If you or someone you love is in the throes of addiction, seeking help is scary. In fact, some people never even come to terms with the fact their addiction is ruling their life. You may be wondering exactly what to expect from alcohol detox and rehabilitation. After all, there are plenty of dramatic movies and news stories about checking in to rehab. But are any of those accurate? What are detox programs really like?

In this post, we’ll be covering the difference between detox and rehabilitation. You’ll walk away with a general understanding of your alcohol detox program options and what each step of detox will look like. “General understanding” is key here.

Words on paper can only prepare you so much. The only way to know for sure what detox will feel like for you is to do it. There are many different factors that will dictate your detox experience, and it would be impossible to predict all of those in one short blog post.

Keep reading to learn what you can generally expect when you check in to a detox program.

How are Alcohol Detox Programs Different from Rehab?

While they both address substance abuse, an alcohol detox program and rehab program are not technically the same thing.

Detoxing refers to the process of cleansing your physical body from toxic substances. In the context of substance abuse, detoxing means overcoming the strong physical symptoms of addiction. Depending on the drug, physical detox usually takes between 5-10 days.

Rehabilitation refers to psychologically overcoming the habit of addiction and making permanent lifestyle changes. This involves talk therapy, building new habits, and learning new coping skills. The average rehab program takes at least 30 days.

Rehabilitation centers almost always involve a detox program. But, there are detox programs that don’t include a rehabilitation program afterward. For example, most hospitals provide a safe place for someone to detox.

If you plan on quitting a substance addiction cold turkey, it’s important to attend a supervised detox program. Not only is quitting cold turkey challenging mentally, but it’s also physically dangerous.

The definition of addiction means feeling as though you’ll die without your drug of choice. But for very dependent addicts, physical withdrawal symptoms can literally become deadly. That’s what makes a well-supervised detox program so important.

Step One: Picking Your Program

There’s more than one way to do an alcohol detox program. They all accomplish the same thing but offer different levels of supervision and medical care.

At Home

There have been people who successfully detoxed at home with supervision from family members. This may work in cases where drug use was not severe, though doctors don’t recommend it. It’s best to detox while in the care of medical professionals.

Outpatient Treatment

There are outpatient drug and alcohol detox programs that let you sleep in your own home each night. You see physicians and doctors during the day and take the withdrawal medications they give you at your own home. This can be a much more comfortable way to receive detox care.

Inpatient Treatment

The traditional way to detox is to check in to a hospital or sleep overnight at an inpatient detox program. This type of program keeps you monitored 24 hours a day. For those who would rather stay in one place and receive round the clock care, inpatient treatment is best.

Part of Rehabilitation

You can do a detox program by itself or you can detox as the first part of a long-term drug rehabilitation. This would mean that as soon as your week-long detox is over, you begin CBT therapy and drug rehab immediately. Many drug rehab facilities have a detox wing for this purpose.

Your insurance coverage and access to care may influence how you decide your detox program. No matter the method, the important thing is to commit to getting clean.

Step Two: The Intake Exam

Whether you’re checking in to a 30-day rehab program or just a week-long detox, the first step is always an intake exam.

Your care providers need to know all the information they can about your physical health and the intensity of your addiction. To gather this information, they may ask you for a:

  • Blood test
  • Urine sample
  • Physical evaluation
  • Mental health evaluation
  • History of your drug use
  • History of your alcohol use
  • Record of your medical history
  • Record of your family medical history

This information will help your alcohol detox staff predict the severity of your worst withdrawal symptoms. It will also let them know the most appropriate methods to use to help you overcome your withdrawal symptoms.

It’s important your detox staff have an accurate picture of your addiction before you begin to detox. Underplaying or exaggerating the extent of your addiction will make it harder for you to get the care you need.

Once the detox staff has all the information they need, you stop all substance use and the real work begins.

Step Three: Quitting and Heavy Withdrawal

Quitting a substance “cold turkey” means stopping abruptly, as opposed to cutting back slowly and giving your body time to adjust.

When you quit a drug addiction cold turkey, you’re guaranteed to experience intense withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are the most challenging and dangerous part of drug detox. This is why many detox facilities provide prescription meds that alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Depending on the drug and the severity of dependence, your withdrawal symptoms could include any or all of the following:

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Intense aches and body pains
  • Sweating, fever, and high blood pressure
  • Flu-like symptoms, vomiting, and nausea
  • Skin changes, like itching and a rash
  • Hallucinations

If you’re quitting an alcohol addiction, you’re likely to experience Delirium Tremens. This is the medical term for the intense mental and nervous system side effects of alcohol detox. DT symptoms can be potentially fatal and include restlessness, hallucinations, and seizures.

Your withdrawal symptoms will be at their most severe within 24-72 hours of quitting. Symptoms generally subside after that first intense three day period. It can take up to 10 days before all the symptoms of withdrawal are gone.

Some people will require more care during detox than others. The intensity of your detox symptoms will depend on the drug of choice, your drug history, your genetics, and other factors.

Step Four: Follow-up Care and Sobriety

Substance addiction is both physical and emotional. Detoxing will rid your body of its dependence on drugs/alcohol, but mentally you’ll still have the habit.

It’s important to follow a detox with lots of practical aftercare. This means finding new things to do with the time you used to spend on getting drunk/high. Emotionally, you’ll still crave the relief you used to get from being on your drug of choice.

Detox alone is never enough for complete recovery. This is why it’s so important to get involved with a program that can help you build new habits for yourself. It’s not enough to stop doing your substance of choice– you need to replace the substance habits you built with other routines.

Addicts are at highest risk of relapse when their lives become more stressful than normal. Drug rehabilitation and counseling will help you manage stress better throughout the rest of your life. You can’t learn to live a completely stress-free life, but you can learn to react to stress in healthy ways.

There’s no one correct answer for which detox program or rehab program is best for you. Whichever combination that successfully keeps you sober is the best combination for you.

Learn More About Detox Programs Near You

This has hopefully given you a thorough picture of what to expect when you check in to detox treatment.

Detox programs help you safely rid your body of substance addiction. Detox alone is never enough to completely overcome substance abuse, but it’s always the first step to sobriety.

It sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

If you know it’s time for you to get clean, you don’t have to do this alone. We have a whole crew of experienced staff ready to help you build the life you want and support you in your sobriety.

To learn more about our treatment programs, click here.