What Are the Differences Between Alcohol and Drug Detox?

“Addiction isn’t about substance – you aren’t addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings.”

~Susan Cheever, My Name is Bill – Bill Wilson: His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

If you are like most people, you probably think alcohol detox and drug detox are pretty much the same. In both cases, the goals are the same:

  • Remove the toxins – the alcohol and drugs
  • Monitor the person’s health
  • Alleviate withdrawal symptoms
  • Overcome the worst of the physical cravings
  • Prepare the person for a structured rehab program

When detox is successfully completed and the person is no longer under the physical effects of intoxicants, then they will be clear-headed enough to accept the lessons and messages of recovery.

But the goals are alike, there are some important differences.

Withdrawal Symptoms – Alcohol Detox Vs. Drug Detox

Most substance abusers will experience many of the same common withdrawal symptoms when quitting, including:

  • Irresistible cravings
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Severe depression
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Muscle cramps
  • Body aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid heartbeat and respiration

Withdrawal is usually quite unpleasant, although the severity varies from person to person.  This depends upon their personal history of use, the particular substance, degree of tolerance, age, and health.  Typically, however, withdrawal it is not particularly dangerous.

There are two major exceptions to this – benzodiazepine tranquilizers and alcohol.  In those two cases, abrupt withdrawal – quitting “cold turkey” – can be potentially fatal.

Detox from either alcohol or benzodiazepines should ALWAYS be performed under the close medical supervision of trained medical professionals.

Th Medication-Assisted Detoxification: Alcohol Vs. Drugs

The best detox facilities use FDA-approved medications to ease symptoms of withdrawal and reduce cravings.  Here are some typical detox meds that may be given:

  • Alcohol—benzodiazepines, Naltrexone, Tegretol, antipsychotics, clonidine
  • Opioids—methadone or buprenorphine-based medications such as Subutex Suboxone, or Vivitrol
  • Benzodiazepines—gradual dose reduction

Currently, there are no approved anti-craving medications to help with withdrawal from methamphetamines, cocaine, or marijuana.

Length of Alcohol Detox Vs. Drug Detox

The two biggest factors that determine the length of detox are (1) the drug of choice, and (2) the person’s tolerance.

Most detox programs last fewer than seven days, and some may even be as short as 2 or 3 days. Benzodiazepines may require a process lasting up to 10 days.

While most alcoholics complete the detox process in about three days, the heaviest long-term drinkers may need to be monitored up to two weeks.

What’s the Bottom Line About Detox?

Quitting drugs or alcohol as hard—physically and mentally.  Without help, the cravings and discomfort can be so severe as to immediately disrupt any plans for recovery.  But with the supportive care that can be found in a reputable detoxification program, a person CAN get physically clean and become entirely ready to begin their own sober journey.

Since 1978, Chapman House Treatment Centers has been the most-trusted recovery program in Southern California.  Located conveniently in Orange County, Chapman House provides the addiction treatment services you and your family need—including residential detox, inpatient rehab, Intensive Outpatient Programs, and even partial hospitalization.

Residential detox at Chapman House takes place in a private, comfortable, and safe therapeutic environment where patients are medically-supervised and made as comfortable as possible.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, contact Chapman House TODAY to get the help and support you need to return to health and sobriety.


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