Is detox the same as rehab?

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Detox is not the same as rehab. With detox, the goal is to help the body get rid of toxins in your body resulting from substance abuse.

On the other hand, rehab is a treatment programme designed to help you overcome addictions' psychological and emotional effects. 

Detox and rehab are both essential for addiction treatment. After a medical assessment, you may be required to go for detox as your first recovery phase.  

Detoxification or detox takes place in a medically supervised facility to manage the withdrawal symptoms. The process is unpleasant, and it's advisable to go for medically supervised detox. 

The time frame for detox varies depending on the person, the type of drug addiction and the duration of use.  

Substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepines can be fatal if you try to detox on your own.

When you try to detox from drugs such as opioids on your own, you may find the process to be too mentally and physically uncomfortable. 

Detox in a medical facility helps ease the discomforts of withdrawal. After detox, a person may opt for outpatient rehabilitation programs.  

They may join support groups, attend counselling sessions, or different types of therapies. There are also inpatient rehab treatment options, and they have a higher success rate than outpatient programs [1]. 

Rehabilitation programs have a different objective from detox. They aim to help the person treat the underlying factors that led to the addiction in the first place. 

In addition, this process helps the person alter their behaviour, thinking and interaction with others which is essential for long-term recovery. 

You can go for detox and opt not to go for rehab treatment. However, failure to attend rehabilitation programs increases the chance for a relapse. 

What is detox in rehab? 

Detox in rehab is the first phase of treatment before you progress to therapy. It entails getting rid of the toxic substances in the body due to drug or alcohol use.

When you take alcohol or drugs, the body develops a tolerance for the substance. This makes it difficult for the body to function without the substance. 

Detox is based on the belief that someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction is physically unwell.

Therefore, it will be difficult for that person to overcome any underlying mental health problems they may be suffering from if they don't detox. 

The detox process aims to tackle the physical side of the addiction. There are two approaches to the process: 

  • Home detox (or cold turkey). The person removes the addictive substances from the body by deciding to quit. 
  • Medical detox. It involves the use of certain medications depending on the type of substance abuse. 

When you decide to stop using alcohol or drugs, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may vary depending on the individual and the duration of use.

In the case of alcohol, withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Behavioural symptoms, e.g., agitation, irritability 
  • Mood, e.g., anxiety, nervousness 
  • Whole-body, e.g., shakiness, seizures, sweating 

When you decide to go 'cold turkey, you're likely to put yourself through unnecessary risks and health implications. You'll notice that your anxiety levels strengthen the longer you avoid the drug or alcohol.  

If you've been using the substance for a long time, you may experience seizures and may become delusional. Long-term use of a substance means that it would be best to withdraw slowly over some time. 

Alternatively, some medications help reduce the risk associated with detox. For alcohol, medical detox involves using drugs such as Disulfiram, Naltrexone (Vivitrol) and Acamprosate calcium.

The medication helps patients manage the withdrawal symptoms thus paving the way for therapy. 

Detox can take place either in a community or in a safe environment under medical supervision.

Medically assisted detox is beneficial as you get 24/7 supervision from a medical professional. Also, you get to detox in a safe, distraction-free environment. 

The detox process starts with a visit to your GP. First, they will ask you about your medical history, history of your substance use.

Next, they will conduct a physical exam and work with you to help you create a customized treatment plan. 

The length of time used for detox varies from one person to another. Many people start experiencing withdrawal symptoms a few hours after the last use and symptoms may peak anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after.  

The entire detox process may last from a few days to several months. After a few days (about 3 to 7 days), the drug leaves the body, but detoxing from the cravings takes longer. 

It all depends on: 

  • The type of substance abused 
  • Whether the person was using multiple substances 
  • How often the user abused the substance 
  • How much of the substance they took? 
  • The user's age, medical history, and gender 
  • The presence of underlying medical health conditions 

Most detox programs will help you transition to inpatient drug and alcohol rehab at a residential rehabilitation facility or outpatient rehab. 

Detox alone is not enough for recovery as it does not address the psychological, social, and behavioural problems resulting from the addiction. 

Consequently, it's challenging to achieve long-lasting behavioural changes necessary for recovery. 

Detox is considered as phase one of recovery. After that, you can proceed to the necessary rehab or therapy, depending on your needs. 

Drug detox and alcohol detox help your body's immune system regain its strength as you're freed from harmful substances. Once you undergo detox, you set yourself on the path to recovery. 

Difference between alcohol detox and alcohol rehab 

The difference between alcohol detox and alcohol rehab is that detox only seeks to help the body get rid of toxins. 

This process is important in addiction recovery as it helps the person manage the physical aspects of withdrawal. 

Alcohol detox is defined as a natural process in the body as it attempts to rid itself of the waste products and toxins from excessive long-term alcohol use.

It is also defined as a set of interventions to manage acute intoxication and withdrawal [2]. 

When you go to a detox centre, you'll go through the process of medication, medical observation, and counselling. The essential components that take place at a detox centre include [2]. 

  • Evaluation.  A test to determine the presence of the substance, its concentration, and the presence of co-occurring mental and physical conditions. It also entails a comprehensive assessment of the patient's medical, psychological, and social conditions to determine the proper treatment after detox. 
  • Stabilization.  The medical and psychosocial process of helping the patient through the withdrawal process attain a medically stable, fully supported, substance-free state. 
  • Helping the patient into treatment.  Entails helping the patient progress into further treatment by stressing the importance of following through with either inpatient or outpatient rehab. 

