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Side Effects Of Drug And Alcohol Detox

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D

The detox process is often the first step in a person’s journey to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. However, detoxing from substances can cause a number of side effects, many of which are uncomfortable and some of which are dangerous. Understanding the potential side effects of detox can help determine whether a medical detox program is needed.

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Many people are familiar with the negative effects that drug and alcohol addiction can have on a person’s life. Unfortunately, making the decision to quit substances doesn’t mean that the side effects are over. Depending on the substances a person is addicted to, he or she will likely experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms when stopping the drugs.

When a person abuses drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time, changes to the brain can occur. Many of these brain changes have to do with the way a person experiences pleasure as well as his or her mood and emotions. Continued abuse can lead to the brain and body becoming dependent on substances. Dependence is the primary cause of withdrawal symptoms.

The withdrawal side effects experienced will vary depending on the level of dependence and the substance the person was addicted to. Many medically supervised detox programs provide medication to help ease symptoms of withdrawal. Understanding the potential side effects of detox can help a person prepare mentally and physically for what’s to come.

What Is Drug And Alcohol Detox?

Detoxification is the process in which a person quits using substances and the body rids the substances from its system. Detox is the first stage in the recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Detox can also refer to a detox program, which is typically the first phase of a medical treatment program to treat addiction. A medically supervised detox program provides individuals with a safe and comfortable place to withdraw from substances. These programs also typically incorporate medication into the detox phase to ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.

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What Are The Side Effects Of Detoxing From Alcohol?

When a person is physically dependent on alcohol, he or she will experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms when quitting drinking. The more severe the addiction, the worse the withdrawal symptoms will be.

Alcohol withdrawal can be incredibly uncomfortable and even dangerous. Depending on a person’s level of addiction, he or she may need to attend a medically supervised detox program to prevent potentially life-threatening symptoms from occurring.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may begin up to eight hours after the last drink and typically peak within 24 to 72 hours. Withdrawal side effects can last several days or weeks depending on the severity of the addiction.

An estimated half of all people who are addicted to alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms. Three to four percent of those will experience severe and potentially life-threatening side effects. The most serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include delirium tremens (DTs), seizures, coma, and death.

Other side effects of detoxing from alcohol may include:

  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • insomnia
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • tremors
  • sweating
  • headaches
  • upset stomach and/or vomiting
  • increased heart rate
  • mood swings
  • muscle pain
  • shakiness
  • difficulty concentrating

People typically experience the most intense withdrawal symptoms at the onset of the detox process. The majority of the physical side effects of alcohol withdrawal will subside after several days to a week. Cravings and mental symptoms may continue for several weeks or months.

What Are The Side Effects Of Detoxing From Drugs?

The side effects of drug withdrawal will vary greatly depending on the substances a person is addicted to and the severity of his or her addiction. Each drug will be absorbed and metabolized at a different rate, meaning that symptoms of withdrawal will be experienced differently and at different times depending on the substance.

Other factors that will influence the side effects of the detox process include:

  • how long the drug has been abused
  • the method in which the drug was abused (oral, intravenously, smoking)
  • type of drug abused
  • any mental health or medical conditions a person has

Someone who has abused drugs in high quantities for many years will experience worse withdrawal symptoms than someone who only occasionally abuses substances.

The following are common side effects of withdrawal from various substances:

  • Opioids — flu-like symptoms; runny nose; sweating; nausea; vomiting; anxiety; insomnia; diarrhea; stomach cramps; chills; dilated pupils
  • Benzodiazepines — tremors; anxiety; panic attacks; trouble concentrating; muscle aches; increased heart rate and blood pressure; trouble sleeping; sweating; hallucinations; seizures; fever
  • Cocaine — an increased need for sleep; increased appetite; depression; lethargy; agitation; anxiety; irritability

How long a person experiences withdrawal symptoms will depend on the drug he or she is addicted to and other personal factors like how long the drug was used. Opioid withdrawal symptoms typically last five days, while symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can last several weeks. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms may persist for up to 10 days after the last use.

How To Prevent Side Effects Of Detoxing From Drugs And Alcohol

The purpose of a medical detox program is to minimize withdrawal symptoms and help patients stay as comfortable as possible throughout the detox process. Medical personnel provides round-the-clock support to ensure each patient is receiving the appropriate care for his or her condition.

In addition to the support provided by a detox program, there are certain things a person can do before, during, and after to further ease withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Taking Prescribed Detox Medications — Most medically supervised detox programs will administer medication to help alleviate symptoms of withdrawal. Taking these medications as prescribed is important to get the most relief possible.
  • Staying Hydrated — Staying hydrated before and during a detox program can help the process go more smoothly. It can also help the body rid itself of toxins faster, which can decrease the overall detox period.
  • Starting A Detox Program As Soon As Drugs/Alcohol Are Stopped — Some people only decide to enter a detox program once they realize how difficult and uncomfortable the process can be on one’s own. Beginning a medical detox program immediately can prevent someone from having to experience the more severe symptoms of withdrawal without medication and other support.
  • Continuing Onto A Treatment Program After Detox — While physical symptoms of drug and alcohol detox typically subside after a few days, the mental withdrawal symptoms can last for several weeks or months. Following up a detox program with inpatient or outpatient treatment is the best way to cope with mental symptoms and ensure the best possible chance of long-term sobriety.

Is A Drug And Alcohol Detox Program At Addiction Campuses Right For You?

Each person will experience the detox process from drugs and alcohol differently. However, when a physical dependency has formed on a substance, a medical detox program is often the best choice for dealing with withdrawal symptoms.

If you are unsure if a detox program is right for you, contact an Addiction Campuses’ treatment specialist today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

MedlinePlus - https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

MedlinePlus - https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

American Family Physician - https://www.aafp.org/afp/1998/0701/p139.html

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D
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