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What is the Difference Between Detox and Addiction Treatment?

Many people who are considering drug or alcohol addiction recovery sometimes get confused about the difference between detox and addiction treatment. Others use the terms detox and addiction treatment interchangeably, as if they are the same thing.

Drug and alcohol detox is certainly an integral part of addiction treatment, and often one of the most important steps to recovery.

However, detoxification alone usually doesn’t do much for helping a person stop using drugs or alcohol or treat the causes of their addiction. An addiction treatment program AFTER detox is where the heavy lifting of recovery happens.

What is the Difference Between Addiction Treatment and Detox?

Why People Become Addicted

People struggling with addiction know the toll it can take on their personal, work, and family relationships. Nobody starts using alcohol or drugs with the mission of becoming addicted to them.

There are a number of reasons why people get addicted to drugs or alcohol, and no two people are alike.

In fact, many people begin by using a medication prescribed by a doctor that is medically necessary for their health, such as prescription painkillers after surgery or an accident.

Because opioids are highly addictive, the longer a person uses them, the greater the chances are they will form a dependence and become hooked.

When the prescription runs out, they try to get more from friends or family, and on the street if they become desperate.

As the dependence endures, they need to take more, or stronger versions to get the same effect they had when they started. Before long, they can’t stop using because the withdrawal symptoms are so bad, they need to continue using opioids to keep from getting sick.

Other people take a different route to addiction and start drinking alcohol because of the way it makes them feel. It can be a wonderful way to neutralize the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health conditions.

But like with opioids, the body and mind builds a tolerance to alcohol and a person requires larger quantities or to drink more frequently to overcome the mental health symptoms.

Changes in the Brain

As time goes on, the structure and function of the brain changes and a person becomes addicted to alcohol. They might want to stop drinking but they physically and emotionally can’t, no matter how hard they try.

When this happens, sometimes the only way to get back to a normal life without using drugs or alcohol is to seek professional help at an addiction treatment center that offers both detox and treatment therapy.

How Does Detox Differ From Addiction Treatment?

Drug and alcohol detox is the first part of an integrated addiction treatment program and usually lasts a week or so, depending on the substance and the severity of addiction.

Many times, detox is required before a recovery program can begin and it’s usually done as inpatient detox treatment. Once detox is completed, the client can move on to a treatment program.

Not everyone who goes through detox will move on to treatment, but this is a fairly rare scenario. At the same time, not everyone needs to go through the detox process before beginning a treatment program. The initial intake assessment will decide if detox is needed.

The main focus of detox is to keep the client safe and comfortable through the withdrawal process while detoxing the body of the addicted substances. “Safe and comfortable” are important aspects of detox. It’s also important that detox is supervised by people medically trained in the detox process.

Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

Detox is extremely important for people addicted to alcohol and benzodiazepines because people can die detoxing from those substances. It is never advised to detox alone or at home from alcohol or benzos because it can be very dangerous.

Not all people will have withdrawal issues, but the ones with severe, long-term addictions will usually have the most problems.

Alcohol detox might last 3 to 5 days, but can be as much as a week or more if a person has developed delirium tremens.

Heroin and Opioids

Heroin and opioid detox aren’t as dangerous as alcohol or benzos but the withdrawals can be very painful and uncomfortable. Withdrawal from heroin or opioids is like having an extremely bad flu that usually lasts for a few days.

Opioid detox from drugs such as vicodin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, or percocet is usually 7 days.

Heroin detox usually lasts for 5 to 7 days and withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as 6 hours after a person stops using it.

Most people with heavy addictions to these substances know what withdrawal from them feels like and they keep using just to avoid the excruciating withdrawal symptoms. Detox is scary to these people and getting a fix to avoid withdrawal is more important than anything else.

Withdrawal from other substances isn’t usually as dangerous or scary, but it’s still important to be safe and comfortable and to stay on track through the entire process. If left on their own, some people will stop using but jump right back in after a few days. Doing detox at a supervised facility ensures people will complete the process.

Some detox facilities offer medication assisted treatment to help keep their patients more comfortable during the withdrawal phase.

Not all addiction treatment centers are qualified to offer detox. Many only offer treatment and they send their patients to other treatment centers or detox facilities to complete the detox process and then they return to begin treatment.

For this reason, it’s important to seek help at a facility that offers both detox and treatment.

Addiction Treatment After Detox

After the detox process has been completed, it’s time to begin an addiction treatment program to work on the root causes of the addiction and learn ways to stay clean and sober.

Addiction treatment can take place in a residential inpatient facility or at an outpatient center. For those just starting recovery for the first time, a residential program is recommended because the patient will live at the facility and almost the entire day is devoted to recovery.

With an outpatient program, the patients are only at the facility for several hours a day and they return home each night. This type of program works better for those who have already completed residential treatment. The two most common are IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) and PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program).

Most residential inpatient programs usually begin for 30 days but can last 60 or 90 days, or longer. During treatment, patients live, eat, and sleep at the facility 24 hours a day for 30 days or more.

Addiction treatment includes a variety of individual and group therapy sessions and activities to work on overcoming dependence to drugs or alcohol.

Each treatment center has their own program and some are more comprehensive than others. Many focus on the 12 steps as the basis of recovery, while non 12 step rehab programs offer a wider array of therapies based on scientific evidence that has shown them to be effective.

The Goal of Addiction Treatment

One of the main goals of treatment is to find the root causes of each person’s addiction and implement tools or techniques to overcome triggers, cravings, and other ways people conquer issues that cause them to use drugs or alcohol.

During treatment, some people will discover they are using substances to deal with mental heath issues such as anxiety or depression. Addiction combined with mental illness is called a co-occurring disorder and requires dual diagnosis treatment to recover from both conditions.

Most addiction treatment centers offer a variety of treatment modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and others that help the patient understand the relationship between their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

They also learn relapse prevention techniques to avoid triggers or cravings and stay on track with recovery and sobriety.

Do I Need Detox or Treatment or Both?

Anyone that is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol and finds it impossible to stop using on their own, or becomes physically sick while trying, will definitely benefit from going to an addiction treatment center.

It’s difficult to say if every person will require detox before starting treatment. That can only be known for certain by conducting a formal intake assessment. A doctor will perform an assessment as the first step and then create a program that best fits each person’s needs.

If necessary, detox will begin immediately to comfortably manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure the patient completes the process. After detox, they will be physically able to continue on to the treatment program without enduring withdrawal symptoms.

Completing detox is a big milestone for those who have been trying to quit but couldn’t because of the painful withdrawal symptoms. Take a victory lap and congratulate yourself on overcoming this obstacle.

It’s now time to look positively on the future and begin the journey of recovery. Go into addiction treatment knowing the worst part is behind you and you’re on your way to getting your life back. Nobody said it would be easy, but everyone will tell you it’s worth it.

Understanding the difference between detox and addiction treatment for drugs and alcohol will make it easier to make an informed decision when evaluating treatment centers to help with recovery.

If you feel you need both detox and treatment, look for a comprehensive program that offers both and has doctors on staff that are trained in detox and addiction medicine.


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What is the Difference Between Detox and Addiction Treatment?
Article Name
What is the Difference Between Detox and Addiction Treatment?
Do you know the difference between detox and addiction treatment? Many people think they are the same thing, but they are each unique aspects of recovery.
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Inspire Malibu
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