What Is the Difference Between Detox and Rehab?

Published by Raffa Bari | Last updated: 23rd September 2022


Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Olalekan Otulana (Advanced Practitioner)

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All information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.
Last Reviewed: 2nd August 2022

What Is the Difference Between Detox and Rehab?Breaking free from addiction can be extremely difficult without the right professional help in place.

Long-term use of drugs and alcohol can lead to both physical and psychological dependency, causing long-term changes in brain chemistry and a compulsion to continue using the substance even when the person knows there may be negative consequences.

Chronic substance misuse can also lead to you building up a tolerance, meaning you need more and more for the same effect and could lead to a range of physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when the substance is removed or drastically reduced.

In short, addiction is a highly complex condition with multiple elements, characteristics and effects on the person involved.

Treating addiction is also complex and all of these elements must be addressed to give the addict the best chance of making a full and long-lasting recovery. Detox and rehab can both play vital parts in this process.


What is a Detox Centre?

Detoxification, commonly known as just detox, is the process during which your system metabolises the elements of drugs or alcohol already in your system.

Sometimes this can be from decades of abuse. Over time, the brain, body and nervous system can come to rely on the chemicals provided by substance misuse in a variety of ways. When they are suddenly removed, you are likely to experience strong cravings and may also suffer withdrawal symptoms that can be very unpleasant and sometimes potentially dangerous.

A detox centre or detox clinic is a place where the process of detoxification can be undergone in a controlled and medically supervised setting.


What is a Rehab Centre?

Rehabilitation, or rehab, refers to a set of interventions needed when a person is experiencing limitations in everyday functioning.

In terms of addiction rehab, this means a holistic programme that aims to address all the various elements of the addiction and substance misuse. This can include detox as part of the overall process but also goes beyond dealing with physical dependency.

A rehab treatment programme will also incorporate a range of therapies that will help you to explore the root causes of the addiction and develop the knowledge, strategies and techniques you will need to remain clean and sober going forward.

A rehab centre generally refers to a facility that offers residential in-patient rehab. That means that you stay on the premises as a resident while working through the treatment programme.


The Differences Between Detox and Rehab

Detox deals directly with the process of detoxification as outlined above. This can include not only the initial period where the physical elements of drugs and alcohol are metabolised, but also the immediate aftermath.

The physical chemicals may be gone within hours, but withdrawal symptoms can last for a lot longer. Detox does not go beyond this period though or delve into therapies and counselling. Detox clinics specialise in managing the detoxification process and will generally then discharge the patient or client.

Rehab, on the other hand, can incorporate every aspect of addiction treatment. In most cases, this will include a detox but will also include a range of therapies and other treatments aimed at addressing the psychological aspects of the addiction.

These can include proven psychological techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), group therapy and one-to-one counselling. You will also learn relapse prevention techniques and may be offered complementary and well-being therapies such as art and music therapy, meditation, mindfulness, stress and sleep therapy, workshops on nutrition and more.

The overall aim is to present a holistic package that treats mind, body and soul and adopting a healthier lifestyle can help you to maintain your recovery moving forward. The main period of rehab can also be followed by structured aftercare sessions.

So while detox is an essential part of recovery in its own right, it is only a part of the treatment and recovery process. Rehab, meanwhile, refers to a wider treatment programme that could actually incorporate a period of supervised detoxification. In other cases people attend rehab having not used drugs or alcohol for a while, allowing them to move straight onto the therapeutic parts of rehab.


Do you need both detox and rehab? 

Detoxification is certainly an essential part of the recovery as at some point you have to actually stop using drugs or alcohol. Not everyone suffers notable withdrawal symptoms and some definitely have an easier time of it than others. It is, therefore, possible to begin recovery without undergoing supervised detox but it is certainly not recommended.

This is because it is difficult to know who might suffer particularly badly and the other option – suffering through it alone or going ‘cold turkey’ – can be dangerous. You are also far more likely to give in to the temptation of alleviating cravings and any withdrawal symptoms by obtaining more drugs or alcohol.

The chances of suffering withdrawal symptoms and the form that they take can depend on a number of factors, including the heaviness and duration of use and the type of substance involved. Despite the fact that it is a legal drug, for example, alcohol withdrawal can be particularly unpleasant and dangerous.

Detox is an important part of recovery and managing this period and the subsequent withdrawal symptoms can provide a platform from which to continue on to the therapeutic parts of rehab. It is only a part of the overall process though. Getting clean or sobering up on its own is not generally enough; you also need to develop the tools and techniques you need to remain that way.

This is where the other elements of rehab come in. Techniques like CBT can help to change the way you think and behave around drugs and alcohol while counselling sessions can help you to explore the root causes of your substance misuse.

Raffa Bari

Raffa Bari - Author Last updated: 23rd September 2022

CQC Registered Manager

Raffa manages the day to day caring services here at Cassiobury Court. Dedicated to the treatment and well being of our visitors she is an outstanding mental health coach registered with BAAT (British Association of Art Therapists). Raffa has outstanding experience in managing rehabs across the country and is vastly experienced at helping people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.

Dr. Olalekan Otulana (Advanced Practitioner)

Dr. Olalekan Otulana (Advanced Practitioner) - Medical Reviewer - Last Reviewed: 2nd August 2022

Dr. Olalekan Otulana MBChB, DRCOG, MRCGP, DFSRH, FRSPH, MBA (Cantab)

 Dr Otulana is a highly experienced GP and Addiction Physician. He has a specialist interest in Substance Misuse Management and he has a wide range of experience in the assessment, management (including detoxification) and residential rehabilitation of clients with various drug and substance addiction problems.  His main aim is to comprehensively assess patients with addiction problems and determine their treatment needs for medical detoxification treatments and psychological interventions. He is also experienced in managing patients who require dual drug and alcohol detoxification treatments.

A strong healthcare services professional with a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree from Cambridge University Judge Business School.