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Side Effects of Drug and Alcohol Detox

a man holds his side as he discusses the side effects of drug detox and the side effects of alcohol detox with his doctor

Many people are familiar with the negative effects of drug and alcohol addiction on a person’s life. Unfortunately, deciding to quit substances doesn’t mean that the side effects are over. Depending on the substances a person is addicted to, they will likely experience various symptoms and effects of drug detox. When a person uses drugs or alcohol for an extended period, changes to the brain can occur. Many of these brain changes have to do with the way a person experiences pleasure as well as their mood and emotions. Continued use can lead to the brain and body becoming dependent on substances. Dependence is the primary cause of withdrawal symptoms.

The withdrawal side effects experienced will vary depending on the level of dependence and the substance the person was using. Many medically supervised detox programs provide medication to help ease symptoms of withdrawal. Understanding the potential side effects of detox can help a person prepare mentally and physically for what’s to come. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to the drug and alcohol detox center at Vertava Health today by calling 844.470.0410.

What Is Drug And Alcohol Detox?

Detoxification is when a person quits using substances, and the body rids the substances from its system. Detox is the first stage in the recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Detox can also refer to a detox program. This treatment option is typically the first phase of a medical treatment program to treat addiction. A medically supervised detox program provides individuals with a safe and comfortable place to withdraw from substances. These programs also typically incorporate medication into the detox phase to ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.

What Are the Side Effects of Detoxing from Alcohol?

When a person is physically dependent on alcohol, they will experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms when quitting drinking. The more severe the addiction, the worse the withdrawal symptoms will be.

Alcohol withdrawal can be incredibly uncomfortable and even dangerous. Depending on a person’s level of addiction, they may need to attend a medically supervised detox program to prevent potentially life-threatening symptoms from occurring.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may begin up to eight hours after the last drink and typically peak within 24 to 72 hours. Withdrawal side effects can last several days or weeks, depending on the severity of the addiction.

An estimated half of all people addicted to alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms. Three to four percent of those will experience severe and potentially life-threatening side effects. The most serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include delirium tremens (DTs), seizures, coma, and death.

Other side effects of detoxing from alcohol may include:

  • Fatigue or insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach or vomiting
  • Cognitive issues

People typically experience the most intense withdrawal symptoms at the onset of the detox process. The majority of the physical side effects of alcohol withdrawal will subside after several days to a week. Cravings and mental symptoms may continue for several weeks or months.

What Are the Side Effects of Detoxing from Drugs?

The side effects of drug withdrawal will vary greatly depending on the substances a person is addicted to and the severity of their addiction. Each drug will be absorbed and metabolized at a different rate, meaning that symptoms of withdrawal will be experienced differently and at different times depending on the substance.

Other factors that will influence the side effects of the detox process include:

  • How long the drug has been used
  • The method in which the drug was used (oral, intravenously, smoking)
  • Type of drug used
  • Any mental health or medical conditions a person has

Someone who has used drugs in high quantities for many years will experience worse withdrawal symptoms than someone who only occasionally uses substances.

The following are common side effects of withdrawal from various substances.


Opioids are the most common type of drug that people abuse.  They are a class of drugs that include heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Insomnia

It’s critical to find an opioid detox program that offers 24-hour medical care and supervision to avoid potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.


Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs typically prescribed to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, and seizure disorders. Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hallucinations and seizures
  • Fever

The benzo detox process is among the most difficult. Benzodiazepines should never be stopped cold turkey as doing so can lead to life-threatening seizures. A person detoxing from benzodiazepines should only do so under the care of a medical professional.

Cocaine Detox Symptoms

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that can lead to addiction after only a few uses. Withdrawal symptoms of cocaine include:

  • An increased need for sleep
  • Increased appetite
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

While there are no medications to specifically treat cocaine addiction, it can still be beneficial to detox under the care of a professional. This is especially true for people who have used cocaine for a long time or in high quantities.

Factors Contributing to the Detox Process

How long a person experiences withdrawal symptoms will depend on the drug they are addicted to and other personal factors like how long the drug was used. Opioid withdrawal symptoms typically last five days, while symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can last several weeks. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms may persist for up to 10 days after the last use.

How to Prevent Side Effects of Detoxing from Drugs and Alcohol

A medical detox program aims to minimize withdrawal symptoms and help patients stay as comfortable as possible throughout the detox process. Medical personnel provides round-the-clock support to ensure each patient receives the appropriate care for their condition.

In addition to the support provided by a detox program, there are certain things a person can do before, during, and after to ease withdrawal symptoms further. These include:

  • Taking prescribed detox medications — Most medically supervised detox programs will administer medication to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Taking these medications as prescribed is important to get the most relief possible.
  • Staying hydrated — Staying hydrated before and during a detox program can help the process go more smoothly. It can also help the body rid itself of toxins faster, decreasing the overall detox period.
  • Starting a detox program as soon as you stop taking drugs or alcohol — Some people only decide to enter a detox program once they realize how difficult and uncomfortable the process can be on one’s own. Immediately beginning a medical detox program can prevent someone from having to experience the more severe symptoms of withdrawal without medication and other support.
  • Continuing onto a treatment program after detox — While physical symptoms of drug and alcohol detox typically subside after a few days, the mental withdrawal symptoms can last for several weeks or months. Following up a detox program with inpatient or outpatient treatment is the best way to cope with mental symptoms and ensure the best possible chance of long-term sobriety.

Seek Support at Vertava Health Today

Each person will experience the detox process from drugs and alcohol differently. However, when a physical dependency has formed on a substance, a medical detox program is often the best choice for dealing with withdrawal symptoms. If you are unsure if a detox program is right for you, contact a Vertava Health treatment specialist at 844.470.0410 today.