden absence of this drug. 

An example of the impact of drugs on the brain can be seen with opioid abuse. Opioid drugs like heroin, and some over-the-counter painkillers, act on a brain neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for regulating moods, enhancing feelings of euphoria, motivation and attention. If someone has been abusing opioids for a long period of time, their brain eventually stops being able to produce dopamine on its own and comes to rely on these synthetic opioids to feel these effects. If you were to suddenly stop using opioids after developing an addiction, your brain would not be able to produce the amount of dopamine it had become accustomed to — leading to symptoms like anxiety and depression.

The signs and symptoms of withdrawal depend on the type of drug being used. Depressants such as heroin and alcohol will produce a range of both psychological and physical symptoms, whereas stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines commonly bring about psychological symptoms only. The withdrawal stage can last anywhere between several days to several weeks.

Some of the most common drug withdrawal symptoms include the following:

Drug detox timeline

Unfortunately, there is no rigid timescale when it comes to drug detox. It’s certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ process. While a detox will rid you of the chemicals in your system after a few days, you may continue experiencing withdrawal symptoms for weeks or even months after. The length of withdrawal depends on a number of factors, such as the type of drug you’ve been abusing and the duration of use. 

Stimulants – Approx. 7 days 

Stimulants work by speeding up the central nervous system, increasing heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure while increasing energy levels, focus, attention, alertness, and wakefulness. While detoxing from stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines you may experience volatile mood swings, and it’s often reported that users feel a wave of depression within the first 72 hours of their detox. You might also find that you have trouble sleeping in the days and weeks following your last dose. Symptoms will vary in intensity for each person depending on their lifestyle. 

Heroin and Opiates – Approx. 14-21 days 

When you stop taking opioids such as heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl, withdrawal can begin as early as six to 12 hours after your last dose, with symptoms peaking on day three of the detox process. For medically assisted treatment, medication is often started on the first day in order to weaned off the substance via drugs like methadone and buprenorphine. Some heroin and opioid users remain on maintenance medication for months or even years.

Benzodiazepines – Days to months 

Although a benzodiazepine detox typically lasts a few weeks, you may still experience symptoms on and off for months afterwards. This is especially common in people who are addicted to long-acting benzodiazepines such as Valium.

Marijuana – Approx. 2 weeks 

A marijuana detox is considered to be a lot easier than most other substances such as heroin and alcohol. While withdrawal symptoms typically include headaches and restlessness, others have reportedly experienced insomnia and fatigue for weeks after last use.

Can you detox from drugs at home?

Detoxing at home is not uncommon, and many people attempt to endure the detox and withdrawal stage alone. This could be because they can’t finance a rehab stay, they’re reluctant to open up about their experience with others, or they struggle with the guilt and shame around addiction.  

However, while a home detox might be convenient in some ways, without the correct medical guidance, it can be extremely dangerous. For example, if you’re someone who is suffering from a severe alcohol or benzodiazepine addiction, suddenly stopping can result in organ failure, seizures and even death. 

Detoxing alone means you might not be able to immediately identify any dangerous signs, and when you might need urgent treatment. A terribly large number of people die each year whilst attempting to detox by themselves in their home environment because they do not have the right protections and assistance to keep them safe during the process. Even in cases where withdrawal itself is not fatal, its effects can be so traumatic as to drive the user to harm themselves. 

While it’s understandable to want to be in your own environment surrounded by home comforts while you’re experiencing a drug detox, it also increases the possibility of relapse. Detoxes are most effective when a person is removed from their familiar surroundings. Going through a detox in places you would normally use in can trigger cravings. 

Many people begin a detox and find they cannot cope with the discomfort of withdrawal. 

Sadly, accidental overdoses are extremely common during this time, as a result of taking the same dosage they were used to, which their system can no longer tolerate after a period of detox and withdrawal. Tragedies like this can be avoided by ensuring you have the correct medical assistance and support, which is very unlikely to be available if you choose to detox at home.

