Detox Explained

By Cindy Coloma

Luke stared at his phone. His screensaver showed his wife and daughter smiling back at him in the picture he’d snapped last year on vacation.

detox-600wShortly after they returned from their trip, things began falling apart. Luke had been drinking since his college days, but in the last year something had shifted. He no longer could make it through lunchtime without desperately needing a drink. He found it hard to manage the daily details of his small construction business, and he was losing money on jobs that normally brought him a profit.

Luke’s wife Molly was not happy this morning when he told her he couldn’t coach their daughter’s soccer team this year. He said he was too busy at work, but the truth was that he knew he couldn’t manage it. He was spinning out of control.

He considered detox a few months ago, and had found a good treatment facility near him, but the fear of the withdrawal symptoms and the entire process freaked him out. He had tried to detox at home over a long weekend, but he became so sick he couldn’t follow through.

Questions swirled in his mind as he thought about calling the detox facility’s information line. What was the process like? How would he tell Molly? How sick would he feel? How long would it take? The fear and uncertainty made his head spin. Luke reached a shaky hand out and picked up his phone. He knew it was time to change, even if he wasn’t sure how that would look.

Fear of the Unknown

It’s easy to be anxious and worried about detox. Anyone who has experienced the beginning symptoms of withdrawal or has tried to detox on their own knows it’s no joke. Some of the common concerns associated with detox are:

  • I don’t have time to go through the withdrawal process.
  • I’m embarrassed to go see a doctor.
  • I might hallucinate.
  • It will be painful.
  • I don’t know what to expect.
  • It seems complicated.
  • I will miss work.
  • I’m not sure what to tell my family and friends.

Deciding to detox is a big step, and these are valid feelings and concerns. But at some point, we have to choose action over our excuses and step toward the hard thing.

The truth is, we often make important decisions and take big steps to live the life we want. Sobriety doesn’t come easy. Overcoming addiction disorders takes determination and support. It’s a fight. The best way to overcome our fear and anxiety about detox is to understand the process.

What Is Detox?

First of all, it’s important to understand that detox is not treatment. It is a crucial first step in recovery from your addiction disorder.1 The goal of detox is to get you through the initial step of clearing substances out of your body so you can begin treatment. While some people are able to detox on their own, it’s a dangerous risk. Most professionals don’t recommend detox without medical supervision.2

Why Is Medical Detox Safer Than Doing It on My Own?

While some people experience mild symptoms, others experience very serious symptoms that need medical attention. Some of the symptoms that may be experienced during detox are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Delirium tremens (called the DTs)
  • Sleeping issues
  • Shakiness
  • Headaches
  • Blood pressure and heart rate issues
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe vomiting3

A good medical detox team knows how to navigate this difficult process. As you experience the symptoms and become increasingly uncomfortable and anxious, your team can promptly deal with it and give you the emotional and medical support you need. Building a compassionate therapeutic relationship with your detox team is one of the many benefits of choosing medical detox.2

What Can Someone in Medical Detox Expect From the Experience?

Usually detox begins with a medical evaluation and exam to help the detox team understand the type of support you’ll need during detox. They may draw blood for lab tests and perform other tests to evaluate your physical and mental health.1

Depending on the outcome of the evaluation, your medical professional will recommend either inpatient (a residential stay at a hospital, clinic or rehab center) or outpatient detox (you sleep at home during the night but come for detox treatment during the day.) Depending on your situation, medicine might help you through the withdrawal symptoms. Your detox team will monitor you closely during the process until you are stable. Once detox is complete, you can begin treatment.

There is hope. Detox is the first step to saving your life, and you are not alone in it. For information on how Lakeside Behavioral Health System can help you navigate detox and treatment, please call us today.


1 “Alcohol Detox and Rehab Programs: What to Know.” WebMD, Accessed February 27, 2018.

2 Taite, Richard. “Medically Supervised Alcohol Detox Aids Alcoholism Recovery.” Psychology Today, November 18, 2013.

3 Cosgrove, Jaclyn. “What’s it like: To go through medical detox” NewsOK, April 7, 2013.

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