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Detox vs. Rehab: What’s the Difference?

Many people are unsure about what they should do when they are ready to take the first step towards recovering from addiction. People are often confused and throw around the words “detox” and “rehab” and do not know or understand what these words really mean. Many people wonder if they need detox or rehab and it is important to know – they are not the same thing. 

What is Drug Detox?

The main goal of drug detox is to return the body to a healthy state. Detox is designed to purge your body of the toxins that have been put into your body. It is aimed at addressing the physical effects of drug and alcohol addiction.

Physical Dependence & Tolerance

Physical dependence occurs when the body adapts to a substance so that it requires more of it to achieve the desired effect. This is called tolerance. When the body no longer has access to the substance, it experiences withdrawal. Signs of withdrawal include tremors, insomnia, nausea, headache, clammy skin, dilated pupils, sweating, irritability, loss of appetite, and difficulty concentrating.

Once your body is free from all drugs, you can begin the rehabilitation/recovery process. However, this is not an easy task. Recovery is usually a long, bumpy road, but a worthwhile one. After a long time of using substances, most people’s bodies will crave what they are no longer receiving. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin sometime after the last use and can be very uncomfortable.

What is Withdrawal?

Most people who begin to feel withdrawal symptoms will begin using again to ease the pain. Depending on what substance you are withdrawing from, it can be life-threatening which is why detoxing in a medical facility is the safest way to detox. Detoxing from alcohol and benzodiazepines can be deadly. A medical professional can prescribe medication to help ease the pain and discomfort from withdrawal symptoms.

A doctor meets with a patient to discuss safe detox procedures.

The detox may only last three to six days but it is an important step on the way to recovery. The duration of the detoxification process depends on factors like:

  • The type of substance used
  • How long you were using the drug
  • How much you were using
  • Underlying physical and mental health conditions
  • Your genetic make-up

The Limitations of Detox

Detox lays the foundation for recovery where the “real” work begins. While detox and rehab are stepping stones to a life without substance use, the detox process does not stop you from using substances again. On the contrary, after going through detox, people are usually at high risk to use again, as the process does very little to help them achieve long-term sobriety. The detox process, followed by a healthy recovery program is what leads to long term sobriety. However, not everyone that goes through detox attends rehab.

Detox Without Long-Term Recovery

Some people will just return to their homes and will not seek any other treatment. This is likely to lead to a quick relapse. Others will opt to attend outpatient care through:

Some will go to rehab for a specific amount of time, such as 30 days. The longer a person has in rehab, followed up with outpatient treatment, the higher the success rate for long term sobriety. Short cuts usually do not work for long term sobriety. 

The Importance of Rehabilitation

So what about rehab? Why is rehabilitation or rehab so important you say? Like stated before, going through a detox program is part of medical necessity to ensure your body has a healthy physical withdrawal from substances while reducing the risk of death. After a detox program, rehabilitation would be the next step to staying sober. Keep in mind, GETTING sober is one thing, STAYING sober is a whole other challenge. 

Rehab is a vital step to help stay sober and learn about the self. In rehab, your body can return to homeostasis or some sort of stability and evenness. Rehab teaches an individual about addiction, coping skills, mental health contribution, and other ins and outs of recovery!

Rehab allows for people to build self confidence because it is a much longer program than detox. Most rehabs can last from 15 days to a few months. On average, most programs provide 20-30 days to build the individual’s self-skills and life management skills before returning to the outside world. 

Understanding Triggers & Developing Strengths

Rehab can help the individual identify triggers to substance use, create a plan, and practice “replacement” behaviors to use in lieu of using substances. Triggers can be identified as anything that would lead to substance use/abuse behavior. For example, this could include clubs, loud music, 6pm after a long day of work, celebration, loss, etc.

A man in recovery meets with his therapist.

After identifying those triggers, the individual will identify their strengths and things they are good at to use to their advantage. If it is difficult for the individual to identify what they like to do and their strengths, the rehab will typically engage the individual in various activities for them to explore their likes and dislikes. These activities could range from care taking, crafting, singing, cooking, writing, music, etc. Identifying strengths in the rehab process could improve the likeliness of staying sober and working in recovery.

The On-Going Recovery Process

Rehabilitation can be viewed as a step in the process and a mental, physical and spiritual reset. When change occurs, it is a process moving from just thinking you have a problem, to considering what to do about it, to seeking information and then taking action.

After taking action through treatment (rehab and outpatient), those in recovery must maintain these “skills” that were initially introduced in rehab to assist in the reset. As you begin to build sobriety, confidence, understanding of yourself, and ways to function in “the real world”, the transition to an outpatient site can occur.

Long-Term Treatment & Aftercare

Your counselor and treatment team will discuss your concerns, reservations and barriers to your transition as you learn to manage life on life’s terms without the use of substances. The rehabilitation team will help you get set up with an aftercare plan that involves where you should go for support, including sober support groups, back to work plans, family issues, and any other concerns on your treatment plan.

Ready to start your journey to life-long sobriety? Learn more about Malvern Treatment Centers addiction treatment programs.

By: Sarah Roberts, MA and Deborah Siderias LCSW, CAADC

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