Types of drug detox treatment

Despite being the most recommended option, residential rehab might not be for everyone and the detox process itself can take on various forms depending on each person’s needs.   

Cold turkey

Cold turkey refers to the process of stopping a substance abruptly instead of gradually tapering off it. Instead, someone choosing to ‘quit cold turkey’ will endure the withdrawal symptoms with no treatment or medical support. This method is not recommended as it is potentially very dangerous. 

Direct Tapering 

Rather than stopping the drug and managing withdrawal symptoms, tapering reduces the dose steadily over time which helps the brain adjust to the lack of substance. Eventually, the brain starts rereleasing natural chemicals and withdrawal symptoms will be minimal.  

Substitution Tapering

This method involves replacing the abused drug with a different drug with similar components before tapering. An example of the substitution tapering method is heroin users who are put on methadone. Methadone prevents heroin cravings by producing similar effects without the intense highs and has a lower addiction potential 

Medically assisted detox

A medically assisted detox usually takes place at a residential rehab facility, such as The Lighthouse clinic, where you will be given medication to alleviate your symptoms. A medically assisted drug detox in a clinic or at home is not fully controlled and continually monitored. If for any reason you can’t commit to a full rehabilitation stay, some quasi-residential rehabs offer medically assisted detoxification with lower levels of support than a fully residential rehab or detox clinic.

Drug detox medications

The use of medication during the first stages of addiction treatment is often necessary in order to safely manage any adverse withdrawal symptoms that might occur. In some cases, medications are also continued once detox is completed to help prevent relapse. 


Antidepressants have several functions during detoxification. For instance, sedating antidepressants like trazodone and imipramine may be prescribed to a client who is struggling with withdrawal symptoms. Clients withdrawing from amphetamines may be prescribed antidepressant medication to minimise depression, which is usually associated with quitting drugs. 


Opioids such as methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine are often used to manage withdrawal symptoms and relieve drug cravings in people addicted to heroin and other painkillers. These drugs can be prescribed as part of a medical detox or ongoing treatment.


Benzodiazepines produce a sedative effect that are used for curing anxiety and some other drug-related conditions. These drugs interact with the brain’s nerves and spinal cord, causing muscle relaxation, low anxiety levels and sedation. 


Naltrexone is commonly used to help people detoxing from alcohol and drugs. It works by obstructing the receptors in the brain that release pleasurable effects felt after drugs are taken.

Drug detox medications

Getting through a drug detox can be challenging both physically and mentally. 

When you start your detox and the withdrawal symptoms begin to set in, wanting to give in to the temptation is completely normal at this stage. You’ll be desperate to know how long these symptoms are going to last and at what point you’ll start to feel like yourself again.  The fact is, the amount of time it takes for you to fully get through the acute phase of withdrawal depends, once again, on other factors. For example, the type of drugs you were taking, how long you were taking them for, other medical conditions and your age and gender. 

Drug withdrawal symptoms can feel unpleasant both mentally and physically, but it’s important to stay focussed on the fact that this will not last forever. Below are some ideas to help you cope during a drug detox. 

Keep moving

Exercise has been clinically proven to help release endorphins, which interact with the receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, so doing a bit of light exercise – even if it’s just a short walk – will help your brain restore chemical balance. 

Keep connected

Keeping in touch with those closest to you is a great way to keep your spirits up during what might be an unpleasant and uncomfortable time. Many people forget that the opposite of addiction is connection, so don’t underestimate the impact that support will have on your state of mind during the withdrawal period. This might also be a good time to speak to a counsellor or therapist about your experience.

Try relaxation techniques 

Practicing meditation and breathing techniques is a great way to relax, especially if you’re struggling with insomnia during your detox. Learning how to slow down thoughts and regulate breathing can help to reduce anxiety and other negative emotions. 

Our primary focus is the health and wellbeing of our clients, and at The Lighthouse clinic we offer a range of holistic treatments and relaxation therapies to help you through your detox. We include activities such as yoga and meditation, which offer huge spiritual benefits in addition to relaxation and increased mobility. 

