How Does Medical Detox Work?

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 27th, 2021

James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Medical drug detoxification is a vital first step in recovering from drug abuse. Medical detox is usually conducted in a facility under the supervision and guidance of medical professionals, and is the process by which the substance is eliminated from the body. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency. How does medical detox work:


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies three broad steps of detox care, the first being “evaluation.”

Before medical detox commences, care providers must understand which drugs and substances the patient has in their system and are seeking to stop abusing. They should also be made aware of any co-occurring mental disorders and any other relevant patient history. This gives the staff an idea of what treatments may be appropriate, as well as which withdrawal effects to expect. The patient is familiarized with the detox process, its general timeline, and the side effects to expect throughout. These can vary significantly with the individual’s history and the severity of drug abuse.


The next phase of medical drug detox, identified by SAMHSA as “stabilization,” consists of managing patient symptoms and keeping them comfortable once they stop drug use.

When drug or alcohol abusers discontinue use, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms usually arise which can vary in intensity and duration with the drug being discontinued. Withdrawal can provoke extreme emotional reactions in patients, including anxiety, depression, and sometimes even suicidal ideation.

The job of medical staff is to monitor the patient’s physical, emotional and mental well-being, and to ensure that difficult emotional states do not turn into self- harm. This is accomplished through an environment that is built to prevent relapse, keep patients from acting out towards themselves or others, and give them viable tools with which to deal with the discomfort of withdrawal.

Medical drug detoxification takes the guesswork out of stopping drug use, since patients are provided with nutritious food, hydration, a bed, counseling, and relevant medication to ease their symptoms. Visitation by family and friends may be appropriate during this stage in order to help support the patient. The stabilization phase of detox typically lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 days.

How Does Medical Detox Work

The final stage of drug detox involves direction towards further treatment, since detox is only the first step in substance abuse recovery care. SAMHSA notes that a written commitment to enter treatment post-detox may help in encouraging reluctant patients to follow through with rehab care.

It is important to help patients understand that detox alone is almost never enough to ensure lasting recovery. Instead, they need to confront the reasons behind their substance abuse and develop healthy emotional tools to deal with them. This is best accomplished with the guidance of a treatment professional, often via dedicated rehab in moderate to severe cases of substance abuse.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please call 855.712.7784 . We can help.

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At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.