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Teen Drug Detox

Drug detoxification for teens can be painful, but it's the crucial first step toward living a sober life. If your teen is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it's time to start thinking about rehab, where a detox professional can help them kickstart their path to recovery.


12 min read

What Is Drug Detox?

Detoxification, commonly called detox for short, is the process of flushing toxic substances from the body. Detox is the first step of addiction treatment, helping to rid the person’s body of drugs or alcohol. While the human body can accomplish detoxification naturally over time, drug treatment centers may administer certain medications to facilitate this process.

alcohol withdrawal symptoms facts

During addiction, the body builds up a tolerance for the abused substance and the nervous system and hormonal system are affected. During detoxification, the body returns back to normal, but this process can be slow and painful — physically and psychologically — for substance abusers. A teen addicted to drugs or alcohol is not encouraged to undergo detox without help because the early weeks of detox are when relapse, or returning to drug abuse, is most likely to occur.

There are two main reasons for this:

  • Withdrawal – When a person decides to quit using drugs, their body may experience symptoms of drug withdrawal. Withdrawal is the body and mind’s reaction to not receiving a fix for their addiction. Symptoms include vomiting, headaches, restlessness, crippling depression, anxiety, and tremors. Some of these side effects are so painful addicts would rather return to abusing addictive substances rather than continue to experience these symptoms.
  • Temptation – Even if a teen says they want to get clean, the task can be easier said than done. In their normal environment, teens are surrounded by temptations every day — surrounded by friends, invited to parties and within reach of their drug source. While parents and teachers can monitor a teen’s behavior sometimes, there’s only so much they can do. For teens, indulging in their addiction can often outweigh their desire to get clean.

Medically Assisted Detox

Medically assisted detox is very common and may be helpful for your child as they try to begin recovery. Research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows almost 80% of the treatment facilities used medications during detox in 2014. These medications can help temper the symptoms of withdrawal, decrease cravings and associated relapse, and treat co-occurring disorders.

For example, some drugs used opioid detox are:

  • Methadone (Dolophine and Methadose)
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone and Subutex)
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Some drugs used to detox from alcohol are:

  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)

How Does Drug Detox Work?

Detoxification, as defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is broken down into three essential components. Depending on the service your teen receives, these may take place concurrently or as a series of steps.

These components are:

  • Evaluation – When the patient’s physical and mental conditions are assessed, and the concentration of substances in the body is measured so doctors can determine the appropriate level of treatment during and after detox.
  • Stabilization – Assisting the patient through their intoxication and withdrawal until they reach a medically-stable, substance-free state. This component also entails familiarizing patients with their role in treatment and recovery, and reaching out to friends, family and employers for possible assistance.
  • Fostering the Patient’s Entry into Treatment – In the final stretch of detox, doctors will stress the importance of following through with a complete treatment program, which may involve a written (but not legally binding) “contract” where the patient agrees to pursue continuing care until they get better.

Detox is only a step in the substance abuse treatment process. Your teen may want to leave treatment following detox, but doctors and addiction counselors recommend addicts stay in treatment for at least 30 days so the patient can begin therapy and start learning sober life skills.

drug detox withdrawal facts

How Long Does Drug Detox Take?

Detox can take from a few days to two weeks — depending on the substance your teen abused and how long they abused it for. Withdrawal symptoms may start as soon as a few hours after quitting the drugs or alcohol. If your teen relapses and returns to drugs or alcohol they will have to start the process again from the beginning.

Various factors that influence the length of detox include:

  • The substance being used
  • If the teen was abusing/addicted to more than one drug at once
  • How heavily the substance was used
  • How long the substance was used
  • The teen’s height, weight and diet
  • The teen’s physiology (e.g. metabolism, etc.)
  • If co-occurring disorders are discovered
  • Whether or not medications are used during detox

Once your teen begins detox, it’s crucial to see it through to completion. Avoiding the severe withdrawal symptoms that stem from pulling out of detox too soon is one of the ways to prevent relapse. Encouragement from your family will go a long way in motivating your teen through detox. Being involved in your teen’s life can play a huge role in their recovery from addiction. It can potentially be an excruciating experience, and during the worst of it, they may feel like they can’t get through it. Remind them how much they are loved, and how an amazing life awaits them once they overcome their addiction.

