What is Sub-Acute Medical Detox and When is it Needed?

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Recovery often begins with the process of detoxification, or detox. For most individuals entering treatment, sub-acute medical detox is needed because it does not require immediate attention and intense medical care – the risk of developing severe symptoms is low. Sub-acute medical detox generally occurs in a residential detox facility, intensive outpatient program (IOP), urgent care center, or doctor’s office. Ensuring you have the proper care while undergoing detox can help you cope with withdrawal symptoms and avoid any potentially fatal effects. 

What is Sub-Acute Medical Detox?

Detoxification (detox) is the first step to recovery – it helps the body remove the harmful toxins inside it due to substance abuse. There are two kinds of detox, acute and sub-acute. Acute detox is for critical cases where the individual is in a potentially life-threatening condition. On the other hand, sub-acute detox is for individuals that are not in critical condition and are at risk for only mild withdrawal symptoms. 

Sub-acute detox does not require around the clock monitoring, meaning that it typically occurs in an outpatient setting. Occasional monitoring must take place to ensure the patient is safe and detoxing correctly. This form of detox allows the patient to have more freedom than if they were undergoing acute detox. The treatment may take anywhere from hours, days, or weeks. 

Factors that Impact Withdrawal

The type of detox you need to undergo depends on a variety of factors specific to you, your addiction, your body, your mental state, and your environment. The more severe your overall circumstances are, the more challenging your withdrawal will be. Factors that influence your withdrawal symptoms and detox include:

  • Your age
  • How long you have been using
  • The substance you have been consuming
  • Medical history
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Your motivation
  • The amount of support you have
  • Any drug allergies
  • Policies and procedures specific to the treatment center where the detox is taking place
  • Local laws concerning treatment 

Timeline of Detoxification

Your detox and withdrawal experience will be different than other people’s because each varies on a case by case basis. Symptoms and timelines depend on you, your genetics, how long you have been using, the method of consumption, the amount of consumption, and which drug you were using. 


Withdrawing from Xanax, Valium, or Ativan will typically have symptoms occurring between 1-4 days after your last use. The peak will happen within two weeks after your last use. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sweating, headaches, nausea, insomnia, muscle pain, hand tremors, panic attacks, psychotic episodes, and seizures.


Heroin withdrawal symptoms will generally start after 12 hours, with the peak of the symptoms occurring around a day or two after last use. The withdrawal process should take a minimum of one week, but it is possible for it to last months at a time. Symptoms that may be experienced include muscle spasms, depression, shaking, abdominal pain, irritability, nausea, nervousness, and cravings.


Withdrawal symptoms from marijuana will typically begin one day after your last use. Cravings, fever, chills, and stomach pains may be experienced between two and three days after the last use. You may even have severe anxiety, panic attacks, or nausea. 


Withdrawal symptoms after quitting cocaine will start within hours of your last dose. The peak will occur after a couple of days, and the process will end anywhere from one to ten weeks. Symptoms may include depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, exhaustion, inability to concentrate, tremors, nerve pain, and intense appetite. 


Detoxing from Vicodin, Morphine, OxyContin, or Methadone will usually have you experiencing withdrawal symptoms after 8-12 hours. The peak will occur between 12 to 48 hours after your last use, with the overall process happening over five to ten days. However, withdrawing from Methadone may take anywhere from two to four weeks, with the peak occurring between one and two days. Symptoms of withdrawal include flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose, chills, yawning, muscle aches, diarrhea, sweating, stomach cramps, irritability, nausea, and vomiting. 

What to do After Detox

Following your detoxification, you should enroll in a treatment program that is long term to help you manage and cope with the psychological aspects of your addiction. Detox is not a cure for addiction, but it is just the beginning of your healing journey. Detox helps you heal your body’s physical aspects, but recovery cannot be achieved without treating the mental and psychological parts. Talk to your doctor or counselor about finding the right program for you.

The first step of recovery is detoxing your body of the harmful toxins that are in it as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. Depending on your circumstance, you will either need acute or sub-acute detox. Acute detox is for more critical, life-threatening cases, while sub-acute detox is for individuals who do not pose a high risk of developing severe withdrawal symptoms. Sub-acute detox typically takes place inside a treatment facility, doctor’s office, or urgent care center. The timeline of your withdrawal will differ depending on what substance you were addicted to. For example, opiates’ withdrawal will be different from cocaine, just as the two will be different from marijuana withdrawal. Talking with your doctor or medical staff will put you in the best position to prepare for a detox experience. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we offer sub-acute detox. If you feel sub-acute detox is right for you or a loved one, call us at 866-DETOX-25

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