This procedure is best conducted under the watchful eye of an healthcare giver (medical detox), because it can be painful and dangerous. Medical detox safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal. For example, when a person withdraws from alcohol dependence, in a small proportion of cases he or she may experience delirium (the DTs); seizures, nausea, rapid heartrate, tremors and other symptoms.

Doctors may prescribe medicines to make the detoxification process safer and easier. They may gradually reduce the amount of the addictive substance until the person has completely withdrawn. Or they may have the patient take a medical substitute for the addictive substance (such as methadone for people addicted to heroin). At the same time, the doctor can make overall assessments that will be useful as a treatment plan is established.

Years ago, people equated detoxification with rehabilitation; some mistakenly maintain this belief today. But detoxification does not have any impact on the fundamental psychological, social and physical aspects of addiction.

"Detoxification is the initial stage that allows a person to stay clean," says Dr. Nora Volkow of National Institute on Drug Abuse. "But that's just the beginning of the road. And then the rest is what we're going to call treatment and recovery - that process by which the person who has been addicted is reintegrated into society without the need of drugs."

~National Institute of Drug Abuse