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Updated on January 6, 2022

How Long Does It Take to Detox?

Detox & Withdrawal Timelines 

Detoxing from drugs or alcohol involves flushing the body of substances and managing withdrawal symptoms.

The process can take anywhere from a few days to several months.

How long detox takes depends on various factors, including:

  • The substance used
  • If multiple substances were abused
  • Frequency of use
  • Quantity of substances used
  • The presence of any mental health conditions
  • Medical history
  • Age
  • Gender

How Long Does it Take to Detox From Alcohol?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs in people who drink heavily (more than 5 to 10 standard drinks per day for many months). 

Moderate or binge drinkers rarely have significant withdrawal symptoms. These include men who drink 15 to 20 standard drinks per week and women who drink 8 to 15 standard drinks per week.

Minor withdrawal symptoms from alcohol abuse typically begin about 6 hours after your last drink. Someone with a long history of heavy drinking could have a seizure 6 hours after stopping drinking.

A small portion of people going through alcohol withdrawal experience hallucinations between 12 to 24 hours after their last drink. They may see or hear things that aren’t there. 

Between 24 to 48 hours after the last drink, minor symptoms, including headaches and tremors, usually continue.

Some people experience a severe type of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTs) between 48 to 72 hours after their last drink. Someone with DTs may develop a very high heart rate or seizures.1

After 72 hours, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are usually at their worst. 

In rare cases, moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms persist for a month. These symptoms may include illusions and a rapid heart rate.

Symptoms may be mild for some people. For others, they may be severe or life-threatening. 

Physical alcohol withdrawal is usually followed by psychological withdrawal, which requires lengthy treatment. Often, recovering alcoholics continue attending support groups for 10 to 20 years or more after they quit drinking.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating tremors
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach

More severe symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • High body temperature
  • Illusions
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures

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How Long Does it Take to Detox From Drugs?

Detox timelines vary depending on the drug:

1. Opioids (Prescription Opiates, Heroin)

Certain opioids cause more persistent and severe withdrawal symptoms than others.

Heroin and short-acting opioid withdrawal symptoms usually show within the first 8 to 12 hours after the last use. These symptoms typically peak within 1 to 3 days and continue for up to 7 days.

Opioid withdrawal can be dangerous, and symptoms may be severe. They include:2

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Yawning
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or mood disturbances
  • Goosebumps on the skin, chills, or sweating 
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea 
  • Muscle cramping or aches and joint pain 
  • Tremors or muscle twitching 
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Blood pressure changes 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Suicidal thoughts

2. Benzodiazepines

Benzo withdrawal symptoms vary in severity. They typically start within 24 hours and may last a few days to several months. This depends on the benzodiazepine used and its half-life (the time it takes the body to clear 1/2 of the blood alcohol level). 

Valium may take 10 to 12 days or more before it’s completely clear from a person's system. Xanax is cleared from the bloodstream in 4 to 5 days for most people.

Not everyone will experience the same symptoms. However, some symptoms are more common than others. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause very serious physical problems for some people, including seizures and heart rhythm problems.

Benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Physical aches and pains
  • Muscle spasms
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • Detachment from reality
  • Depression
  • Delusions

3. Stimulants (Cocaine, Meth, Prescription Drugs)

Usually, stimulant withdrawal symptoms show within a few hours to several days following the last drug use. The most intense symptoms show about a week in.

Some psychological symptoms like depression can persist for weeks or even months after quitting.

Withdrawal from stimulants can be severe. Some people relapse, while others may become suicidal or violent. 

Stimulant withdrawal is characterized by a low mood and the presence of two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Jittery reactions
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Dehydration
  • Dulled senses
  • Slowed speech
  • Loss of interest
  • Slow movements
  • Slow heart rate
  • Irritability 
  • Delusions 
  • Paranoia
  • Tiredness 
  • Depression 
  • Increased appetite 
  • Impaired memory 
  • Weight loss or gaunt appearance 
  • Insomnia
  • Body aches
  • Drug cravings
  • Unpleasant dreams

4. Barbiturates (Sleeping Pills) 

Minor withdrawal symptoms from sleeping pills start around 8 to 12 hours following the last dose.

Major withdrawal symptoms typically develop around 16 hours after the last use. These symptoms can last for approximately 5 days and include delirium or convulsions.

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms, particularly mental and emotional ones, may persist for several months or years.

Sleeping pill withdrawal can be challenging and lethal without proper medical supervision.

Symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal include:

  • Tremors
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Hallucinations 
  • High temperature 
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure 

5. Hallucinogens 

Signs of hallucinogen withdrawal start to show within a couple of days of quitting use. Withdrawal symptoms should last for about a week and gradually subside as time passes.

Symptoms like cravings and depression can continue for a while after. 

After the first week and beyond, depression may remain intense. You might still struggle with symptoms like insomnia and memory issues, but these problems should fade with time.

Psychological withdrawal symptoms can vary in severity and intensity, depending on the type of hallucinogen used.

Withdrawal symptoms from hallucinogens include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Cravings
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Impaired memory
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Lessened attention span
  • Mental confusion 

6. Marijuana

Marijuana withdrawal typically lasts one to two weeks. However, some users experience several weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms. 

One person’s experience of marijuana withdrawal may be quite different from another’s. 

Most people experience withdrawal symptoms within 24 to 72 hours of stopping heavy marijuana use.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are not dangerous or life-threatening. The main concern is that they may cause someone who wants or needs to quit marijuana to relapse.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Feelings of anger
  • Irritability
  • Aggressiveness 
  • Extreme nervousness or anxiety 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A decrease in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Restlessness
  • Tiredness 
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Tremors
  • Shakiness

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How Long Does a Typical Detox Program Last?

The first phase of recovery from addiction is detox. 

Detox programs assist people during physical withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. The time it takes to detox from substances varies from person to person. Programs are usually 3, 5, or 7 days long, followed by 6 to 8 weeks or more of intensive outpatient therapy.

Detoxing isn’t just a matter of stopping ‘cold turkey’ and having willpower. Going through detox without medical help is never recommended. 

In some cases, withdrawal can place lives at risk. Even when the withdrawal isn’t as severe, it’s still a huge challenge.

The two basic options from detox programs are:

  1. Inpatient: You’ll live at a detox clinic, hospital, or rehab center during the process. You’ll have medical care around the clock.
  2. Outpatient: You’ll receive some treatment during the day but will live at home. This program can be as simple as visiting your healthcare professional regularly for medications.

The first step in a medically assisted detox is a comprehensive medical assessment. This helps to build an accurate picture of someone’s needs.

During this assessment, an expert gathers information on a person’s medical history and details about their addiction. They use this information to develop a detox plan. Patients are also given medication as part of the detox process.

There isn’t any medication to prevent all withdrawal symptoms. However, some types of medication can help ease depression and anxiety and promote better sleep. 

Supportive and compassionate care is just as critical as medication for a successful detox. Each person experiencing detox is carefully monitored 24 hours a day during an inpatient program.

What Happens After Detox? 

Following detox, patients usually progress to an alcohol or drug rehab program. They’ll receive intensive psychological therapy.

Alcohol and drug rehab typically occurs as part of a 28-day addiction program. These programs may include talk therapy and support groups to help people reach the road to recovery. 

AA says ‘all you have to do is quit drinking and change your whole life!’

Here are some tips for staying sober:

  • Identify your triggers
  • Recognize relapse warning signs
  • Prepare for post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS)
  • Avoid old routines and habits
  • Build healthy relationships
  • Seek support from friends and family
  • Develop a structured schedule
  • Practice healthy living
  • Focus on your finances
  • Deal with past mistakes
  • Find balance
  • Celebrate milestones

Summary

  • Detoxing from drugs and alcohol can take anywhere from a few days to several months
  • How long the process takes depends on various factors, such as the substance used
  • The detox process can be challenging, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening
  • Detox programs help people manage withdrawal symptoms and set them on the road to recovery
  • After detox, most people progress to an alcohol or drug rehab program
  • Aftercare, including support groups, is essential for relapse prevention

Resources

MORE
LESS
  1. Kattimani, Shivanand and Balaji Bharadwaj. “Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review.” Industrial psychiatry journal vol. 22,2 : 100-8
  2. Tapering off opioids: When and how, Mayo Clinic, May 2021
  3. Pétursson, H. “The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.” Addiction (Abingdon, England) vol. 89,11 : 1455-9
  4. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4, Withdrawal Management 
  5. Sellers, E M. “Alcohol, barbiturate and benzodiazepine withdrawal syndromes: clinical management.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne vol. 139,2 : 113-20.
  6. Garcia-Romeu, Albert et al. “Clinical applications of hallucinogens: A review.” Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology vol. 24,4 : 229-68
  7. Hasin, Deborah S et al. “Cannabis withdrawal in the United States: results from NESARC.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 69,9 : 1354-63

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