As you may already know, there is no one “right way” to recover from a substance abuse disorder.

Some find success with outpatient support, others have kicked their habit with 12 step support groups and others have needed to be removed from the community altogether for a period of time to get themselves in a better physical and mental state. Whatever research you may have done and conclusions you might have drawn for your own needs, you might still be confused about one common (perhaps controversial to some) term: medically assisted detox.

Medically assisted treatment is when an addict is supervised whilst being weaned off a substance, or substances, using a substitute drug. There is a range of drugs that can be used in this type of treatment, including: Methadone, Suboxone and Benzodiazepines. Normally a medically assisted detox will take between 5 and 10 days, with detox from heroin taking a little longer. Each case should be assessed individually and individual circumstances taken into consideration.

Over the years a number of myths regarding detoxification have arisen and thus caused much confusion amongst addicts and family members trying to understand how best to navigate the treatment of addiction to a substance. This article aims to debunk any myths you may have already heard and set the record straight.

Myth: You can only access a drug detox if you are an in-patient in a treatment centre.

Many years ago treatment options for addicts were fairly limited. Today however, the detox process can take place in many different settings ranging from drug rehab centres, to one-on-one medical treatment with a doctor. In fact, one of the most common forms of medically assisted detox happens when the addict is an out-patient and they have scheduled visits with their doctor who can help them devise a drug detoxification plan. Then they can either take the substitute drug whilst with the doctor, or a prescription, which they are able to self-administer at home. This process can take longer than a medically assisted detox in a treatment centre, but can have positive outcome as the patient continues living their normal life whilst weaning themselves slowly off the problem drug.

Myth: Once you have finished detox you will be totally detoxed, i.e. you will have no toxins left in your system. 

There is an assumption that in order to have a “successful” detox you need to rid your body of all toxins. This is a myth that has become increasingly common in recent times, leading to much confusion and misinterpretation. The truth is that the expected outcome for a medically assisted detox is to see an addict safely through the physical withdrawal symptoms that occur when stopping using a particular substance, ensuring that they avoid all serious medical risks. After completing a medical detox, addicts will be safe to enter a programme of continued rehabilitation, but most patients will still be experiencing drug or alcohol cravings. The detox will be “successful” because the addict is safe and sound after having undergone the worst of their physical detox, not because there are no more drugs in their system. Some clinicians regard detox as the initial, but necessary part of treatment.

Myth : You might as well quit cold turkey as it will save you time and money

While it is true that trying to quit cold turkey may save you money, it definitely won’t be the best option and is unlikely to save you time as quitting cold turkey is not only an extremely unsuccessful way to stop using drugs or alcohol, it is also extremely dangerous not only physically, but also mentally. In a 2013 study by researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center, (published in the November issue of Brain, Behavior and Immunity and presented at Neuroscience 2013), Italo Mocchetti, PhD, a professor of neuroscience and his research colleagues treated animals addicted to morphine with either no morphine at all or a lower dose of morphine to help them through withdrawal. What they discovered during this analysis was that the animals who were given a medically assisted detox had “increased… protective CCL5 protein while decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines” and that “the animals that weren’t treated during withdrawal had the opposite results — decreased CCL5 and increased levels of the damaging cytokines.” (Link

These findings suggest that quitting cold turkey without accessing a detox may not only be potentially fatal physically, but could also have dire consequences for your mental health. Other theories, including that of kindling, reinforce the idea that failed self-detoxes causes accumulative harm.

Specialists invariably recommend a medically assisted detox for reasons of safety and effectiveness, as most self-detoxes result in early relapse.

Myth: There is no proof that detox will actually help you remain abstinent

There have been various studies recorded noting the benefits of medically assisted detoxes. One such study published in journal, Addiction, demonstrated the significant difference in long term recovery rates for people who undertook a medically assisted detox from alcohol in comparison to those who attempted to stop drinking alone. The study noted that after three years 62.4% of those who went through a detox process were still in recovery, compared to 43.4% of those who had stopped drinking without help. The participants were re-examined after 16 years and it was found that 60.5% of the individuals who hadn’t been medically detoxed, but were sober at the 3-year assessment, had relapsed compared to 42.9% of the patients who had been treated.

It is important to mention that the risk to relapse can be significantly reduced if the patient opts to go through a specialist treatment programme that includes not only a detox process but also offers therapy, coping strategies, relapse prevention and other tools to enable the sufferer to continue their journey of recovery after leaving the programme and returning to their normal lives.