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What Is An Alcohol or Drug Detox

Posted by Alex Molyneux
on 02 Apr 2021

An alcohol or drug detox is a palliative intervention designed to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal whilst the body goes through the process of detoxification

There are various ways, methods and means of detoxing from alcohol or drugs but not all are safe. 

If you or a loved one suffer from a drug or alcohol dependence or addiction, the first step in recovery is detox. 

The way you choose to detox matters. This can be the difference between success and failure. Successful and safe detoxification from alcohol and drugs can also be used as a foundation to rehabilitation and recovery. 

What is detoxing? 

Detoxing is the process by which the body and brain undergoes an adjustment period whilst abstaining from a substance. 

Detoxing can often be uncomfortable, require huge amounts of discipline and bring about symptoms of withdrawal. 

Withdrawal symptoms are the brain’s response to being without a substance it has become accustomed to having a constant supply of through the bloodstream 4

In terms of alcohol and drug dependence, detox if not conducted correctly, can result in life threatening withdrawal symptoms. 

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to detox from, along with other CNS (central nervous system) depressants drugs such as benzodiazepines, sedative hypnotics (sleeping tablets, gabapentinoids, opiates and opioids and certain antidepressants and antipsychotics 1,3,,4,5

Detoxing can be achieved in different ways, not all are safe nor clinically recommended (depending on the substance) 

Here, Delamere provides a brief overview of the detox methods available for alcohol and drugs, along with the risks and benefits of each. 

Who needs a detox from alcohol and drugs?

Any individual that suffers from an addiction to alcohol or drugs or suffers from drug or alcohol dependence would benefit from a medical detox  2

In terms of successfully treating a drug or alcohol addiction, detox is the first step in recovery. 

Remembering that addiction is a chronic and progressive brain disease, characterised by relapse and continuation despite negative consequences. Detox alone will not treat addiction 2

Even once an addicted person has successfully detoxed from alcohol and drugs, due to the disease centering in the brain and being incurable, the likelihood of relapse is extremely high 1

Once any alcohol or drug detox has been successfully achieved, it is strongly recommended that the person suffering from addiction undergoes an intensive and bespoke rehabilitation programme, consisting of evidence based addiction treatments. Each treatment needs to be tailored to the person’s individual emotional, psychological, physical, social, occupational and holistic treatment needs. 

Furthermore, following on from an alcohol and drug detox and rehabilitation programme, in order to prevent relapse and encourage continued personal growth, it is recommended that the person continues to engage in professional support ( ie aftercare or counselling). 

Mutual aid groups that offer a recovery programme and support from others suffering from the same addiction have also proved extremely beneficial to ongoing recovery from an addiction 2

Why is an alcohol and drug detox needed? 

An alcohol and drug detox is needed to arrest active addiction. It is considered a life saving intervention when conducted correctly.

Detoxing from alcohol and drugs provides the affected person with a window of opportunity to undertake rehabilitation and to build a solid foundation for continued abstinence and recovery 1,2

Therapeutic measures to help heal and change the behaviours of someone affected by addiction need to be undertaken with a clear mind to be of maximum benefit

This is when the miracle of recovery can happen!

At Delamere, we witness the miracle of recovery on a daily basis as we watch our guests undergo profound transformations during the rehabilitation process. These transformations are incredible and breathtaking as we observe our guests changing and growing into a person far removed from who they were in active addiction.

Types and methods of alcohol and drug detoxes & their associated risks and benefits 

Detoxing from alcohol and drugs carries many risks. Ultimately, these risks can be managed. 

How you choose to detox will directly affect the severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced during the process. 

It is also important to consider that if you choose the best detox method and recovery programme for you, that detoxing is something you only need to experience once. 

What is cold turkey detox from alcohol and drugs? 

A cold turkey detox from alcohol and drugs is when a person abruptly stops the problematic substance without any professional help or medication.

Cold turkey detoxes from alcohol and drugs are the most dangerous method of detoxing and bring about the most severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Not only can cold turkey detox symptoms be life threatening with a moderate to severe dependence, but the person is also less likely to succeed due to intense discomfort and overwhelming cravings 1.4

What to expect during a cold turkey detox from alcohol and drugs 

You can expect to feel intense levels of discomfort and the most severe withdrawal symptoms in accordance with your level of drug or alcohol dependence.

Cold turkey symptoms from alcohol and drugs include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings for alcohol and drugs
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps and twitches
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Suicidal ideation 3,4
With a cold turkey detox from alcohol and drugs, there is an increased likelihood of the person developing Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). 
PAWS symptoms can come and go for months, even years after the person has ceased taking the substance 5

What is a medically assisted detox from alcohol and drugs?

