What Happens When the Body Detoxes from Drugs & Alcohol?

You have probably heard of the practice of “detox” and the many reasons people do it. Maybe you’ve even tried it out yourself. Although it may seem to be one of the many trending health crazes that eventually fades into the collective unconscious, detoxification has actually been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient civilizations in Egypt, China, the Roman Empire and India. Detox is one of the many ancient medicinal practices that has gained popularity i the West. 

Detoxification is claimed to be a way to “remove toxins from your body, lose weight or promote health,” although there is still much controversy around it and limited empirical evidence to support it. 

Based on the premise of removing harmful toxins from the body and restoring health, this process manifests very differently for people struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD). In other words, the health detox just described is quite different from a drug or alcohol detox. In a clinical setting, detox is defined as: 

“… a set of interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and withdrawal. It denotes a clearing of toxins from the body of the patient who is acutely intoxicated and/or dependent on substances of abuse.” 

Further, an important point of this practice is to reduce the amount of harm caused to the body as it no longer receives the substance. Some substance use disorders require medical attention to safely come off the drug or alcohol.


Should I Quit Cold Turkey?

If you or someone you know is thinking about stopping alcohol or drug use, it is critical to understand that detoxing from some substances requires medication-assisted treatment (MAT) or medical detox. Depending on the type of substance, how long you’ve been taking it and in what quantities, quitting cold turkey may not be a safe option. A range of physiological and psychological withdrawal symptoms can occur: 

  • Cold sweats and fever
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Severe dehydration
  • Very high or low heart rate and blood pressure
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Severe gastrointestinal upset
  • Delirium tremens (DTs) 
  • Convulsions and seizures
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Psychosis 

Some of the most dangerous substances to withdraw from are alcohol, inhalants, benzodiazepines like Xanax, opioids like heroin and oxycodone, and stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. Attempting to quit is commendable; however, please consider that the body gets used to these substances and stopping suddenly can result in a life-or-death situation. Furthermore, withdrawal symptoms can be so uncomfortable that some revert back to using to relieve the pain. There is no shame in getting help for your substance use disorder if it means getting you into recovery faster.


The Detox Process

Entering a detox program might be a necessary and progressive step towards your recovery. As each patient has unique needs, a medical team will first evaluate your physical and mental condition. Blood tests will likely be run to measure the concentration of the substance in your body. The results from these tests inform if and how medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is provided. MAT is simply the use of medications alongside behavioral therapy to reduce pain or life-threatening symptoms. This can increase the chances of a successful recovery by reducing the chance of relapse. During this phase, doctors will also determine what a long-term treatment plan might look like for you. 

Next, the medical staff will administer the determined medical and psychological therapies to wean you off the substance and manage withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can last days to months depending on a variety of factors, such as the substance; duration, amount, and method of use (i.e., smoking, injecting, snorting); severity of dependency; genetics; and underlying mental health conditions. Similar to health detoxes, this is the step where your body starts flushing out alcohol or drug toxins. 

The liver and kidneys are central to this process, but so are the skin and lungs. Staying hydrated and eating foods high in antioxidants, fiber and lipotropic nutrients are important here as your body’s biological processes require these conditions to work well. For example, the elimination of modified toxins occurs primarily through the bile. The efficient flow of bile is necessary, and nutrients that support this process are critical. Fiber absorbs the released bile, helping reduce the recycling of toxins and quickly eliminating them from the body.  

The final step is to go into inpatient or residential treatment program that can help you build the skills and confidence to be successful in sobriety. 


The practice of detoxification has been around for thousands of years. Today, it is commonly used in conversations about health and wellness. The idea is that the body’s natural detoxification process can be bolstered by certain practices or treatments. In the context of substance use disorders, detox takes on a much different look and feel.  Alcohol and drugs can be hard to quit, and when you finally work up the courage to detox, you discover the withdrawal symptoms. Trying to do this at home can be painful and even fatal, depending on the substance and various factors regarding use. At Casa Palmera, we understand how hard this is. We have experienced and compassionate clinicians that can help you get through the detox process. Contact us today to get help to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.