Recovery length varies greatly depending on the severity of one’s addiction: the person’s drug of choice; use habits like frequency and length of binges; and overall length of time that someone has been using or has been addicted.
There is no “fast track” to recovery; actual recovery takes significant time and effort.
While knowing the substance being used can often provide an idea of how long the detoxification process will take, simply detoxing is not recovering from addiction.
While cravings may lessen in frequency and intensity in a matter of weeks or months to minimal levels (comparatively), it may take up to several years for the brain to fully “reset.”
Table of Contents
How Long Does it Take to Detox?
When people talk about “detoxing,” they are usually referring to the period it takes a person to detox medically, i.e. to remove the substance from one’s body completely. Determining a timeline for withdrawals is not an exact science.
The time it will take for someone to cleanse their body of a substance depends on many factors.
Withdrawal timelines can be influenced by such factors as:
- Amount of substance used
- Length of time substance was used
- Overall health
These timelines are meant as rough guides to determine when symptoms will present themselves and subside. Another factor that affects when a person will start having withdrawals is the form of the kind of drug they are using—whether that form is fast-acting or extended-release. But one also need to keep in mind that drug recovery doesn’t end with the end of withdrawal symptoms. There’s a lot more to be done to recover from addiction successfully.
Note, that it might be dangerous to detox at home independently. The detox should be supervised by the medical specialist only.
Cocaine Recovery Duration
- During the first 72 hours after the last use, cocaine users will feel a “crash,” experiencing depression, remorse, and extreme fatigue. If the person does sleep during this time, he or she often wakes up feeling unrested and unwell in general. The worst of the physical symptoms start to fade around three to seven days after last use.
- After the first three days, feelings of depression, anxiety, and dysphoria may be present, along with irritability, paranoia, and unpleasant dreams. Some may also experience an increase in appetite. After the first week, extreme cravings are reduced significantly.
- After two weeks of withdrawals, cravings may return, presenting challenges.
- About a month after the last use, mood swings, depression, and problems with sleep are common. Symptoms of withdrawal may linger anywhere from six months to years after last use.
Methamphetamines Recovery Duration
- In heavy users, withdrawals from methamphetamines (crystal meth, specifically) can begin within the first 24 hours after the last use. In the first one to three days after discontinuation, the person will begin to experience extreme fatigue, depression, and intense cravings
- Because meth can stay in the body for up to three days, withdrawal symptoms usually reach their peak between days two and five.
- Toward the end of the first week, continuing into the beginning of the second week, symptoms include more cravings, mood swings and an inability to experience pleasure, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and physical symptoms like restlessness, body aches, and an increased appetite. Psychosis, paranoia, and hallucinations (rare) are also possible. Acute withdrawal symptoms typically subside within the first one to two weeks after the person’s last use.
- Throughout the first month or so, cravings will gradually decrease after the acute withdrawal symptoms have subsided.
- Between months two and four of sobriety, people typically “hit a wall” where depression overcomes the individual, many times causing cravings to return.
- Between four and six months is when things start to get easier.
Opiates Recovery Duration
With short-acting opiates, symptoms can begin as soon as six to 12 hours after last use.
- During the first 24 to 48 hours, the patient will start to experience agitation before anything else (usually about 12 hours after the last dose of the drug was taken). Next, a person will experience severe muscle aches and body pains because their numbing agent is no longer present. Then, profuse sweating, diarrhea, a loss of appetite, and cold symptoms like a runny nose will occur. The patient will most likely also have feelings of anxiety and difficulty sleeping. For long-acting forms of the drug, symptoms can be delayed as long as 72 hours until the drug is completely out of one’s system.
- Between days three and five, the most severe symptoms have usually subsided. Though diarrhea typically stops around this time, the patient will still experience chills, goosebumps, and vomiting, as well as abdominal cramping. As one can see, the combination of symptoms experienced during opium withdrawals tends to present much like those of the flu.
- At the end of the first week is when things lighten up, though the person may still experience nausea, anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia for quite some time.
Benzodiazepines Recovery Duration
Withdrawal symptoms may begin in as little as six to eight hours after the last dose for short-acting benzos such as Xanax, Ativan, and Halcion. For longer-acting benzos, the onset of withdrawal symptoms may be delayed for up to two days.
- For the first few days after the drug has left a person’s symptom, he or she will most likely experience anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness to the point of akathisia (the feeling of being compelled to remain constantly in motion i.e. fidgeting, rocking, etc.).
- For the first two weeks, a person may experience derealization, dysphoria, ringing in the ears, headaches, migraines, and tactile hallucinations, in addition to early withdrawal symptoms. Many people find that these symptoms build until they reach their peak around the two-week mark.
