Updated on February 6, 2024
7 min read

How Long Does Medical Drug Detox Take?

What is a Medical Detox? 

A medical detox occurs at the beginning of the addiction recovery process. Licensed medical professionals oversee the process of ridding your body of toxins from drugs or alcohol.

A medical detox helps you through withdrawal by reducing or eliminating its symptoms. It offers support during the most physically challenging part of recovery when the body is still fully dependent on the substance.

People undergoing detox treatment, including medication-assisted therapy, have a lower risk of relapse. It also reduces the risk of contracting infectious diseases and overdosing.

What to Expect During a Medical Detox Program

Here are the steps that you can expect during a medical detox program:

  1. Assessment: The first step in any medical detox program is an assessment by healthcare professionals. This involves evaluating your overall health, substance use history, and other relevant factors to determine the best course of treatment.
  2. Stabilization: Once the assessment is complete, the next step is to stabilize your physical and mental state. Depending on your dependence level, medication may be prescribed to manage withdrawal symptoms. The stabilization process may last about one to three weeks.
  3. Monitoring: During the detox process, healthcare professionals will closely monitor you. They’ll check your vital signs and provide support to ensure your safety and comfort.
  4. Therapy: While detox alone isn’t a form of treatment, you may undergo therapy to address underlying psychological issues contributing to substance use.
  5. Education: Education about addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and coping mechanisms is an essential part of a medical detox program. This helps you understand your condition and develop healthy habits for long-term recovery.
  6. Aftercare planning: As detox comes to an end, healthcare professionals will work with you on creating an aftercare plan that includes ongoing treatment options such as therapy, support groups, and medication.
  7. Continued support: Even after completing a medical detox program, it’s crucial to continue seeking support from healthcare professionals and loved ones. Recovery is an ongoing process that requires dedication and a strong support system.

What Happens After Detox? 

Following detox, you usually enter an alcohol or drug rehab program for intensive psychological therapy. Alcohol and drug rehab typically occurs as part of a 28-day addiction program. These services include talk therapy and support groups.

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What are the Benefits of Medical Detox?

Medical detox offers a safer, more effective recovery alternative. It’s a sober environment that reduces the risk of relapse and prepares you for subsequent care at a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.

If withdrawal symptoms occur, medical professionals are available to treat the symptoms. In addition to making withdrawal more comfortable, this reduces the risk of relapse.

Medical detox offers long-term benefits because of the short-term success it provides. The more successful your early days in treatment, the likelier you’ll stick with the process and remain sober.

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How Does Medical Detox Address Addiction?

Completing medical detox alone isn’t enough to ensure you overcome an addiction. Once a drug is out of your system and your immediate risk of complications from withdrawal has passed, you can focus on:

  • Therapy
  • Group meetings
  • Stress management
  • Family counseling that involves loved ones
  • Life skills training
  • Long-term substance abuse management

It’s crucial to receive ongoing treatment and address other health issues, especially if you have a co-occurring mental disorder. Detox is preparation for the hard work of recovery and sober living, which starts after completing the detox process.

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How Long is Medical Detox?

The length of medical detox varies from person to person, depending on the drug and the severity of the addiction. Programs are usually 3, 5, or 7 days long, followed by 6 to 8 weeks or more of intensive outpatient therapy.

Withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 8 to 48 hours after the last drug dose and continue for a week to a few weeks. The medical detox process usually lasts no more than four weeks.

How long detox takes depends on various factors, including:

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

How Long Does It Take to Detox From Drugs?

The following table offers a concise overview of the typical detox duration and onset for several common drugs:

Drug TypeOnset of Withdrawal SymptomsPeak and DurationNotable Symptoms and Factors
Opioids (e.g. Heroin, Prescriptions)8-12 hours after last usePeak: 1 to 3 days. Duration: Up to 7 daysSeverity varies among opioids
BenzodiazepinesWithin 24 hoursFew days to several months, depending on typeValium: 10 to 12 days; Xanax: 4 to 5 days to clear
Stimulants (e.g. Cocaine, Meth)Few hours to several daysMost intense: About a week inPsychological effects can last weeks or months
Barbiturates (Sleeping Pills)8-12 hours after last dosePeak: 16 hours Duration: Up to 5 daysPersistent mental and emotional effects
HallucinogensWithin a couple of daysAbout a weekProlonged symptoms: insomnia, memory issues
Marijuana24 to 72 hours after stopping heavy useTypically 1 to 2 weeks; can extend for months in someRisk of relapse due to non-life-threatening symptoms

How Long Does it Take to Detox From Alcohol?

The length of alcohol detox depends on how much you drink and other factors.

  • Minor withdrawal symptoms usually begin around 6 hours after the last drink
  • Some people may even experience hallucinations after 12 to 24
  • Minor symptoms like headaches and tremors may persist 24 to 48 hours after consumption
  • Severe alcohol withdrawal, or delirium tremens (DTs), can occur 48 to 72 hours later. This condition may involve a high heart rate or seizures
  • All symptoms peak intensely after 72 hours
  • In rare cases, moderate withdrawal symptoms like rapid heart rate may persist for up to a month

Following physical withdrawal, others require extensive treatment for psychological withdrawal. Many recovering alcoholics participate in support groups, often spanning 10 to 20 years or more after quitting drinking to maintain their sobriety.

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How Much Does Medical Detox Cost?

Medical detox costs depend on treatment length and services. The more intensive and the more amenities, the higher the cost of treatment. 

Treatment of co-occurring disorders increases the total cost. An accredited facility’s standard medical detox program ranges between $250 and $500 daily. Rapid detox programs typically cost $10,000 to $15,000 in total.

Luxury detox programs can cost as much as $1000 or more daily. These programs offer:

  • Inpatient hotel-like accommodations
  • Gourmet meals
  • Spa services
  • Holistic treatments
  • Numerous one-on-one health professionals

When is Medical Detox Necessary?

Medical detox is necessary when detoxification from a substance causes severe withdrawal symptoms. In many cases, the withdrawal process is potentially fatal. For example:

Alcohol Detox

The alcohol detoxification triggers mild to severe symptoms within six hours after the last drink. These signs continue for several days or weeks and include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches

Additionally, some alcohol-addicted people experience delirium tremens. This condition triggers extreme confusion, fever, and tactile, visual, and auditory hallucinations.

Drug Detox

Drug detox symptoms depend on the drug. They also vary based on the severity of the addiction. 

Symptoms begin within a few hours of the last dose and continue for several days or weeks. For most people, the drug detox experience includes:

  • Mood swings
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pains
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Twitching

What Addictions May Require Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Alcohol

Drugs that help with alcohol withdrawal and detox include:

These medications don’t cure alcohol use disorder. However, they reduce the symptoms of withdrawal and risks of the process and increase the possibility of long-term sobriety.

Opioids

Drugs that help with opioid withdrawal and detox include:

These medications satisfy the craving for opiates and opioids without the risks of overdose and other complications. Naltrexone reverses the toxic effect of an opioid overdose.

What is Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)?

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) is a form of treatment that combines medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. It’s common during the medical detox process for opioid or alcohol addiction.

MAT involves medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine, to reduce the withdrawal symptoms and cravings from stopping drug use. These drugs bind to the same receptors in the brain as the addictive substance, producing similar effects without causing intoxication.

MAT treatment is a short-term treatment. It’s not a permanent solution, but it makes permanent solutions more effective. 

Potential Side Effects of Medical Detox & MAT

Like all medical treatments, medical detox and MAT cause side effects for some people. For example:

  • Stomachache
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Itchy skin

Summary

Medical detox is the first step in achieving sobriety from alcohol and drugs. The duration of detox depends on various factors.

The timeline for detox also varies on the type of substance you used. Afterward, you should continue treatment through a rehabilitation program and follow tips for staying sober.

Recovery is possible. You only need to take the first step to start your journey towards a healthier and happier life.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
12 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Zhu et al. “National trends and characteristics of inpatient detoxification for drug use disorders in the United States.” BMC Public Health, 2018.
  2. Addiction Treatment.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2023.
  3. Medications for Substance Use Disorders.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023.
  4. Harvard Medical School. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health Publishing, 2014.
  5. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.
  6. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2016.
  7. Kattimani et al. “Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 2013.
  8. Tapering off opioids: When and how.” Mayo Clinic, 2021.
  9. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” World Health Organization, 2009.
  10. Martin et al. “The Role of Barbiturates for Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” Psychosomaticsc, 2016.
  11. Garcia-Romeu et al. Clinical Applications of Hallucinogens: A Review Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 2016.
  12. Hasin et al. “Cannabis withdrawal in the United States: results from NESARC.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2009.

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