Drug Detox vs Drug Rehab

March 20, 2023

Differences and Effects on Recovery


People suffering from substance abuse and seeking treatment are often confused by unfamiliar terminology such as “rehab” and “detox.” A proper understanding of these terms is vital to making the best choices for addiction treatment. Consequently, in this article, you’ll learn:

  • What a detox facility does
  • What a rehab center does
  • Why to choose one over the other

What Is Detox?

Detox refers to a medically-assisted program where drug or alcohol use is discontinued and the withdrawal symptoms attending sobriety receive care. This care may include medications to address nausea, muscle aches, fever, abdominal cramps, or high blood pressure brought on by withdrawal. A patient in detox is also monitored by medical staff for dehydration as well as dangerous complications that may occur during withdrawal. During this care, the patient may receive additional therapy or training on coping skills. 

The length of detox varies based on multiple factors including the substance abused and the stage of the addiction. Generally, detox takes somewhere between a few days to a week and a half. The conclusion of detox begins the transition into sober living. Sober living may involve ongoing counseling, a 12-Step program (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), or a rehab facility. This subsequent support is necessary because addiction has psychological, behavioral, and social dimensions requiring extended treatment.

What Is Rehab?

Rehab, short for “rehabilitation,” is a program

Rehab often occurs after detox treatment and it may involve long-term care lasting between 30 and 90 days. During rehab, the focus is on therapy that will enable person suffering from substance abuse to:

  • Recognize psychological and social aspects of addiction
  • Avoid situations that increase the chance of substance abuse
  • Ask for help when at risk for a relapse into substance use
  • Practice behaviors, including diet and exercise, that encourage healthy living

Unlike medically-assisted detox, rehab does not necessarily use licensed doctors. In some cases, the staff may have psychologist or counseling credentials. Rehab often combines multiple forms of care such as individual, group, and family therapies. Individual therapy involves private counseling sessions. These sessions may focus on developing the skills to stay sober such as coping with triggers that lead to substance abuse and determining a long-term plan for recovery. Group therapy involves multiple addicts, under the guidance of a professional therapist, sharing their experiences of addiction and recovery. Family therapy are counseling sessions where an addict and his or her family review the effects of addiction on the family, how the family can collaborate on the addict’s recovery, how the family can recover from the pain caused by the addiction, and how to avoid unproductive behaviors like addiction enablement. 

Rehabs may be in-patient or out-patient facilities. In other words, the treatment may take place with the patient staying at the facility 24-hours a day (in a manner somewhat similar to a hotel) or the treatment center may be visited by the patient while he or she still maintains residence at home.

Choosing Between Detox and Rehab

Detox is focused on ridding alcohol or drugs from a person’s system safely and getting the individual started on the road to recovery. It is advisable to seek detox prior to rehab for:

  • Severe addictions
  • Long-term addictions
  • Addictions where withdrawal complications may present health risks. Such addictions include alcoholism, heroin addiction, opioid addiction (e.g. oxycontin), benzodiazepine addiction (e.g. Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin)
  • Addictions where previous attempts at discontinuing substance use were abandoned because of withdrawal symptoms

Rehab is a good alternative to detox for people with a substance abuse problem scenarios such as:

  • Detox was recently completed successfully 
  • The substance being abused does not have major medical risks associated with abrupt disuse (e.g. marijuana)
  • Substance abuse has not reached a severe stage where:
    • Life-threatening behaviors are present (e.g. sharing drug needles, involvement in drug crimes, driving under the influence, etc.)
    • An overdose has occurred 
  • Need to work on a long-term plan for maintaining sober living and avoiding relapse

When making a choice between detox and rehab, it is always advisable to seek the input of your personal physician. Often, the best course of action is not a choice between the two but a beginning in detox that is then supported by further treatment at a rehab facility.

Start your road to recovery today.

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