Blog | Drug Detox

How Is Treatment Different Than Detox?

Searching for help with a drug problem can be a bit confusing. That’s because, in some cases, the terms “drug detox” and “drug treatment” are used interchangeably — even though they’re not the same thing.

So what’s the difference? Let’s take a look at what’s included in both detox and treatment and shine a light on the benefits and challenges of each approach.

What Happens in Detox

Detox, or detoxification, is the first step in drug treatment. Because it comes first, some facilities may refer to detox alone as treatment. However, this use of terminology can be a source of confusion.

During detox, the individual’s body restores itself by getting rid of the drug chemicals in his system. In many cases, medically assisted detox is ideal because detox is a time when withdrawal symptoms are very likely. These symptoms may include nausea, worry, sweating, shakiness, trembling, and even seeing or hearing things that don’t exist.

Counseling participants congratuling group memberMedical professionals may offer helpful medications to aid the detoxification process. For example, when someone uses an opiate such as heroin for an extended period of time, methadone may be prescribed to help ease the effects of withdrawal. Methadone interacts with the same chemicals in the body as heroin, which suppresses withdrawal symptoms and provides relief to drug cravings.1 However, methadone isn’t for everyone, so the specific steps in detox can vary from one person to another.

If an individual only goes to detox but does not go on to the next step — drug treatment — he is not ready to handle drug cravings. As a result, relapse will be more likely to occur, putting him at a greater risk of a drug overdose. Since the system is now clear of the drug’s chemicals, the body’s tolerance level has also changed. So if that individual uses again, the effects overwhelm the body. Comprehensive drug treatment can help educate individuals about how to avoid relapse and build a long-term life in recovery.

What Happens in Treatment

In drug treatment, the individual learns how to live life without drugs. Drug problems are addressed head-on, and in most cases, the underlying reasons for drug use are addressed and treated as well. One of the primary tools in a treatment program is psychotherapy or counseling.2 Each individual talks with a therapist to explore their life history and envision their goals for the future.

In many cases, there may be a co-occurring issue involved, such as depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition. With dual diagnosis treatment, the individual receives comprehensive care for their mind and body. In addition to psychotherapy, group therapy is often used as part of treatment to form bonds with others in similar situations and share their experiences in a safe place. As each member shares and learns from each other, hope is found. Art therapy can also be used to help individuals express how they feel through creative writing, painting, or even songwriting.

Why Detox and Treatment Work Best Together

When detox and treatment are combined, the entire process can care for all aspects of an individual’s life. At many facilities, both parts of the process can even take place in the same location with the same caregivers.

When the processes are separated, there may be some time between detox and treatment. For an individual early in recovery, the time right after detox is when drug cravings are often very strong. The individual’s body craves the drug to feel normal and to make the uncomfortable symptoms go away. Even just a one-day break in the treatment journey could lead to a relapse and possibly a drug overdose. For these reasons, it’s ideal to have detox and treatment connected seamlessly.

How to Find Help

Remember, you’re not alone. The personal, customized care available at Michael’s House can enable you to start a beautiful new life without drugs. There is always hope, and you can live a fulfilling, healthy life. Call us now at 760-548-4032, and our admissions coordinators can help you figure out the best next step for you to move forward in your recovery.

By Jim Woods


1Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 12, 2017.

2 “Treatment of Addiction.” Psychology Today, December 12th, 2017.