How Does Drug Detox Work?

June 4, 2013

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Drug Detox

Drugs affect how people think and act. They change the chemistry of the user’s body and actually act like poisons to a person’s system. The way a drug works within the body is by first enhancing or increasing the chemicals your body creates naturally. After a while, they replace the production of these chemicals. This is when a person becomes dependent upon a drug – their body has stopped producing chemicals essential to health and counts on regular drug use to provide that chemical. Drug detox works to sort of reverse this process.

Your body is a lot like a machine. Each part of it is perfectly tuned to work with other parts. Like the old song that goes “The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone…” and so on through the whole skeleton. That’s just your bones. You have muscles, nerves, skin, veins, organs, blood – all interconnected to form the complex organism that is the body. These have all evolved to work and interact so you can survive.

This doesn’t mean all drugs are bad. Some drugs or medicines can be used to sustain normal working operation of your body. Certain chemicals can help tune your system just right or they can throw it out of whack. Addiction to a drug like OxyContin (oxycodone) throws your body out of whack. Take a harmless example: The difference between eating an apple or a chocolate bar. One will likely make you feel full and good for a while because it’s nutritious. The other might make you feel joy and pleasure on the short term, but when the sugar rush wears off you feel tired and like you need more sugar.

Drug detox works to bring the body back to the state it was in before you became addicted. It can even help you get in better shape than before. Drug addiction and alcoholism aren’t the kind of burden that someone can easily discard. Addiction will ruin someone’s life. It has also ended many lives way before their time. Detox alone doesn’t “cure” addiction. It’s meant to help a person get into a state physically where they can work on their cure.

Medical Detoxification

If you have ever indulged in too much alcohol and woken up ill the next morning, you have a small idea of how detox can feel when the addict goes “cold turkey.” Withdrawal symptoms for most drugs include stomach pain, sweating, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and lack of coordination. All of these signs are your body trying to get rid of the toxins which you have put into it.

However, while drug detox can be hard, it doesn’t always have to be painful and uncomfortable. This is usually the feeling one gets when they are going “cold turkey.” With certain drugs, cold turkey can be very dangerous due to seizures and other severe withdrawal symptoms. Medical detoxification is thus highly recommended and in many cases imperative.

Another symptom that you don’t often have when hung over (unless you are an alcoholic) is the craving for more of the drug that put you into this position. This is your body “thinking” it needs more of the drug to operate, because the drug itself has replaced part of your body’s natural functions. Your body does not actually need the drug. It needs to start functioning the way it does naturally. This craving is part of what a detox program deals with.

True detox has the end result of getting a person off the addictive substances which their body was dependent upon. In the medical detoxification process, additional medicine is used in order to effectuate a gradual “wean down” so the addict feels as much ease and comfort as possible.

There is more to the process than just removing drugs from a person’s body. As mentioned above, the drug is something the body “thinks” or perceives it needs. Instead of just yanking this drug out of the system and waiting for the body to normalize, there are many things that can be done to help the detox process.

Food and Drug Detox

It may seem obvious, but a balanced and proper diet is imperative to the detox process. Addicts are usually malnourished either because they didn’t want to eat when they were high, because they only ate what was quick and easy, or because they used the drug as an appetite suppressant. This last is often the case for those addicted to cocaine.

A monitored and nourishing diet is something any rehab or detox center should ensure for those getting off of drugs. Your body needs food to function and the better the food, the easier the detox process will be.


Many drugs cause insomnia, either as a direct effect of the drug or as a withdrawal symptom. Deep and natural sleep is extremely important to the healing process. Your body uses sleep as a time to repair and refresh itself both physically and mentally. If you don’t sleep, your panic hormones can skyrocket – making sleep even harder to obtain. While sleep aids aren’t often recommended – as they don’t cause natural sleep and they have their own side effects – they are sometimes the only way an addict will beat insomnia at the beginning of their detox. Nutritional supplements can be used, along with massage therapy, acupuncture, and other relaxing methods. The idea is to get the addict on a consistent, healing sleep schedule.


Food doesn’t always provide the essential vitamins and minerals needed for the average person. Most modern doctors recommend their patients take a multi-vitamin or other nutritional supplement as food just doesn’t always cut it nutritionally. When it comes to detox, excellent nutrition is extremely important in helping the body reset and function normally and healthily. Vitamins and minerals can encourage the body to jump start its natural functions and work the way it is supposed to.

Additionally, as many addicts are malnourished, a proper nutrition program is vital in getting them back to health and can aid in sleep, stress management, mental health, and physical health.

Stress Management

No matter how comfortable your detox center makes you, detox can be stressful. Stress management practices like yoga, exercise, therapy, and more are important to keeping you as stress-free as possible throughout the detox experience.

Support Therapies

Overall, physical therapies like massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and more can help the addict relax and work through their drug detox. Many addicts have found physical therapies make their detox much more comfortable.

After Drug Detox: What Is Next?

Through medical detox and integration of the holistic approaches mentioned above, getting off drugs or alcohol can be easier than previously envisioned. Indeed, an addict may have tried “cold turkey” in the past and it was just too rough. Once a person is through drug detox, they can begin to deal with the factors that led to and fueled their addiction. This is best accomplished through education, counseling, and other holistic approaches.


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