The Stages of Detox: How the body and mind react during withdrawals

Symptoms during detoxDetoxing is a challenging process on every level: physically, emotionally, and mentally. Detoxification is defined as “a set of interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and withdrawal.”[1] When someone has become dependent on a substance, removing that substance can send shockwaves through the mind and body. These feelings of withdrawal are intensely battled both physically and psychologically.


Detoxification in a treatment center is structured in three phases:

  1. Evaluation
  2. Stabilization
  3. Fostering readiness for and entry into substance abuse treatment

While withdrawal symptoms can be draining and painful, know that these difficult stages are normal experiences along the path to recovery. Here are some examples of what to anticipate in the stages of detox.

Physical symptoms of withdrawal

When someone abuses a harmful substance, the body becomes physically reliant on that substance to function. When an addict is initially cut off from drugs or alcohol, the body goes into a series of reactions to compensate for the missing drug. Common physical reactions include muscle tension, racing heartrate, difficulty breathing, and tightness in the chest. Other common symptoms include profuse sweating, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms can put the individual through tremendous stress. In extreme cases, high-risk alcohol and tranquilizer users may be susceptible to stroke, seizure, heart attack, or hallucinations.

The Walker Center offers 24-hour clinical supervision through its Withdrawal Management Program. When people begin treatment, they are evaluated, monitored, and administered medication by a certified medical staff to reduce the physical pain of detoxing. Going through supervised stabilization under the direction of a physician is critical for anyone at risk of withdrawal symptoms. This keeps them physically safe and able to participate in the treatment program.

Emotional challenges

An addict going through detox experiences heightened levels of anxiety and restlessness as the body and mind learn to function without drugs or alcohol. Typical emotional states include irritability, social isolation, depression, and feelings of extreme loneliness. Depending on the severity of the addiction, the addict suffers from intense cravings for the substance to numb the emotional trauma of detoxing. These symptoms will generally subside with time, and the physician may prescribe short-term, non-addictive medications to help manage anxiety and cravings.

Mental recovery

Detoxing can be as mentally demanding as it is physically demanding. Individuals often experience slower processing, poor concentration, weakened sense of judgement, impaired memory, and increased sensitivity to sound, light, and tactile sensations. The body’s dependence on the substance makes it extremely challenging for the addict to relax or sleep. Detoxing addicts often experience insomnia, creating a feeling of desperation for alcohol or drugs. When someone attempts to detox alone, that person is at high risk of relapsing in order to calm their physical and mental agitation. Learn more about risk factors of relapse.

At The Walker Center, an addict’s emotional and mental recovery is guided by coaches and counselors on staff. Since detoxing can present feelings of isolation and hopelessness, the support of a staff trained in addiction recovery is vital to helping the addict process their emotions and work toward a clearer state of mind.

Seeking out help

While these stages of detox are demanding in any setting, addicts set themselves up for success by enrolling in a structured, residential detox program. If you’re ready to make a change, view these tips on how to find the best treatment options.


[1] SAMHSA, “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment: A Treatment Improvement Protocol”