With this in mind, we also offer mindful fitness, which combines mindfulness with gentle exercise for a full holistic approach. Our medical team will be there to advise you as to what kind of physical activity is appropriate for you during the detox period.  

Nutrition is often neglected when someone is in active addiction and eating well is vital while in recovery. Our skilled chefs are on-site every day providing you with tasty, nourishing meals to fuel your body during treatment. 

Drug detox medications

If you begin experiencing unpleasant symptoms when you stop drinking, it means that your body has already developed a dependence on alcohol. By this stage, it’s more than likely you will need some form of detox treatment. If you’re unsure as to whether you need a detox, you should call a rehab facility directly. Their advisors will be able to determine whether you need to undergo a detox or can move straight into the treatment program. Alternatively, you can speak to your GP who can refer you to your local drug and alcohol service.

What happens after a drug detox?

If your treatment is taking place in a residential rehab facility, then your detox will be followed by a treatment program designed to provide you with the skills and tools you need to continue living a drug-free life. 

These treatments often include cognitive behavioural therapy, group sessions and one-to-one counselling, as well as things like music and art therapy. 

If you’re choosing to detox at home, it is strongly recommended that you continue with some form of counselling or therapy to prevent relapse. There are hundreds of groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous that follow the 12-step recovery program. Speaking with like-minded individuals who relate to your situation is invaluable when it comes to addiction recovery.


At The Lighthouse clinic, we are proud to say that each client’s treatment programme is specifically tailored to suit their individual needs, from detox through to aftercare. We don’t believe in having clients repeat therapies that aren’t relevant to them. After detox we work closely with each person to create an ongoing treatment plan with the aim of treating the underlying issues and causes of their addiction.


Alcohol rehab works by tackling both the physical and psychological aspects of alcohol addiction. You will first go through a medically assisted detox in order to remove the toxins from your body. Medication is provided to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and keep you as comfortable as possible throughout the process. Once you have completed your detox, you will work through a treatment programme that has been created specifically for you based on your needs. Therapies include CBT, meditation, counselling and group therapy, as well as yoga and other fitness activities. 

The cost of treatment will vary depending on a how long your detox and treatment program will take. Every client’s needs are different, but we remain transparent when it comes to the costs of our treatment. During your phone conversation our team will talk you through which course of treatment will be best suited to you and let you know what the cost of treatment will be.

This depends on the severity of your addiction. People suffering with severe alcohol dependence may have a longer detox period to someone with a milder form of alcohol dependence. A typical rehab stay is anywhere between four weeks to six months, but this will differ from person to person.

Aftercare programmes are offered to clients who have completed alcohol rehab. Aftercare programmes often include group or individual counselling sessions, alumni events and activities as well as relapse prevention work.

Some insurance companies do cover alcohol rehab treatment, but this is something you would have to check with your insurance provider.

When you’re physically and mentally dependent on alcohol, it becomes an obsession. Once you find that you’re unable to function without having a drink, it’s time to seek help. Prolonged alcohol abuse can be fatal as can stopping suddenly. If you begin experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you haven’t had a drink, it’s more than likely you require an alcohol detox.

As well as a medically supervised detox and treatment programmes tailored to suit each individual, SBS offers clients a range of holistic therapies such as: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), counselling (group and one-to-one), mindfulness and holistic treatments such as meditation and yoga. You also have tasty and nutritious meals cooked by our very own in-house chefs.

Alcohol rehab treatment provides clients with 24-hour care, with trained professionals on hand to help you if you need support. There are many forms of detox treatments available through charities and councils, however, none of these are able to provide the safe environment that alcohol rehab can.

Residential (inpatient) rehab is considered to be the most effective form of alcohol treatment because you are removed from the environment you would drink in. Residential rehab gives you a chance to escape the stresses of everyday life and focus solely on your recovery.

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A page revised the 6 of July of 2021, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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