How Much Does Detox Cost?

The cost of detox depends on the facility and how long the patient stays. Often, inpatient rehab facilities will factor the cost of detox into their average treatment costs, which can be upwards of $1,000.

Rehab cost — including detox and whatever treatment is to follow — depends on a number of factors like:

  • Location
  • Type of facility
  • Experience of the staff
  • If the detox involves the use of medications
  • How much supervision the teen requires
  • Length of detox

If your family needs help paying for rehab, insurance may cover some or all of your child’s treatment. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, it’s now federal policy that all insurance plans cover addiction treatment. To what extent and how much your family may be responsible for paying out of pocket varies based insurance policy.

If you do not have insurance, or if your coverage plan requires you to pay a large sum out of pocket, many detox and rehab facilities offer payment plans. You may also consider asking friends or family for a loan to cover the costs of treatment. Or, you can talk with the clinic’s financial advisor to discuss your teen’s options for rehab.

Detox and rehab can be expensive, but it’s crucial your teen get the professional help required to turn their life around. It’s better to ask for help in paying for detox than to leave your child to get clean on their own. The consequences of addiction are endless, and a proper detox is essential for any hope of a full recovery.

Preparing for Detox

Detox is the first step on the long road to sobriety, and those who doesn’t continue with addiction treatment or rehab following detox rarely find success in managing their addiction. It’s most important that your teen and your family understand detox is the first phase of treatment, which is a long process and can take several months to a year in a rehab facility to complete. Your family must be prepared for this time commitment in order to fully help your teen.

Your family doctor can also help prepare you for detox. Your doctor can evaluate your teen and make recommendations on next steps, from a thorough drug detox to — if necessary — a stint at inpatient drug rehab for teenagers. They may also refer you to a treatment center they believe works best for your child.

Knowing you’re not alone can also be a key psychological element of preparing for detox. In 2009, more than 9% of people aged 12 and older needed treatment for a substance problem — nearly 24 million in the U.S. Teens aged 12–17 made up 7.5% of the patients admitted to treatment programs in 2008, but only a portion of the kids who need treatment and a supervised detox will ever receive it.

Your family will also need to tie up loose ends before admitting your teen into detox and rehab. This involves informing the teen’s school and work of their upcoming absence. Depending on your teen’s activities, you may also want to inform a church leader, athletic coach, tutor or group of friends as well. As a parent, you may also find it helpful to talk with close friends or family about your teen’s detox so they can provide emotional support.

When selecting a detox and rehab facility, it’s important to take a tour, if you can, and ask questions about the facility’s rules, policies and procedures.

You may ask questions like:

  • What’s a typical day in detox like?
  • What can and can’t my child do during detox?
  • Will they be required to adhere to a special diet?
  • Are loved ones allowed to visit?
  • Which medications might be prescribed?
  • Who will be administering these medications, and what are their credentials?
  • What happens after detox?
  • What happens if my teen relapses?
  • Will the detox and treatment plan be different if my child has been in rehab before?

Having detox professionals answer your questions will help your teen prepare for what’s to come in detox. Often, the process is physically painful and they may feel discomfort. If you choose to enroll your child in an inpatient treatment program, medical staff will be available to ease your teen through these pains, possibly with help of medications. If you choose to have your child undergo this process during outpatient drug rehabilitation, it’s important you as a caretaker get all of the facts about detox, what your teen will be going through and how to help them.

If your teen chooses inpatient detox, they will need to pack. Detox and any rehabilitation that may follow can take weeks or months, so teens should pack several changes of casual clothes, and include toiletries they will require.

pouring glass of alcohol at club

Drug Detox Symptoms

When your child goes through detoxification, they will likely experience symptoms of drug withdrawal, a set of symptoms associated with the body’s readjustment to functioning without drugs in its system. These symptoms are physical as well as psychological.