A medically assisted detox from alcohol and drugs is where an approved pharmaceutical medication is prescribed by a doctor and administered by trained recovery workers. 

The medication lessens the severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced whilst detoxing.

A medically assisted detox from alcohol and drugs is far safer than going cold turkey. Life threatening withdrawal symptoms are less likely to occur. 

In addition to being given prescribed medication to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms the person should also be provided with support from either trained professionals, mutual aid support groups or a combination of both

Where can I get a medically assisted detox from alcohol and drugs?

A medically assisted detox from drugs and alcohol can be conducted at home (home detox), in the community under your local drug and alcohol team (community detox) or in a registered rehab facility – mainly quasi-residential treatment centres.

What to expect during a medically assisted detox from alcohol and drugs 

A medically assisted detox from alcohol and drugs will reduce the severity of your withdrawal symptoms to more manageable levels. However this method is not always successful due to temptation not being completely removed. 

During a medically assisted detox from drugs and alcohol you will not be continually supervised. If undertaken in a rehab, a medically assisted detox is administered by recovery workers trained in issuing prescription medications and monitoring blood pressure and temperature. 

Support is available in the form of other peers and recovery workers.

What is a full medical detox from alcohol and drugs? 

A full medical detox from alcohol and drugs involves pharmaceutical medications approved for the treatment of the substance you are addicted to. 

These medications immediately replace the drugs and alcohol. Starting on the highest dose of medication, you are then weaned off the prescription over a number of days. 

During a full medical detox from drugs and alcohol you will receive 24/7 care and monitoring provided by qualified nurses and doctors. 

If conducted in a purpose built detox centre you will have the added benefit of light therapeutic treatments to support your detox and the support of counsellors and your peers.

Where can I get a full medical detox for alcohol and drugs ?

A full medical detox from alcohol and drugs can only be accessed through a registered medical residential environment, where you will stay for the duration of your detox. 

The environment will be temptation free and have all the medical facilities to support your detoxification

Full medical detoxes are typically conducted on an inpatient basis in a hospital or in a CQC registered purpose built detox and rehab facility. 

Hospital detoxes are rare due to high demand. They also lack the continuous support available from qualified addiction treatment professionals that is available in a residential drug and alcohol detox facility

What to expect during a full medical detox from alcohol and drugs 

Your drug and alcohol detox will be tailored specifically to your treatment needs. Regular monitoring and health checks will be conducted by qualified nurses and your detox will be overseen by a doctor or psychiatrist. 

All meals will be provided and you will be encouraged to rest and recuperate. Your withdrawal symptoms will be control, managed and reduced by medication and through continual monitoring.

Alcohol and drugs detox at Delamere

Here at Delamere we are the UKs only purpose built detox facility and behavioral wellness centre. Within our care you will receive around the clock care and support, not only from qualified nursing staff and doctors but also from our multidisciplinary team of qualified addiction treatment experts. 

The emphasis during detox will be on you recovering physically, light therapy and holistic treatments will be applied to help keep you stable mentally and emotionally.

All of your meals will be prepared by our highly skilled chef, who will ensure all your nutritional and personal preferences with regards to food are taken care of. 

All of our meals are prepared to the highest standard and take into account each individual guest’s recovery needs. Nutrition is an important part of rehabilitation and something that we take very seriously here at Delamere 6

At Delamere we believe that detox does not need to be painful. You can be assured that your medication and support will be tailored to your individual detox needs and to ensure maximum comfort.

Whilst you are detoxing we will also monitor you from a rehabilitation perspective, so that we can start to formulate your own individual bespoke rehabilitation programme to commence as soon as your detox has finished.

Our detox facilities are 5 star. At Delamere we will provide you with the highest levels of support, care and comfort. We will do everything within our power to ensure that your detox counts towards a full recovery from alcohol and drugs and that you never need to relapse.

For a free and confidential alcohol and drug treatment assessment and more information on our detox programmes, please call and speak to a member of our team today.


  1. Overview, essential concepts, and definitions in detoxifications. Detoxification and substance abuse treatment
  2. Addiction is a brain disease, and it matters
  3. Complications of alcohol withdrawal
  4. Withdrawal syndromes
  5. PAWS – post acute withdrawal syndrome
  6. Substance use recovery and diet

About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is the Admissions Manager at Delamere. Alex has organised more admissions into treatment than most. Find out more about Alex on our team page.

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