Drug and alcohol detox refers to the process whereby an addict stops habitually taking a drug and so allows his body to re-balance without the presence of a chemical substance.

Detox occurs in three main phases. If you are trying to recover from alcohol abuse, or helping someone quit, knowing these phases can help you understand what is happening and so prevent any harm from occurring.

Also, it often occurs that the symptoms of withdrawal get worse before they get better. Knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel can help you persist through to a satisfactory, drug-free conclusion. It is heartbreaking to see an addict struggle for days with withdrawal symptoms, who gives up and takes a drug only hours before he was going to reach the home stretch. There is a point where withdrawal gets easier, but it takes some time and endurance to get there.

Before we describe these steps in detail, it’s important to note that we never recommend that someone quit drugs on their own. It is best to receive professional help through this difficult process. Even if you or your loved one is distrustful of doctors, there are even skilled holistic health practitioners that can help you detox and also identify the signs of any need for medical assistance or hospital care. The reason we make this point is that withdrawal is factually a dangerous process and very rough on an addict. Depending on the nature of his drug of choice and the depth of his habit, he may even be at risk to go into a coma or die if he stops taking the drug on his own. That being said, even if you are detoxing under medical supervision, it’s still a good idea to understand as much as you can about the process your body will soon undergo

In the first phase of drug and alcohol detox, the addict’s brain enters a period of hyperactivity as a result of the abused substance leaving his body. Symptoms that the person who is detoxifying experiences include irritation, anxiety and even tremors. Mentally, the addict may begin obsessing over getting his drug of choice. Suddenly he can’t seem to get it out of his mind. He may start talking about it. If he has a friend who is helping him through this process, he may ask him to let him “just take one hit” or “have one drink” “just to take the edge off”.

Most addicts don’t get past the first phase of withdrawal. At this point it isn’t really the physical discomfort that gets to him, but rather his acute mental craving for the drug. His feeling of need for his substance of choice is so great that it can override all of his recent decisions and send him back to using.

During the first phase of withdrawal, an alcoholic is at risk of having seizures.

Persons who have attempted to quit drugs before but failed have a more difficult time of it than people who are trying to quit for the first time. For this reason, we recommend that it’s better to overshoot than undershoot. In other words, it’s better to send your friend or loved one to a proven residential rehab facility and get it all fixed right the first time rather than it is to make a couple failed attempts at home as this can contribute to him getting to a point where he’ll never be able to muster the strength to successfully overcome his addiction.

The second phase of withdrawal is where the physical discomfort really sets in. Medical professionals will have plenty of fluids and electrolytes to hand at this phase because the body is undergoing vast changes. Without proper nutrition during this phase the alcoholic or drug addict may go into shock or coma. Alcoholics are particularly at risk. Five percent of all alcoholics trying to quit die at this point as their bodies suffer what is called delirium tremens (alcohol delirium).

The physical symptoms worsen further until finally peaking and then gradually abating. At this point, the person who is detoxing is probably physically exhausted. He may still feel an urge to use, but the toughest part of withdrawal is over.

In the final phase of withdrawal, the alcoholic or drug abuser stabilizes. His body has reached a new balance without the drugs in his system. However, at this point it is important that he receive counseling, coaching, or other rehabilitative steps in order to bring about a balance in his life. The truth is that just like there were physical toxins in his body that were actually prodding him into continuing his addiction, there are also addictive factors in his lifestyle that must be addressed for recovery to be successful. Otherwise he has gone through all the pain of withdrawal for naught.