Some physical symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

Some psychological symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

The Detox Process

The drug detox process is multi-layered, and varies in intensity depending on the type of treatment required. Beginning with a medical intervention to combat the physical dependence to a drug and ending with any treatments for an acute overdose, each version of the process has its merits and disadvantages.

Inpatient Drug Detox

If you choose to enroll in an inpatient detox program, your teen will take up residence at the treatment facility or hospital. While living there, they will have access to 24/7 medical attention, be immersed in a sober environment, and will be able to interact with other recovering adolescents. During this time your child may experience painful withdrawal symptoms, which facility staff can soothe using proven techniques or by using medication. In a professional rehab setting, the constant supervision of a medical staff can minimize the risk of a teen returning to their addiction because of withdrawal or temptations.

Outpatient Drug Detox

If your family chooses outpatient drug rehabilitation, your teen will live at home while receiving treatment. Outpatient programs vary — some teens can maintain a normal routine going to school and work while participating in outpatient programming, while others travel to a treatment facility daily and merely return home for sleeping. Outpatient detox patients typically experience constant drug testing and will likely follow a prescription regimen. Outpatient programs are typically recommended for less severe cases of addiction and withdrawal.

Rapid Drug Detox

A relatively new drug detox process, rapid drug detox compresses the weeks of withdrawal and detox into a matter of hours. Rapid drug detox patients are put under anesthesia in a hospital intensive care unit while the procedure happens. During the detox, the patient’s body is flooded with medicines that remove the drugs from the nerves. Simultaneously, the patient is also given medications like naltrexone that block the brain’s craving for the addictive substance. This process is expensive — costing roughly $15,000.

Stepped Rapid Drug Detox

Stepped rapid detox slows down the rapid drug detox process. Under this model, the patient remains awake during the procedure. This allows the patient to take the detoxification medication orally rather than intravenously, which allows the drugs to slowly enter the system. Because the patient is awake they are also able to communicate their withdrawal symptoms to doctors, who can then administer additional medications accordingly. Some prefer stepped detox to rapid detox because it is less expensive (around $5,000 in some clinics) and is less dangerous because it doesn’t put the patient under general anesthesia.

Ultra Rapid Detox

Similar to rapid detox, ultra rapid detox involves administering detoxification drugs intravenously. Doctors use the drug naltrexone for this procedure, which accelerates detox into full effect in a matter of minutes. Withdrawal symptoms during this procedure are quite severe and can be very painful, so the patient is put under general anesthesia. Because of this, ultra rapid detox can be very expensive and also poses medical risks.

handing a needle to a person

After Detox

Much like a journey of a thousand miles that begins with a single step, detox is the first huge step in your teen’s recovery. Detox may physically free your teen’s body from their substance abuse, but addiction is also mental and will require time in therapy to fully treat. Your teen should start the therapeutic phase of rehab as soon as detox is over.

Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows most addicts need at least three months in drug treatment to make headway against substance use disorder. As a parent, it’s important you encourage your teen to stay in rehab so they can get well before reentering a world full of temptation. You can also prevent relapse by working closely with the staff at your rehab facility to map out a prevention plan. Each teen’s rehab program is personalized to fit their case.

Most rehab plans will involve a combination of:

  • Therapy
  • Counseling
  • Medication
  • Behavior management
  • Aftercare, like 12-step programs
  • Transitional Living (i.e. sober housing)

When choosing treatment options, also be sure to ask about academic support. Most adolescent rehab centers will have some kind of educational program so your teen can keep up with their schooling. It’s also important during this time to investigate any possible co-occurring disorders your teen may be experiencing, which can often lead to substance abuse and may prohibit your child from fully recovering. Stand by their side and work as a team in conquering their substance problem.

Detox is the first step. Together, you can help your teen get through this.


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