How long does detox take?

The prospect of enduring days or even weeks of suffering during withdrawal can be extremely intimidating to someone who is looking for addiction treatment, and can be one of the factors that deters them from continuing with the process.

As a patient is undergoing detoxification, as they are dealing with a great deal of discomfort, there is probably going to be a question that runs through your mind over and over:

How long is this going to last?

There is no clear-cut answer. The length of time it takes for a drug to leave the body and for the body to rid itself of all the toxins, as well as the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, widely varies for everyone, depending on the type of substance, the degree of consumption, and the individual health of the person.

What is detox?

When a patient is admitted into an addiction treatment center, the first phase of recovery involves detoxification (otherwise known as “detox). Detoxification is the process by which consumption of drugs, alcohol and other substances is either gradually decreased or ceases altogether. It is typically needed before anything else can be done during rehab, especially for those who are heavy users of drugs, alcohol and other substances.

Detoxification is not itself a cure for addiction, but is a phase that clears the body’s way for receiving the next stage in treatment. It is often mistaken that by simply going “cold turkey” and using one’s willpower to resist drugs and substances altogether, they can effectively “cure” themselves of their addiction.

However, although detoxification alone is often not enough for someone to recover from an addiction, success during detoxification and the length of time spent in it can be a predictor of how the patient will perform throughout the rest of addiction treatment.

But most patients who go to an addiction treatment center, receive detoxification, but do not follow up with further treatment, will return to their lives only to relapse back into addiction.

The duration of detox

The amount of time that detoxification takes varies from person to person. How long the phase of detoxification lasts ultimately depends on the type of substance to which one was addicted, the degree of abuse, and the length of time used.

Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most common substances that is abused. It is also one of the drugs for which withdrawal in heavy users can possibly be fatal. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Alcohol withdrawal usually occurs within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours, but may go on for weeks.”

As vague as that report sounds, there are a number of factors that will determine how long the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol will last:

  • How much alcohol was consumed
  • The length of time the person has been drinking
  • The frequency at which the person drank on a daily basis
  • Weight and age
  • The person’s nutritional levels
  • Whether or not substances in addition to alcohol were consumed
  • Co-curring disorders (these include depression, mental disorders, eating disorders, another addiction, etc.)

Alcohol is one of the few substances from which withdrawal can be deadly if detoxification is not performed in a supervised setting.

 

Heroin

Heroin is what is known as a “fast-acting” opioid, which means that it enters the bloodstream and affects the body quickly, but that it also departs from the bloodstream quickly.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, withdrawal symptoms for heroin will begin within 6-12 hours after the last dose. The symptoms will reach their worst around two to three days after detox begins. For a lighter user of heroin, the detoxification will last for about 5 days, whereas if the addict was a heavy user, withdrawal symptoms could persist for up to 10 days.

Cannabis

On the first day of cannabis detoxification, the effects of withdrawal will begin to be felt. These symptoms include irritability, insomnia, and anxiety.

Between the second and third days of withdrawal, the symptoms will reach their peak. At that point there will probably be a much stronger craving for cannabis, as well as feverish symptoms and stomach discomfort.

Once the first week passes, the symptoms of withdrawal will usually begin to subside and improve. However, as the brain is no longer receiving doses of THC, the brain will have to adapt to not functioning with these chemicals. This period will be filled with symptoms of depression, and there may still be feelings of craving.

By the third week of cannabis detox, the symptoms of withdrawal should have finally subsided. But for those who were heavy users, psychological symptoms of withdrawal, such as depression, may last for several more months.

Nicotine

The interesting and good news about nicotine withdrawal is that, unlike many other drugs (especially alcohol and marijuana), the symptoms don’t matter based on how long someone smoked or how much they smoked.

For nicotine, the symptoms of withdrawal will peak after two or three days of quitting. It will take from one to three months, however, before the symptoms of withdrawal subside completely — it takes at least three months for your brain’s chemistry to adjust after cessation of nicotine intake back to functioning without it.

Detoxification from cigarette and tobacco use does not generally need a medically supervised setting in a treatment center, and can be performed outside on one’s own.

The bottom line — you will make it

There is no “one size fits all” or easy answer as to how long detoxification will last. Withdrawal is an unpleasant experience, but the symptoms can be lessened by medication and personal comfort in the safe environment of an addiction treatment center.

What is most important to always remember – you will survive the detoxification. No matter how long the suffering takes — whether it is hours, days or weeks — it will soon be over, you will feel better, and you will soon be moving on to the next phase of recovery. If you can beat the trial of withdrawal, you are clearly on the path to lifelong sobriety.