When it comes to detox vs. rehab, the main difference is that detox is not designed to resolve long-standing psychological, social, and behavioural issues associated with alcohol addiction. 

Rehabilitation or rehab helps a person rebuild their life after detox. Although the toxins have been removed from the body through detox, they are vulnerable to relapse even when they use a substitute medication.  

Many people became addicts because of an underlying issue that made them seek out the drug as an escape.

Therefore, detox without rehab is risky as the person is likely to look for a substance that will give them the same effect. 

Rehab is important in addiction treatment as it involves intensive therapy carried out by professionals to help the person deal with the underlying issues leading to substance use.  

Rehab focuses on helping the addict on their recovery journey by imparting them with coping skills.

It usually entails various therapies, including individual and group therapy, family therapy, and other alternative therapies, e.g., music therapy. 

Inpatient rehab is recommended as it provides 24/7 support. You get to live in a residential facility, with a medical team helping you in your addiction recovery.  

What makes inpatient rehab successful compared to outpatient is that you are away from the addiction's environment. As a rule, a rehabilitation programme lasts about 90 days. 

You get to undergo evidence-based therapies such as: 

  • CBT (Cognitive, behavioural therapy) 
  • Motivational incentives 
  • 12 steps approach 
  • Family therapy 

You also engage in a variety of activities designed to improve your physical health.

Depending on the rehab facility, some provide a gym, mindful meditation classes, animal-assisted therapy, nutritional support, plus so much more. 

You can find a rehab centre that provides detox and rehab in the same facility. This helps you go through the treatment program process seamlessly with a good support system. 

Basically, the inpatient and outpatient rehab programme offer similar services that include: 

  • Individual and group therapy 
  • 12 steps groups or other peer support groups (e.g., SMART recovery). 
  • Holistic therapy 
  • Group activities & sober adventures 
  • Family therapy 
  • Life skills training 
  • Case management support for employment, educational, or legal concerns 

Most facilities offer aftercare services to help you in the recovery process. Some offer these services for free, whereas others include them in the payment.

In addition, the National Institute of Drug Abuse study showed that the relapse rate post-recovery is 40 to 60% [3]. These statistics point out to the need for aftercare in the recovery process. 

Aftercare services include: 

  • Residence living in a sober living home 
  • Attending regular individual counselling sessions. 
  • Having scheduled meetings with a drug counsellor 
  • Participating in self-directed group recovery groups. 

Whereas detox programmes offer a structured treatment schedule, aftercare consists of a collection of services.

For some, attending these meetings and interacting with other recovering alcoholics are lifelong commitments. Many people credit aftercare as having an integral part in their long-term sobriety. 

Detox vs. rehab is not a matter of going for one and neglecting the other. Whereas detox helps you get rid of the physical effects of alcohol addiction, rehab helps you uproot the underlying factors contributing to the addiction. 

Most people fail to attend rehab because of financial constraints. However, such programs provide resources and tools that help you overcome the addiction. 

Addiction is a physical, mental, and psychological disease that can best be managed using a holistic approach to treatment. Therapy will uncover many triggers that lead to substance abuse.

It will help the individual understand the distorted thinking and behaviours that lead to bad decisions. Furthermore, therapy helps you form new habits that will help you lead a healthy life free from substance use. 

The underlying aim of drug rehab is disease control. It seeks to help your body free itself from the addictive substances and better manage the severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Those seeking treatment can consult medical personnel to find a rehab that offers both detox and a rehabilitation programme. Alternatively, you can reach out to a rehab centre to learn more about your options. 

Remember to check if your insurance covers the addiction treatment. Most rehab centres offer private admissions within 24 hours if your insurance covers the services. 

How does detoxification help in rehab

In rehab, detoxification is done to help the body remove addictive substances. When addicts suddenly stop taking alcohol, they will experience severe withdrawal symptoms. The purpose of the detox program is to help them manage those symptoms. 

Although the structure of each facility varies, there are three essential procedures of how detoxification helps in rehab. First, the patient goes through the evaluation stage, where the medical team tests their blood sample to determine the amount of drug in the patient’s system.

The test result determines the severity of the patient’s addiction, and a treatment plan is customised accordingly.  

Conclusion: 

Detox is not the same as rehab. With detox, the aim is to help the body get rid of the physical effects of taking drugs or alcohol.  

On the other hand, the rehab process prioritizes uncovering the psychological effects of the substance use and the underlying factors that contributed to the addiction in the first place. 

People who try to detox on their own are rarely successful. The withdrawal symptoms make it painful and challenging to undertake without the right medical personnel to support you.  

Moreover, the cold turkey approach can be life-threatening depending on the substance and how long you've been using it. 

You stand a higher chance of success at recovery by undergoing both addiction treatment options.

Not only will you get rid of the addictive substances, but you'll also be ready to face issues such as relapse and how to overcome the urge to drink or take the drug. 

Those seeking treatment can pay for the services using insurance or make out of pocket payments. It would be best to choose a treatment centre that offers a treatment option that's suitable to your needs. 

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Pete has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.