(FAQ) I want to get sober. How do I know if I need medical detox?

Medical detox is one of the first stages of addiction treatment. Using various medications, the detox process eases withdrawal symptoms for a safe discontinuation of both alcohol and drug abuse. The detox process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. It all depends on the type of substance abused, the severity of the dependence, among many other factors. 

If you want to get sober, alcohol or drug detox is definitely one of the first steps you should take. The process usually occurs at the start of treatment, regardless of whether you choose an inpatient or outpatient program. During the detox process, you'll receive 24-hour care from medical staff. The medical staff adjusts the medication dose based on your body's response to the drugs. 

Although going through the detoxification process is most ideal, it's not always necessary. Here's how to figure out whether you absolutely need medical detox.

How Can I Know If I Require Medically Supervised Detox to Get Sober?

Medical detoxification is not necessary for all addictions. Depending on the mechanism of action and profile of each addictive substance, some substances are easier to wean off than others. Some withdrawal symptoms have the potential to be quite deadly. 

In worst-case scenarios, drug abusers are at risk of being in a coma or dying. Medical detox balances neurochemical levels to reduce the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. The substances that absolutely do require medical detox include:

  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Opiate-related drugs
  • Oxycontin
  • Vicodin
  • Xanax 

For the substances above, addiction treatment without detoxification can turn deadly. Many complications can arise from alcohol withdrawals. It's not wise to try to quit cold turkey at home. Instead, addicts should seek addiction treatment at a recovery center. 24-hour supervision and medical detox makes it easier to manage and overcome serious and intense withdrawal symptoms. This prevents relapses.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved certain medications for medical detox. These medications are considered to be the 'standard options'. Most drug and alcohol detox centers follow the same regimen when treating drug or alcohol addictions. Common medications used in drug and alcohol detox are listed in the table below.




  • Acamprosate, which modulates and regulates both the glutamate and GABA systems to ease hyperactivity
  • Disulfiram, which stops alcohol from getting metabolized; if patients continue to drink, they will experience uncomfortable symptoms, like nausea and vomiting
  • Naloxone, which reduces alcohol intake by blocking the alcohol receptors in the brain to prevent them from getting activated
  • Naltrexone, which also blocks alcohol receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) to prevent activation

Opiates and opioids

(I.e. opioid-related drugs, hydrocodone, heroin, oxycontin)

  • Buprenorphine, which is a partial agonist that acts in a similar way to heroin and other opioids; it blocks opioid receptors to ease withdrawal symptoms, but has a ‘ceiling effect’
  • Methadone, which is a full agonist that acts identically to opioids like heroin
  • Naloxone, which is an opioid reversing drug that treats overdoses
  • Naltrexone, which is an opioid antagonist that is injected intramuscularly to the buttocks once a month
  • Suboxone, which contains both naloxone and buprenorphine


(I.e. cocaine and methamphetamine)

  • Antidepressants, which improves mood and emotional health
  • Benzodiazepines, which can ease some of the withdrawal symptoms
  • Modafinil, which keeps the user alert
  • Olanzapine, which treats emotional disorders and co-occurring disorders


  • Klonopin, or clonazepam, which treats symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks
  • Tegretol, or carbamazepine, which treats seizures and epilepsy; it’s also a mood stabilizer, which makes it ideal for treating a dual diagnosis                               

Understanding each type of medication and how they work is crucial in choosing a suitable addiction treatment program. Each patient will need a different cocktail of medications to ease his or her withdrawal symptoms. The most suitable medication will depend on the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. 

There are many factors that need to be taken into account when making a decision. The rehab center will individualize each treatment. This way, the program will meet the needs and expectations of each patient. It ensures a higher efficacy and a better shot at recovery. 

There are other medications that can be prescribed at the discretion of the rehab centers. For example, doctors may prescribe sleeping pills to patients who are having trouble sleeping.

If an addiction specialist has determined that you'll benefit from medical detox, you'll go through one of three different courses. Some patients are given the option of choosing which drug detox method best suits their needs. In most scenarios, the healthcare professionals will make a recommendation. The three different methods include: 

  • Cold Turkey detox, which basically involves the sudden cessation of all substances without any pharmacological help. Patients face the full intensity of the withdrawal symptoms, which is why this approach is seldom recommended. It's only ideal in situations where the withdrawals are relatively mild.
  • Short-term detox, which means that patients will go through the detox process for a limited period of time.
  • Long-term detox, which involves the long-term use of medications. This type of detox is ideal for treating an addiction to opioids. 

The cold turkey detox method is referred to as a holistic detox in some rehab centers. Patients are encouraged to practice healthier habits. This includes staying hydrated by drinking lots of water and eating healthier meals. In most cases, the short-term detox method is most popular. Medical detox should last anywhere from 3 days to several weeks at most.

What If I Can’t Afford Detox or Want to Avoid It?

The cost of medical detox will vary depending on the program. Some of the medications can cost up to $500 a day, while others are significantly cheaper. Methadone maintenance treatment for a full year will cost $4,700 per patient. While these numbers are at the lower end of the spectrum, it's still quite high. Some patients simply cannot afford treatment. 

Do I Need Detox?

In these situations, there are several options. Studies in the past have shown that public sources funded up to 77% of substance abuse treatment. Federal, state and local government fund a lot of programs. If you're having difficulties paying for substance abuse treatment or medical detox, you should see whether there are any government-funded programs that can help. Some religious groups, like churches, also fund substance abuse treatment programs.

If you have private health insurance, then you'll be pleased to find that all insurance policies now cover substance abuse treatment thanks to the Affordable Care Act. All major insurance plans will offer some coverage for addiction treatment. The amount of coverage will depend on the insurance policy. Some insurance policies restrict the type of addiction treatment that's covered. Medicaid also offers some coverage for substance abuse treatment. 

If you're wondering whether you're covered, you can verify your insurance information with us. Provide us with your name, date of birth, last 4 digits of SSN, insurance provider and insurance ID number, and we'll take care of the rest. You can focus on your recovery while we fill in all the paperwork.

Some patients may still want to avoid medical detox completely. This is possible depending on the type of substance that they're addicted to. If they're addicted to a substance that does not require medical detox, they can slowly taper off of the drug. 

If patients insist, some rehab centers will place patients under 24-hour supervision for even some of the more dangerous substances. Patients will then slowly taper off of the drugs or alcohol. For example, in the case of an alcohol addiction, patients may slowly drink less and less alcohol. They may switch from hard liquor to beer, and then slowly reduce the amount of beer they consume on a daily basis. 

While this is a possibility for those who want to avoid medical detox, it's important to note that there's some risk involved. The rehab facility will administer the drugs should they believe that the withdrawal symptoms have become too intense for the patient. This is to keep the withdrawal process as safe as possible.

Assess the Importance of Medical Detox in Your Path to Recovery

Treating an addiction is already difficult and dangerous enough. You don't want to exacerbate the withdrawal symptoms, so your best choice is to opt for medical detox. Depending on the intensity of your addiction and the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, detox may be absolutely necessary. 

To determine whether you need medical detox, consider contacting our addiction specialists for a free addiction assessment. While we can't provide you with an official diagnosis, we can offer a 20 to 30 minute confidential phone conversation. All information shared will be kept confidential. Our addiction specialists will answer important questions pertaining to your situation. We'll help you figure out whether medical detox is a necessary component of your addiction treatment plan. We'll also help you figure out whether there are other options available.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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