Why Drug Detox Isn’t Enough


If you’re like many who want to quit using drugs or alcohol, you might believe that abstaining is enough to assure a lifetime of happiness, or at least sobriety. If only it were that simple.

Your Brain on Drugs and Alcohol

Alcohol and drugs don’t just make you feel high or drunk — they also affect certain chemicals and processes in your brain. Chemical dependency is why you feel anxious, nauseous or sick when you try to quit using cold turkey.

As your brain adjusts to sobriety, it is forced to start releasing these powerful chemicals without help from your substance of choice. This process is what can make withdrawal uncomfortable, and why professionally supervised detox can help you feel more relaxed during withdrawal.

Your Brain in Recovery

Luckily, over time, your brain recovers its ability to manage these chemicals on its own. Although detox is a very important step in the journey, it is important to note that it is only the beginning of your recovery process.

Physical & Psychological Symptoms

When you abuse drugs or alcohol, the effects include physical and psychological symptoms — not only physical symptoms. Physical symptoms, can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The psychological symptoms last much longer. People who don’t get treatment for these very serious psychological symptoms, which can include depression and anxiety, can suffer and struggle for years. Because psychological distress is a major factor in substance abuse, getting help for these side effects is essential for avoiding relapse as well as living a happier, more satisfying lifestyle.

There is more. Drug and alcohol abuse negatively affects executive functions that include learning, memory, risk assessment and decision-making skills. These functions “live” in the prefrontal cortex, which sustains tremendous damage when you abuse alcohol or drugs. This is why people who are addicted rarely believe they have a substance abuse problem — the brain is simply unable to comprehend the severity of the problems caused by using or that using has anything to do with the user’s deterioration. At the same time, the midbrain craves the mind-altering substance with growing power. Combine these problems, and you have a recipe for addiction that requires more than detox to overcome.

Uncovering the Issues That Drive Addiction

Detox and behavioral therapies can help you recover from physical withdrawal symptoms, and even practice new behaviors that can help you manage cravings and avoid bad decisions. But without understanding the reasons you became addicted to drugs or alcohol in the first place, you may never know freedom from anxiety, stress, a mental health disorder or past trauma. These emotional problems negatively affect self-esteem. Using will falsely boost self-esteem and confidence. That’s why people who choose a detox-only program often struggle to stay sober. Unfortunately, relapse often leads to a bigger addiction problem than before. It’s also a reason why the longer you use, the more difficult it is to quit.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that:

  • Relapse rates for addiction resemble relapse rates for other chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Individuals who commit to long-term treatment and lifestyle changes are far more likely to avoid relapse.
  • Most people who commit to long-term treatment, including a combination of inpatient and outpatient care, are able to return home and live productive lifestyles. They are also able to improve social and psychological functioning while reducing criminal activity.
  • Individual treatment outcomes depend not only on the status of the user, but also on the depth, suitability and quality of the treatment received.
  • Addiction is a chronic lifelong disease that can be managed successfully with ongoing evaluation and treatment modification when necessary.
  • Up to 60 percent drug users relapse when treatment is not successful.


Individuals who abuse alcohol face similarly challenging, but hopeful, circumstances and statistics:

  • According to Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 percent of its North American members got and stayed sober for 10 years after joining the group. One-third had been sober for five to 10 years. Although another survey summary stated that the majority of AA attendees — 81 percent — left the group within a year, that indicates that those who get and stay in long-term treatment are more likely to stay sober.
  • Alcoholics who also engage in cognitive behavioral therapy are likely to stay sober if they continue treatment — 37%.
  • AA members who joined at the direction of a counselor or program have a 60% chance of staying abstinent, and AA involvement is a “strong predictor of sustained recovery” according to alcohol addiction researcher Sarah Zenmore.


The point? Getting and staying in treatment is a clear factor in getting and staying sober.

Call 12 Keys for More Information

At 12 Keys Rehab, we provide more than professionally supervised detox. Our small program develops customized programs that address every aspect of your recovery. This holistic approach is the one most frequently recommended by medical professionals and professional organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse. At 12 Keys, you can get help with the early symptoms of withdrawal — but you can also get help with the psychological aftereffects, any co-occurring mental health diagnosis, drug and addiction counseling, and post-care planning.

For more information about why you need more than detox, call 12 Keys Rehab now.

The Addiction Blog