Detox - Drug Addiction

A detox or to be more specific, a ‘detoxification’  is a form of treatment which removes the physical effects of drug addiction from the body.

Many of us are familiar with the term ‘detox’ when talking about undoing the effects of overindulgence after Christmas. This usually involves fasting or following a very strict diet in order to cleanse the body of toxins.

A drug or alcohol detox is the same. It removes or flushes out toxins in the body which have built up during addiction. These toxins are responsible for the cravings experienced by many addicts and must be removed before the rest of the recovery can take place.

A detox can be undertaken at home although some GP’s will recommend that the person attends a specialist drug and alcohol addiction centre. These centres have specially trained staff that are able to provide additional services such as counselling. 

Another option is residential rehabilitation. 

How does it work?

It starts with drug withdrawal in which the addict stops drinking or taking a particular substance. This is usually accompanied by medication to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This process occurs over a set period of time.

Alcohol detox

Someone suffering from alcohol addiction will be given a course of medication which they take once they stop drinking. This will prevent or at least minimise the side effects of doing so.

This medication is prescribed via your GP. He or she is there to help you through this and will be available during your period of detox. If not then your practice nurse will see you during this time.

The process involves the following:

  • The prescription of medication once you have stopped drinking. This medication will be a chlordiazepoxide. You take a high dose the first day you stop drinking and then gradually reduce this dose over the next 7 days. This will help to ease any withdrawal symptoms.
  • You must NOT drink any alcohol at all during this process. You may be asked to undertake a breathalyser test to confirm this.
  • Your GP and/or practice nurse will keep an eye on you during this time. He/she will also prescribe vitamins to boost your health as many alcoholics tend to follow a poor diet or not eat at all which can cause a vitamin deficiency.
  • You may be prescribed further medication after the detox to prevent a relapse. Some people do go back to drinking after a detox so medication can prevent this from happening. 

It is a good idea to enlist the support of family and friends whilst undergoing a detox. Attend a counselling session, a support group or a self-help group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Remember: a detox is not a ‘magic bullet’ and will not stop you drinking. Only you can decide that and it comes down to determination and willpower as you will still experience some cravings even after this period.

A detox removes the toxins which have accumulated in your body as a result of your drinking. This enables your body to become used to not having alcohol which will improve your health and well being.

Drug detox

This is a very similar process to an alcohol detox in that the addict is given medication to control withdrawal symptoms, e.g. methadone, once they stop taking drugs.

The idea is that body will flush out the toxins which have built up over time as a result of drug use.

During this time they will be offered counselling and other forms of support.

There are residential centres which offer treatment for drug addiction which includes detox, counselling and group meetings. They may also offer complimentary therapies such as massages or acupuncture, or advice on diet and exercise.

A detox can form part of your treatment plan. Once it has been completed you will still experience a few cravings so you will need to remain focussed upon your goal of beating your addiction.

This is why a support network is important as they will be able to help you through this and prevent you from relapsing once the detox is over.

Cravings and withdrawal symptoms are an unpleasant but inevitable side effect of the addiction recovery process. These can be dealt with via medication but it is important for you to recognise what they are and what triggers them so that you can deal with them when this arises.


These are strong urges for something, for example a cup of coffee or a cigarette which come on suddenly. They are extremely powerful emotions which can affect the way someone thinks or feels but they are also short lived.

A craving only lasts for a few minutes and then passes. If you can adopt a mindset in which you will not give in to the urge then this will get easier as time passes. 

Once you know what to expect then you can prepare yourself for when a craving arises and deal with this. This can mean occupying yourself so that it takes your mind off it, telling yourself that it will pass and repeating this or using relaxation exercises.

Some people prefer to talk to someone or their support group when this happens.

Whatever strategy you use, you will find that your cravings reduce over time and will become less important in your life. If you do give in then don’t beat yourself up over this. Recognise that it has happened, make a note of how and why and carry on with your treatment plan.

Withdrawal symptoms

These occur once someone stops smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs. They are usually physical in nature although there can be signs of psychological dependence as well.

These symptoms can also occur if the body has developed a tolerance to a drug and the usual amount isn’t enough to achieve the same effects. The body then requires higher doses to achieve these and to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms are specific to a particular substance, e.g. alcohol and can include some of the following:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Twitches
  • Restlessness
  • Shakes
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia

The idea behind drug or alcohol withdrawal is for the addict to reduce their dependence until they are free of the substance.

One way of doing this is to go ‘cold turkey’: this is a dramatic way of stopping an addiction and basically involves giving up a substance without help from others. It requires a great deal of willpower to do so and is not something to undertake lightly.

Other people prefer to have support and guidance from others whilst doing so. This can include self-help groups, counselling, acupuncture, rehab etc.


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