Detox vs. Rehab: What’s the Difference?

When you’re ready to begin your recovery from addiction, you’ll find that there are a variety of different terms used within the recovery world. Some you might have heard (for example, chances are you’ve heard the term “rehab” used by friends or news headlines) while some may be new to you (for example, “detox” might not mean much to you at this point.)

Like any new vocabulary, it’s helpful to define what these terms actually mean, and then discuss how they are commonly used in the recovery process. After reading this article, you’ll hopefully feel more confident once you understand the distinction between rehab and detox and why these terms are used to describe different aspects of the recovery process.

So let’s start with the definition of each.

What is Detox?

drug detoxDetox is short for detoxification, which refers to the process that a person struggling with addiction requires to cleanse their brain and body of addictive substances.

Typically, detox is a necessary first step before enrolling in an addiction treatment program. Because addictive substances actually change the way the brain works, including altering a person’s mood, memory, cognitive abilities, and decision making, it’s critical that an individual does not enter a treatment program under the influence of any substances. This cleansing period is also vital for the individual’s physical health as they seek sobriety.

The detox process guides individuals through withdrawal, which is the process in which the brain and body adjust to a new baseline “normal” in the absence of addictive substances. Because the brain has become habituated to the presence of addictive substances in the body, the withdrawal process can be uncomfortable. Typical withdrawal symptoms include flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, sweating, headache, and malaise.

In some cases, such as benzodiazepine or alcohol addiction, the withdrawal process can actually be life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal, for example, can lead to a condition known as delirium tremens, which produces intense confusion and weakness and can lead to coma or death.

Depending on the drug, withdrawal symptoms can begin as little as hours and as long as days after the last usage. The severity of withdrawal can also vary depending on the drug used, although individuals should never manage withdrawal in isolation.

Other common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation or willpower
  • Confusion
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
  • Joint or bone pain
  • Aches and muscle cramps

Unfortunately, some people in early recovery try to manage the withdrawal process on their own, which can lead to medical complications. Instead, individuals undergoing withdrawal should always seek out the assistance of an addiction treatment or medical professional who can provide detox services. Many treatment providers can help connect their clients to a safe, reputable medically-supervised detox program, allowing individuals to go through withdrawal in a controlled and professional environment. In these programs, a dedicated medical team oversees the person in withdrawal, checking their vital signs, keeping them comfortable, and even administering medication when appropriate.

While it is a very important first step, detox alone is not addiction treatment. Detox helps remove addictive substances from the body but does not help an individual learn to understand, manage, or cope with their addiction. While undergoing detox is important for successful addiction treatment, it is not a substitute for treatment itself.

What is Drug Rehab?

Rehab, or rehabilitation, is a commonly-used term that refers to the multiple different levels of addiction treatment available to individuals seeking to recover from substance use.

For example, you may have heard about a celebrity who attended rehab. While this tells us that they sought help for an addiction-related issue, it doesn’t specify which level or type of treatment they actually received.

In general, “rehab” encompasses two main types of treatment: inpatient and outpatient. Since everyone’s addiction experience is unique, there is no set rule that determines whether an individual should attend inpatient or outpatient treatment. Instead, it is best for anyone seeking treatment to have a candid conversation with an addiction treatment professional to better understand their options.

Rehab takes place after an individual has completed their detox process, allowing them to better learn and process their addiction and the behaviors they need to change. Individuals need to be free of drugs and alcohol before they begin the rehab process.

  • In general, inpatient rehab consists of addiction treatment conducted at a residential facility, where individuals both live and receive treatment. This allows individuals to make deep connections to their peers in recovery and to easily concentrate on their recovery journey in a distraction-free environment. But residential treatment does mean more time spent away from family, friends, and work or school commitments.
  • Outpatient rehab typically consists of multiple tiers of recovery programs that center around daily or weekly in-person treatment at an addiction treatment program. With outpatient treatment, an individual can live at home or a sober living facility and can spend more time with family, friends, and at work or school. Yet outpatient treatment may not be the right fit for an individual who is just beginning their addiction recovery and needs higher levels of support.

Whether outpatient or inpatient, most addiction treatment programs include some of the following features:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • 12-step groups or other peer support groups
  • Life skills training
  • Group activities and sober adventures
  • Holistic therapy (art, music, or equine therapy)
  • Case management support for employment, educational, or legal concerns
  • Family therapy

It’s critical to choose an addiction treatment program that matches your needs, goals, and addiction experience. Make sure you fully understand each program’s unique approach before enrolling. If their recovery approach doesn’t match your goals and needs, look elsewhere until you find a program that is the right fit for you.

Is Detox Required to Attend Rehab?

The vast majority of recovery programs recommend individuals attend a detox program prior to beginning treatment. As mentioned above, addiction changes the brain’s pathways and alters key brain functions like memory, concentration, and decision making. As a result, addiction treatment will be ineffective if an individual continues taking addictive substances during recovery.

For some individuals who are seeking support for their ongoing sobriety, such as an outpatient or aftercare program, detox may not be necessary. But each case should be decided in conjunction with an addiction treatment professional who can assess the situation, the risk level, and the steps needed to sustain recovery.

If an individual relapses after addiction treatment, they may need to complete another round of detox before re-enrolling in treatment. This isn’t an indication that recovery has failed or is impossible. Instead, a relapse is an opportunity to reassess what is working and what is not working in an individual’s recovery process.

How Should I Choose a Detox Program?

Unlike addiction treatment programs, many detox providers don’t advertise directly to the public. Instead, they partner with addiction treatment programs to help their clients safely undergo withdrawal and enter treatment. Some detox providers are hospital-based, allowing individuals to undergo withdrawal in a medical setting, while others work in home-like settings or residential treatment facilities.

It’s important to ensure that your detox program is supervised by medical professionals with experience in addiction medicine. If you’re considering enrolling in an addiction treatment program, ask if they can refer you to a detox program. If they can, ask for the credentials and experience of the detox providers. Reputable providers should have licensed medical staff with a background in addiction treatment. If you’re not comfortable with the detox referral process, find a different addiction treatment program for a referral.

Where Can I Ask Questions About Treatment?

If you’re still not sure about how the recovery process should work, don’t worry. Addiction treatment programs understand that addiction recovery can be daunting and intimidating and are here to help. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or send a message to help better understand your options and make the right choice for you.

Our admissions team here at BlueCrest Recovery has extensive experience helping individuals prepare for their recovery. You can call us anytime at 888.292.9652.

Related Posts

You guys care, you really do. This isn’t just a machine.

I feel like I’ve found somebody that was long lost and I’m still finding that person, and it’s a journey that I’m welcoming. I’ve gotten my life back and I’ve gotten my soul back.

Speak to an addiction specialist now

No commitment or obligation. All calls are kept 100% confidential.