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Detox is defined as “a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy” and “abstain from or rid the body of toxic or unhealthy substances”. It is one of the first and most necessary steps in the recovery process, but what drugs and substances require one to enter a detox facility? Technically, almost any substance used in excess will build up toxins in one’s body, but only a few drugs will require one to enter a medical detox program. Anyone who drinks coffee on a daily basis can attest to the headaches and fatigue that occur when that cup of caffeine isn’t available. Overcoming caffeine withdrawal is a simple task, especially when compared to the withdrawals associated with substances like heroin or Xanax.

What is the Science Behind Drug Withdrawals?

When someone enters a detox center they are taking a necessary step on the road to recovery. One must separate themselves from their drug of choice for an extended period of time, this allows the body to rid itself of the toxins and the brain to reestablish control of itself. Why exactly do those struggling with drug abuse disorder experience withdrawals?

Drugs work on the natural processes inside the user’s brain and will release large quantities of dopamine and endorphins. The natural brain chemicals are intended to be used by the body under normal circumstances. Dopamine is commonly referred to as a reward chemical and is a powerful motivator. It’s used to make us enjoy things we must do or that are beneficial to our bodies. When we eat, exercise or have sex, small amounts of dopamine are released. Substances like cocaine, alcohol and Percocet release large quantities of dopamine in a short period of time. Extended use or abuse of drugs/alcohol will change the brain structure and how it works.

How Does Someone Become Addicted to Drugs?

The human brain is designed to reward us for the activities that help us and can be good for the body/mind. Drugs confuse this process, addiction and abuse of substance will rewire the brain in harmful ways. The longer someone uses, the more the brain will adapt to receiving the drugs/alcohol. Once someone is physically addicted to drugs, they will need to use on a daily basis, not to get high, but just to feel normal. The brain has become less receptive to the pleasure and joy found in regular activities, drugs/alcohol will become its primary concern.

These changes will last as long as one puts the harmful substances into their body. The brain becomes accustomed to receiving this flood of dopamine and stops/slows down its natural production. If the user stops taking these substances abruptly they will experience withdrawals. These withdrawal symptoms can be physically exhausting and mentally draining. The brain is confused as to where the dopamine is and the body is filled with harmful toxins. Once physically or mentally addicted, it is highly recommended that one gets professional help from a drug detox center.

What Drugs Cause Physical Withdrawals?

All drugs cause some level of physical dependence, but some are far more intense than others. Stimulants, like cocaine, crack, crystal meth and Adderall are not known for their powerful physical withdrawal symptoms. The mental addiction and withdrawals associated with the abuse of these drugs are terrible and anyone struggling should enter a detox program, but there are not many medications that can be used to ease these withdrawal symptoms. Overcoming mental withdrawals is challenging enough, add in physical withdrawals and it can seem like a daunting or impossible task to get clean.


The abuse of any opiate can lead to physical and mental dependence. Heroin, methadone, morphine and all prescription painkillers, like Percocet and Vicodin, are physically addictive. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil have become increasingly popular, have a high rate of abuse and cause physical dependence. When someone attempts to stop abusing any of these substances, they will enter withdrawal. They will experience a variety of flu-like symptoms that can last for a week or two, with a few exceptions.

Methadone and Suboxone, which should be used short term for an opiate detox, are extremely addictive when not taken properly. If someone is addicted to one of these medications they can experience full withdrawal pains for over a month, with PAWS (Post-acute withdrawal symptoms) lasting for another 30-90 days. Opiates are absolutely a drug class which requires a medical detox. Without the help of a medical detox center, the person struggling will have to face all of the withdrawals head-on, including:

  • Cold sweats
  • Chills/goosebumps
  • Muscle & joint pain
  • Restless legs
  • Racing thoughts
  • Sneezing
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to feel joy or pleasure (anhedonia)


Benzos are CNS (central nervous system) depressants and are commonly prescribed to help people who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. They are also used to treat insomnia and seizure-related issues. When used in small doses on an as needed basis they are very helpful, but these pills have a very high rate of abuse and addiction. Medications like Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin and Valium have become household names. They are some of the most commonly prescribed and abused medications in the country. When abused one has a very high risk of becoming mentally and physically addicted. It is a necessity that they seek professional help once dependent, this drug requires detox.

The withdrawals associated with benzo withdrawal are similar to that of opiates, but are also potentially life-threatening. Users are at risk of having a grand mal seizure if they attempt to stop using without the help of a benzo detox center. These seizures can result in a variety of issues including heart failure and brain failure. Withdrawals typically last around 7-12 days, but will vary in severity and length from person to person.


Alcohol is a strange substance, it is socially acceptable to drink and in some situations, it is highly encouraged. Even overindulging is sometimes supported and encouraged. There are no other substances as dangerous as alcohol that are publicly viewed this way. Imagine going out with some friends and you say you don’t want to drink and some of the responses you might hear. Now imagine that alcohol is replaced with heroin or crack, sounds insane right? Especially when you take into consideration that detoxing from alcohol can be fatal.

The physical pain associated with alcohol withdrawals is on par with heroin and benzos, but with the possibility of one experiencing delirium tremens or DTs. This is easily one of the worst parts of any detox, severe alcoholics are almost guaranteed to suffer through this terrible phase. Intense tremors, a high risk of a seizure and auditory/visual hallucinations are typical. This can lead to panic attacks, confusion, intense fear and even death.

What Happens in a Drug Detox Center?

Prior to entering a medical detox center, it is typically for the facility to conduct an over the phone assessment and intake with the person struggling. This allows them to prepare a treatment plan and gives the user the opportunity to ask any questions they may have. Resolving any and all concerns will help one enter the detox program with an open mind will greatly increase their chance of success.

Once at the facility the client will undergo a series of simple tests, commonly including a urine/blood analysis and a biopsychosocial. This confirms everything that was said over the phone and gives the medical staff the knowledge necessary to properly medicate each client. Medication plays a huge role in how comfortable the client will be during this trying time. The more comfortable they are, the better chance they have of completing detox and moving onto the next step in the recovery process.
There is no over the counter cure that will ease the pain of these withdrawals. These substances require a medical detox, this is the only way the person struggling will feel any level of comfort. Entering a detox facility will greatly increase the chances of successfully ridding the body of toxins and allowing the brain to repair itself. When a drug detox is attempted without professional help the chances of success are minimal.

If you or someone you care about are struggling, please contact our toll-free line at any time for help. An addiction specialist is standing by, ready to help in any way they can. There is no charge associated with the call, advice or an over the phone consultation. Whether you need someone to talk to, have some questions or are looking for a local drug detox center, help is available. All calls are completely confidential, call today, a better life is possible.