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Alcohol vs Drug Withdrawal

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Detox — or detoxification — is the process of removing foreign substances from the body caused by alcohol or drug use. The detox process is the first step in healing from addiction. It is important to fully rid your body of any substance of addiction before moving forward with talk and other therapies.

Woman going through withdrawalWhile going through detox, many people experience symptoms of withdrawal, in which your body negatively reacts to no longer having the substance of abuse it has become accustomed to. In many cases, there are withdrawal interventions, including medication, to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal during detox. Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the severity of the addiction and the drug of choice.1

Alcohol Detox vs. Drug Detox Withdrawal Symptoms

Those who are addicted to alcohol and others addicted to drugs experience many of the same withdrawal symptoms when going through detox. Common symptoms that run across both conditions include abdominal pain, irritability, sweats, shaking and nausea, and vomiting. There are, however, some conditions that are unique to alcohol detox, most prominently delirium tremens or the “DTs.” These are the hallucinations that alcoholics who are going through withdrawal experience in severe cases.

Length of Alcohol Detox vs. Drug Detox

For alcohol and other drugs, the duration of detox and subsequent withdrawal symptoms depends on the severity of the addiction as well as other factors, like the overall health of the patient. In general, alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin a few hours after the last drink and reach their greatest intensity one to three days after. However, in more severe cases, patients can continue to experience symptoms for a few weeks.3

Drug detox, however, carries a much wider range of possibilities. Because each drug of abuse has a different set of side effects as well as withdrawal symptoms, the detox process is unique for each substance.

Medication and Detox

While alcohol detox is usually done without the aid of any prescribed medications, those who are going through drug detox from opiate-based drugs such as heroin, Vicodin, OxyContin, and other substances often have several pharmaceutical options available. Methadone is a popular synthetic opiate that mirrors real opiate drugs without the euphoric effects, thus allowing the individual to detox without the unpleasant effects of withdrawal. Other medications that are commonly used include buprenorphine, clonidine, and naltrexone.3

Detox in a Doctor’s Care

Whether an individual is going through alcohol or drug detox, is always strongly recommended that they do so under the care of a medical professional. Mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal can generally be handled at home with simple reporting to the doctor although more severe withdrawal symptoms may need to be managed under the constant care of doctors and nurses.2 Drug withdrawal again depends on the substance of abuse and the severity of the addiction. Some detox scenarios can be very dangerous and even life-threatening and should only be undertaken in an inpatient setting. Always contact your trusted physician before beginning detox.

Finding Detox Programs

Most addiction treatment programs that offer detox care are equipped to treat both alcohol and drug addiction withdrawal. Michael’s House is a residential alcohol and drug rehab center in Palm Springs, California. We offer excellent care for the entire addiction recovery process, from detox to aftercare. The staff at Michael’s House is among the best in the country and seeks to care for patients to help them attain the happy, fulfilling life that follows addiction treatment. Please call Michael’s House at our 24-hour, toll-free helpline at 760.548.4032 to let us help you begin your new life today.


1 "Frequently Asked Questions." National Institute on Drug Abuse. March 2017.

2 "Alcohol withdrawal." MedlinePlus. 14 January 2017.

3 "Opiate and opioid withdrawal." MedlinePlus. 14 January 2017.