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What's it like: To go through medical detox

People who suffer from addiction might end up in a detoxification facility to rid their bodies of the drug, or drugs, they're abusing. After detox, a person is usually recommended to seek further treatment to remain sober.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: April 7, 2013

/articleid/3780590/1/pictures/2004073">Photo - Dr. Billy Stout, medical director of The Referral Center, is shown Friday at the center in Oklahoma City.  Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
Dr. Billy Stout, medical director of The Referral Center, is shown Friday at the center in Oklahoma City. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman

What are the risk factors?

Withdrawal symptoms are usually not life threatening. Some people have heard of delirium tremens, or “the DTs.” Although people experiencing alcohol withdrawal might experience some form of tremors, actual delirium tremens is rare and can involve agitation, severe confusion, hallucinations, fever and seizures.

Complications related to opiate withdrawal includes vomiting and breathing that into your lungs. However, the biggest complication is returning to drug use. Most opiate overdose deaths occur in people who have either just withdrawn or been detoxed. Withdrawal reduces a person's tolerance to the drug, and those who have just undergone detox can overdose on a much smaller dose than they're used to taking.

What's the recovery time?

You can start to feel better within three or four days, but it's a continuum based on your use and the type of drug you used. After five to seven days, you usually have the worst part behind you.

It can take up to 13 months for your brain cells to return to some form of normal. Depending on a person's use, he or she might be at risk of developing chronic health conditions, such as liver disease among people who have abused alcohol.

It's important for people recovering from addiction to have access to treatment after detox. This will better ensure they will be able to remain sober.

What's the follow-up?

Before you leave the detox facility, a medical staff member might talk with you about what your plan is once you leave. Generally, detox facility staff can help you schedule an appointment for treatment once your time in detox is complete.

As with any illness, it's important to be honest with your doctor and ask any questions you might have regarding your treatment.


Dr. Billy Stout, medical director at The Referral Center; James Arledge, director of nursing administrative at The Referral Center; The Mayo Clinic: The National Institutes of Health; National Survey on Drug Use and Health; National Institute on Drug Abuse.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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