How Long Does Drug Detox Take?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 25 million Americans over 12 years of age used an illicit drug in the month before the 2011 survey. This means that almost 10 percent of the population over the age of 12 could be classified as a current drug user. This number is starting, because addiction has serious mental, physical, interpersonal, professional, and legal consequences.

Drugs and alcohol change the way the brain functions. When someone takes one of these substances, their brain releases a flood of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, resulting in feelings of relaxation and euphoria. These sensations are known as high. With continued abuse of these substances, a person’s brain changes, causing dependency and tolerance. Both dependency and tolerance are key components of addiction.

Once someone is dependent on drugs or alcohol, they will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking the substance. Withdrawal symptoms are sometimes so unpleasant that a person might return to drug or alcohol use as a way to avoid them. However, returning to substance abuse, also known as relapsing, can be dangerous and it does not help a person overcome addiction.

Drug detox can help patients manage their withdrawal symptoms before moving on to the next stage of recovery. Many people want to know, “How long does it take to detox from drugs?” The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including the type of substance that a person is addicted to. By understanding how long detox takes, individuals, can prepare for the detox process.

Drug Withdrawal Timeline

Part of the detoxification process is having to deal with withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms occur when someone stops taking a substance that their body and mind have come to rely on. These unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, symptoms include both physical and psychological symptoms that vary depending on the type of substance the person has become dependent on. The withdrawal timeline also varies based on the type of substance used. The body absorbs and retains different drugs for different amounts of time. Some substances may leave the body more quickly than others, causing withdrawal symptoms to appear within hours of the last dose.

The length and severity of withdrawal symptoms tend to vary from person to person. In addition to the type of substance, some factors that influence the intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms include the method of consumption (injecting, smoking, snorting, or swallowing), the dosage, the length of abuse, the person’s family history, and the person’s overall mental and physical health.

Take the following example of two people. The first person has injected large doses of heroin for several years on a regular basis. They have underlying mental health issues and a family history of addiction. The second person has taken a significantly smaller dose of heroin for a much shorter period of time. They also have no co-existing mental health disorders and no family history of addiction. Of these two people, the first person is much more likely than the second to experience intense withdrawal symptoms for a longer period of time.

The Drug Detox Process

Although it may be possible to detox from some substances at home, it is helpful to undergo some form of medically supervised detox to make withdrawal safer and more manageable. There are a number of options available for drug detox, both inpatient and outpatient. Additionally, there are many approaches to detox, including medical detox and naturopathic detox.

Patients have the option to undergo outpatient or inpatient detox at a drug and alcohol treatment center. The benefit of selecting an inpatient detox program is that the person will have access to 24/7 medical monitoring and support in a temptation-free environment. Doctors can also devise a schedule to slowly wean the patient off of the substance they’re addicted to.

Inpatient treatment is often best for patients who have been unable to complete the detox process in the past. It is also recommended for people who are detoxing from drugs with more dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Someone who is addicted to alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids should always undergo medical detox to ensure that they can safely get these substances out of their body.

With the most severe withdrawal symptoms, inpatient detox in a hospital setting may be the best option. Certain substances can produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like seizures, high blood pressure, fever, and an erratic heart rate. When these symptoms occur, hospitalization may be the best way to keep patients safe and comfortable.

How Long Does Cocaine Detox Take?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that quickly enters and leaves the bloodstream. Although cocaine can increase a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature, many people take the drug because it results in euphoria, feelings of high self-confidence, and heightened energy levels. A cocaine high is short-lived, but the drug is still very addictive.

There are two forms of cocaine. The first type is a powdered form that people can inject, smoke, or snort. The second form is crack cocaine, a rock formation of the substance that people typically smoke. Of all of these methods of consumption, injecting, and smoking the drug tends to produce more intense highs and faster crashes.

When it comes to cocaine detox, a person can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms in three phases. The initial crash period occurs nine hours to four days after the last dose of the drug. Symptoms during this time include agitation, depression, excessive sleeping, and increased appetite. The next stage is the acute withdrawal period and it lasts for one to three weeks. During this time, the person experiences anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and drug cravings. The final stage is the extinction period, which lasts for several months and involves depression and cravings for cocaine.

Since the withdrawal symptoms from cocaine are primarily psychological, they are not considered life-threatening. However, a patient should receive psychological support during the detox and recovery process to manage drug cravings and other psychological symptoms.

How Long Does Heroin Detox Take?

People who are addicted to heroin start taking the drug because it produces feelings of euphoria. Heroin is a very addictive substance that takes effect very soon after a person takes it. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 517,000 people abused heroin in 2013.

