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Alcohol and Drug Detox Programs: Types and What to Expect

Alcohol and drug detox can be an important first step in the recovery process for substance misuse and is often an entry point to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.(1) If you or a loved one is struggling, learning about detox can help you make an informed decision about your health. This page will help you learn more about detox, including, what detox is, types of detox services, what to expect during detox, medications used in detox, what happens after detox, how to find a detox program.

What Is Alcohol and Drug Detox?

Alcohol and drug detox is a set of interventions designed to manage acute intoxication and withdrawal.1 Detox can help:1

  • Prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Keep patients as comfortable and safe as possible throughout the withdrawal period.
  • Address complications that may arise during withdrawal.
  • Foster the transition into ongoing treatment (e.g., inpatient or outpatient rehab).

Why Is Alcohol and Drug Detox Important?

When a person takes certain substances regularly over a period of time, they may need more of the substance to feel its effects (e.g., tolerance).1, 2 As the body adapts to the presence of the substance, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly reduce or stop taking it (e.g., dependence).1, 2

Types of Alcohol and Drug Detox Programs

Medical detox programs typically last between 3 to 7 days and can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting depending on a patient’s needs.1, 3

Family members’ lives are often closely connected with, and deeply affected by, the loved one who has been abusing a substance.

Inpatient facilities have patients reside at the treatment center rather than going home in the evenings.

What to Expect During Alcohol and Drug Detox

The process for alcohol and drug detox can vary; however, patients can expect to receive support from several professionals to help them stay as comfortable and safe as possible during withdrawal.1 The detox process typically involves three steps.1

Medications Used During Alcohol or Drug Detox

Medical detox medications are often used to ease withdrawal symptoms, especially for withdrawal from alcohol, opioids, and sedative-hypnotics (e.g., benzodiazepines).1 Patients may also receive medications as needed for additional symptoms that arise during withdrawal.1

Subutex is a brand name for a drug that contains buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist used for the treatment of opioid dependence.

What Happens After Drug or Alcohol Detox?

Although detox is an important part of the recovery process, detox alone does not address the behavioral, psychological, and social problems associated with addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), recommends ongoing treatment to address these underlying issues.1, 7

Like detox, post-detox treatment can take place in a variety of settings, including inpatient or residential drug and alcohol rehab or outpatient facilities.1, 8

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How to Find an Alcohol and Drug Detox Center

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance misuse, you should know that treatment is available. If you want to learn more about detox programs, you have options:

  • Talk to your doctor to discuss your situation and ask for referrals.
  • Use our rehab directory to find detox centers near you. You can filter you can your search by insurance, locations, and services offered.

It’s never too late to start the path to recovery. If you have questions about recovery, contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) at to speak to a caring admissions navigator about your detox and rehab options. You can also easily verify your insurance online.

Frequently Asked Questions About Detox