Medical detox is the process of eliminating toxic substances from a person’s body under clinical supervision. Detox is usually the first step into rehab as an individual will need to rid their body of alcohol and drugs prior to receiving treatment.

While each facility is different, detox teams are usually led by a physician and a team of nurses, clinical staff, and therapists who have experience with addiction and drug withdrawal. Some centers also employ advanced practice staff like nurse practitioners or physician assistants to provide medical care during detox.

When Is Medical Detox Necessary?

If you feel physically addicted to drugs and alcohol — as in your body needs these substances to feel “normal” — then you will likely require medical detox. For example, if you notice withdrawal symptoms when the substances are wearing off (or during a period of abstaining), then you are a prime candidate for medical detox.

The reason is that in these cases, willpower is usually not enough. There will often be an array of symptoms that accompany detox that are best assisted by doctors and clinicians who know how to treat substance withdrawal.

If you’re unsure about whether you have an addiction or dependence that requires medical detox, ask yourself the following:

  • Have you been using a substance regularly and in large amounts?
  • Have you been using a substance over an extended period (or longer than intended)?
  • Have you experienced a diminished effect from the substance after using the same amount?
  • Do you require increasingly higher doses to achieve the usual effect?
  • Do you regularly crave the substance when you don’t have access to it?
  • Have you tried to quit using the substance but found you couldn’t do so without help or intervention?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is likely that your body has developed a dependence on the substance and will best be detoxed through medical assistance.

How Long Does Medical Detox Last?

Different substances require different detox timelines, and this is also dependent on how long a person has been taking them. But generally, medical detox can last between 3 to 7 days. While withdrawal symptoms can persist following that period, many individuals will migrate to other rehab programs (e.g. inpatient or outpatient).

Can I Detox at Home?

While detox at home is possible in some cases, it is not recommended. Serious complications and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can occur during this process.

Detoxing at home also poses a risk for relapse due to the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, isolation, and lack of medical assistance. Therefore, detoxing is best done safely under medical supervision, where clinicians can keep you safe and comfortable.

Cost of Medical Detox

An average detox center will cost around $300 to $800 per day. Like most rehab facilities, detox centers can range from basic to standard to luxury. Therefore, the cost will vary depending on the type of facility and its amenities.

Advantages of Medical Detox

The advantage of going to a detox center is that medical assistance is on hand if any complications arise. Many centers will also be able to provide the following services:

  • Assistive medications (for withdrawal symptoms)
  • Nutritional support
  • Physical exercise
  • Psychological and behavioral counseling
  • Doctor supervision (in case of emergencies)

Substances That Require Medical Detox

drug paraphernalia spread across table

Some substances require medical detox more than others. For example, drugs like cocaine are less physically uncomfortable as the detox symptoms are more psychological. The most dangerous drugs to detox from physically are alcohol and benzodiazepines, while opioids and heroin are considered to be the most uncomfortable to withdraw from. Below is a more detailed list of the various substances and their symptoms.


Alcohol is a nervous system depressant, which means that it inhibits automated bodily functions such as temperature, heart rate, stress response, motor movements, and blood pressure. Therefore, when a person withdraws from alcohol, they tend to experience symptoms such as elevated body temperature, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, tremors, and more. In more severe cases, alcohol withdrawal can result in seizures, hallucinations, and a life-threatening condition known as delirium tremens.


Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos”, are prescription medications that are used to treat anxiety, seizures, and sleep disorders. Well-known examples of these medications include Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin. As benzos are also a nervous system depressant, they produce similar effects on the body as alcohol. Therefore, the withdrawal symptoms are similar and can be life-threatening if detox is done abruptly or without medical supervision.


Opioids are known for their pain-relieving properties and are commonly taken in the form of heroin or as prescription medications such as codeine, OxyContin, Percocet, and fentanyl. Derived from the poppy plant, opioids work directly on the body’s natural opioid system which is what makes it both addictive and difficult to withdraw from.

Because opioids mimic the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals, regular intake shuts down this process, making the body reliant on the external drugs for effect. Withdrawal from opioids is the most uncomfortable and includes anxiety, chills, tremors, cold and clammy skin, nausea, and vomiting.


Simulants produce the opposite effect to opioids and depressants as they stimulate the body into action. Prescription stimulants include Ritalin and Adderall, and non-prescription stimulants include methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA.

Stimulants are known to trigger the release of dopamine (the brain’s pleasure chemical) and increase nervous system functions such as body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. While these drugs all produce strong effects on the body, withdrawal symptoms are more psychological than physical. This includes anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating.

Medical Detox Process: What to Expect

doctor and patient evaluation

While each center has its own protocols, the general detox process is the same. This includes a process of evaluation, stabilization, and entry into treatment.


During an evaluation, the clinical team will screen patients for physical and mental health issues. Doctors will also administer blood tests and other diagnostics to assess the levels of drugs in the patient’s system. This will help determine the course of the detox treatment and what medications might be needed. The evaluation will also cover a person’s medical, psychiatric, and substance-taking history to set up a long-term treatment plan. This could involve next-stage treatment at the same clinic or another one.


Stabilization is the main stage of detox and involves medical and psychological therapy. The goal of stabilization is to safely detox a person from alcohol or drugs and to reduce complications associated with withdrawal symptoms. As part of this process, assistive medications like the following are sometimes used:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antidepressant drugs
  • Agonists of opioids
  • Analgesic alternatives to opioids
  • Opioid antagonists
  • Incomplete antagonists and agonists

Entry Into Treatment

The final stage of detox is to prepare a patient for a treatment program. Depending on the patient’s circumstances and addiction severity, doctors will recommend programs such as inpatient, outpatient, or partial hospitalization. Patients will be given information about these programs and what to expect. This is a crucial stage as rehab treatment following detox can offer the best chance of success.

Withdrawal & Side Effects of Medical Detox

As mentioned, substance withdrawal will produce an array of withdrawal symptoms. Some of these are more severe than others and will depend on the type of substance the individual is addicted to. Some of these side effects include:

  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Delirium tremens (DTs): a life-threatening condition characterized by mental confusion, restlessness, fever, hallucinations, and seizures. DTs can lead to cardiac collapse.
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness, especially in the hands
  • Unstable blood pressure and heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Body discomfort
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating

How to Find a Medical Detox Center

Detox programs are available at certain rehab clinics and medical facilities. While searching online for a clinic is an option, you can also:

  • Ask a physician or therapist for a recommendation.
  • Locate a center through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
  • Call a drug addiction helpline.

Will Insurance Cover Medical Detox Treatment?

In most cases, private insurance companies will cover medical detox under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as they are required to provide substance abuse treatment coverage to their members. Another benefit of the ACA is that it regards substance abuse treatment as an essential health care benefit for US citizens. That means most insurers won’t be able to completely shut the door on you if you approach them about substance abuse treatment coverage. However, the level of coverage will depend on your state and health plan.

To ensure lower costs, insurance companies may ask members to choose from a small set of “in-network” providers. They may also ask members seeking detox and addiction treatment to pick up some of the costs via premiums, deductibles, and co-payments. Most rehab facilities will also indicate whether they accept private insurance or Medicaid.

Life After Medical Detox

Detox is often the first step towards a new life of sobriety. Depending on what you’ve been recommended during detox, the next stage is often to enter an inpatient or outpatient treatment center where you can continue detoxing while receiving therapy for the underlying causes of your addiction. These programs are often successful at helping individuals learn new coping and behavioral skills.

Medical Detox Resources

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer

At, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction.

You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on