When a person stops taking heroin, the withdrawal symptoms they experience tend to include psychological and physical, flu-like symptoms that come in two stages. During the early stage, people experience agitation, anxiety, insomnia, muscle aches, runny nose, sweating, watery eyes, and yawning. The late stage of withdrawal symptoms includes abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chills, and dilated pupils.

Heroin tends to leave the body rapidly, so people who are detoxing from heroin experience withdrawal symptoms within 12 hours of their last dose. These symptoms often peak at 24 to 48 hours, but they can last anywhere from one week to a few months.

How Long Does Prescription Painkiller Detox Take?

Prescription painkillers are prescribed by a physician to treat severe pain after an injury or surgery. Like heroin, prescription painkillers produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. These addictive opioid drugs are also problematic because 1.8 million Americans struggle with an addiction to prescription painkillers like OxyContin, methadone, and morphine.

The symptoms of withdrawal from prescription painkillers tend to mimic the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. At first, a person will experience agitation, anxiety, insomnia, muscle aches, and sweating. Later in the withdrawal process, they will experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and chills.

When someone is detoxing from prescription painkillers, they can start to experience withdrawal symptoms within 8 to 12 hours after their last dose, with the symptoms peaking at 12 to 48 hours. These withdrawal symptoms typically only last 5 to 10 days. However, methadone follows a slightly different timeline. Methadone withdrawal symptoms start 24 to 48 hours after the last dose, peak within the first few days, and last for two to four weeks.

How Long Does Benzodiazepine Detox Take?

Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are a group of prescription drugs that are used to treat anxiety, panic disorder, and seizures. Sometimes, a doctor might also prescribe benzodiazepines as a muscle relaxant or a sleep aid. Drugs in this class include Ativan, Valium, and Xanax.

Since benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants, they activate gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA). GABA acts as a natural sedative, which makes people feel calm. While this effect is useful for treating certain psychological conditions, it carries the potential for abuse.

When a person detoxes from benzodiazepines, they can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms within one to four days after their last dose. As the brain tries to rebalance itself, GABA levels drop, resulting in anxiety and insomnia during the early stages of withdrawal.

Other symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include difficulty concentrating, headaches, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, irritability, muscle pain, nausea, panic attacks, short-term memory loss, sweating, tension, and tremors. These symptoms typically peak in the first two weeks, but they can last for months or years if the person does not receive proper treatment. This is known as protracted withdrawal, but therapy and psychological counseling can help.

Some people may experience even more serious symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, including delirium, fever, hallucinations, and seizures. These symptoms can be life-threatening because they have the potential to result in a coma or even death. Due to the risk of such dangerous withdrawal symptoms, drug treatment professionals recommend that all patients who are trying to recover from benzodiazepine abuse undergo medically supervised detox.

How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?

Alcohol is the most abused substance in the United States. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), one in every 12 adults struggles with alcohol abuse or addiction. People who have been drinking heavily for a long period of time have the highest risk of experiencing life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

When someone tries to stop using alcohol, the symptoms of withdrawal can range from mild symptoms that resemble a hangover to coma or even death. Approximately, 3 to 5 percent of people will experience the most serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including delirium, fever, hallucinations, seizures, and severe confusion. This group of symptoms is known as delirium tremens (DTs), and they can be fatal without immediate medical intervention. Keep in mind that DTs may not appear until several days after a person’s last drink, making it very important to carefully monitor patients who are detoxing from alcohol.

During the process of detoxing from alcohol, a person will likely experience withdrawal symptoms within eight hours of their last drink. The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms are extensive and include anxiety, dehydration, depression, dizziness, elevated heart rate, fatigue, headache, insomnia, irritability, lack of concentration, loss of appetite, mood swings, muscle aches, nausea, nightmares, shaking, shallow breathing, sweating, and vomiting. A person can expect the physical symptoms to peak within 24 to 72 hours, while the psychological symptoms and cravings for alcohol can last for a few weeks.

Is Detox Enough to Recover From Addiction?

Once someone knows how long it takes to detox from drugs, they can prepare themselves to successfully complete the detox process. It’s important to realize that detox is only the first step in the recovery process. Psychological counseling and ongoing support are also necessary to recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

It can be difficult, and sometimes even dangerous, to deal with withdrawal symptoms alone. The River Source treatment center offers a holistic approach to treating withdrawal symptoms and addiction. Our drug and alcohol treatment professionals provide behavioral and pharmacological therapies in a supportive environment to help patients detox. After the detox program, each patient begins counseling to learn new coping strategies, before leaving the center with a long-term care plan to help them stay clean and sober for life.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, The River Source can help. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to treating addiction and how we help patients overcome the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.

About the Author

Director of Marketing and Admissions

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