- After the first two weeks, acute withdrawal symptoms set in and can stay with the person for up to two or three months. Some of these symptoms (in addition to the ones mentioned above) include dizziness, muscle cramps, tremors, blurred or double vision, changes in appetite, depression, confusion, irritability, hostility, intense dreams or nightmares, and irrational fears such as agoraphobia.
- After two or three months, many of the symptoms seem to ease up and the person starts to feel better.
- About four or five months in, many of the psychological symptoms may return or worsen. People experience more dizziness, confusion, anxiety, depression, suffer from memory loss problems, and experience a severe disconnect from reality.
- Between six and twelve months after last use, many people feel some of the symptoms start to fade. Although, many post-acute withdrawal symptoms can stay with people for years after they have stopped using.
Alcohol Recovery Duration
Alcohol withdrawals tend to have more distinct phases than the withdrawal processes of other drugs.
- In the first six to 12 hours after the last consumption, a person starts to experience nausea, abdominal pain, tremors, heart palpitations, depression, anxiety, mood swings, and insomnia.
- Between two and three days after the last use, the patient will be dealing with increased blood pressure, increased body temperature, an inconsistent heartbeat, and confusion.
- Around 72 hours after the last drink, more severe withdrawal symptoms start to set in such as fever, hallucinations, and seizures. Agitation, more moodiness, and severe confusion also occur.
- Between five and seven days is when symptoms tend to decrease in intensity.
Physiological symptoms may remain with the patient anywhere from a few months to several years.
Can One Do a Rapid Detox to Avoid Going Through Withdrawals?
Many people looking to break an addiction have heard of something called a “rapid detox.” During this procedure, a person is put under anesthesia and injected with a medication that will help the body purge itself of whatever drug from which the person may be detoxing. Sound a little too good to be true? That’s because it is.
Unfortunately, there is no quick, painless way to become “un-addicted” to a substance. People who do undergo “rapid detox” treatments still experience painful muscle and joint aches, diarrhea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, and other typical withdrawal symptoms after coming out from under anesthesia. Patients are often prescribed multiple medications to help manage these symptoms. A study published in the Journal of American Medicine that was performed by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center produced some other interesting findings:
- Patients who underwent rapid detox experienced withdrawals that were just as severe as those of a patient who did not
- Almost 10 percent of patients suffered life-threatening events during or after the rapid detox procedure despite being closely monitored and taking multiple preventative safety measures
- Eighty percent of rapid detox patients dropped out of follow-up treatment
It is likely this “rapid detox” procedure that people are referring to when they talk about three-day detox programs. These treatments usually end up being much more expensive than other detox alternatives and produce results that are not very promising at all.
Five- and Seven-day Detox Programs
These programs place someone in a safe environment in which they can detox with the help of medications and constant monitoring of medical professionals. These trained professionals know the physical and emotional effects of withdrawals and can provide relief and support during the worst phases of withdrawal. These programs should never be considered as “treatment”; they are meant as an alternative to those who may not be able to afford inpatient care or those who are not able to leave their home lives for the amount of time that inpatient care requires, often because of their children or occupation.
Outpatient services should be sought out after completing a detox program if a person truly wants to recover from his or her addiction.
The Different Parts of the Treatment Process
How Long Does Inpatient Rehab Take?
Inpatient programs include detoxing services and are typically available in 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day programs. Some facilities will allow extensions on these programs if an individual feels he or she would benefit from more time spent in treatment.
How Long Do Patients Use Outpatient Recovery Services for Drug and Alcohol Addiction?
Outpatient recovery programs can last anywhere from a few months up to a year, or sometimes longer. These programs may require anywhere from six to 20 or more hours of someone’s time per week.
The goal of these programs is to help patients recognize and alter their own cognitive behavior and lead to long-term sobriety.
How Long Do Patients Stay in Halfway Houses and Sober Living Communities?
Extended care facilities, often called sober living homes or halfway houses can be a good transition between inpatient rehab and going out completely on one’s own. Patients typically stay in halfway houses for one to six months, and up to a year. Sober living homes provide the option for people to stay longer, for a more gradual adjustment.
Schedules and daily activities are monitored, but these environments allow the patient to be able to work, attend school, and participate in other activities (such as outpatient recovery services) that will contribute to a productive and sober life.
Lifestyle Adjustment After Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Full recovery may take years. As one Intensive Outpatient Program member put it—“Sitting at two and half years sober, things are way easier than they were during the first six months or even the first year… But, when I put things into perspective, I did extensive damage to both my brain and my body continuously for a period of 25 years; if I feel anywhere near ‘normal’ at five years into sobriety, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal—five years of work to repair 25 years of damage.”
Recovery will be a lifelong journey. Many people are able to “rewire” their brains to never desire a substance again simply because of all the pain it has caused them. Others may struggle for longer.
Regardless of whether a person reaches that point completely, the struggle does get easier over time.
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- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. 2014. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help.
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- National Institute on Drug Abuse. How long does drug addiction treatment usually last? 2018. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment.