Drug and alcohol addictions require detoxification as a starting point to rehabilitation, so eliminating substances from the body is the first step.

Withdrawal time and symptoms vary by drug type and can be very unpleasant, and even dangerous, if not medically monitored. Specifically, addictions to alcohol, sedative-hypnotics (such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates), and opioids necessitate withdrawal medications and close supervision of a physician because quitting these substances “cold turkey” can be life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms from opioids and stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine, while not life-threatening, can be particularly uncomfortable (similar to having a severe and lasting case of the flu). This discomfort may be eased through prescribed and closely-monitored medications so that the suffering of withdrawal does not create a barrier to sobriety.

Detoxification alone, however, does not address the functional, psychological, and social issues tied to addiction, nor does it teach adequate skills for successfully remaining sober. Therefore, once an individual detoxes, other supportive treatment techniques are highly recommended.