Detox Timeline for Heroin, Alcohol, Xanax and Other Drugs

Jump to:

1. Opiate Detox
2. Alcohol Detox
3. Benzodiazepine Detox
4. Marijuana Detox
5. Stimulant Detox
6. Getting Help

People who are preparing for addiction recovery may already know that they’ll need to go through the detoxification process, so their bodies can become accustomed to functioning normally without the presence of drugs. These people might also know that the detoxification process is rarely described as “pleasant,” although it is considered necessary. It might be comforting to know just how the detox process tends to work, and how long the discomfort is expected to last. This article will explain the detox timeline for a variety of substances that people tend to abuse. Perhaps, after reading, people who need help will feel more comfortable about enrolling in detoxification programs and starting down the path to a long-term recovery.

Opiate Detox

The drugs that fall into the category of opiates include illicit street drugs such as heroin and opium, but opiates also include prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. These powerful drugs attach to specific opiate receptors scattered throughout the body, and they cause a chain reaction of symptoms as the body attempts to maintain balance and prevent intoxication. Just as the body is slow to make these adjustments, the body is also slow to correct the changes that have been made. As a result, people who attempt to stop taking opiates may quickly realize that their bodies are no longer accustomed to functioning normally without access to the drugs.

Within 12 to 30 hours of the last exposure to opiates, the user begins to experience:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goose bumps
  • Nausea

These symptoms tend to resolve within about a week, but the cravings for drugs may persist for much longer periods of time. There are medications that can help with the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal, as well as the cravings for drugs, but doctors are leery of providing these medications to people who don’t truly need them. As a result, according to an article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, doctors use an 11-item scale known as the clinical opiate withdrawal scale (COWS) that measures the discomfort of people in withdrawal. People who produce high scores on this scale may be provided with opiate-replacement medications that can help to ease their symptoms.

According to the National Institutes of Health, of the estimated 810,000 heroin addicts in the United States, only 20 percent obtain help for addiction. Similar rates might be found in people who are addicted to prescription medications. It’s quite possible that some people don’t obtain the addiction help they need because they’re worried about the pain they’ll endure during detox. Some of these people may have tried to quit on their own at home and found that they simply could not do so due to discomfort. Perhaps if these people knew that medications are available to ease pain, they would be more likely to get the help they need.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can appear as quickly as five hours after the last drink, but the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that some people develop symptoms days after they have stopped drinking. Early symptoms tend to be mild, but they can increase in severity for up to 72 hours, and they can last for weeks. Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating

Alcohol is a sedative that causes a slowdown in brain activity. Some people who go through alcohol withdrawal develop tremors in their hands as their brains begin to return to a normal functioning level. Other people develop full-blown seizures when their body returns to a normal, no-alcohol state. These seizures can be frightening for alcoholics to think about, but it’s important to note that they are relatively rare, and they might only be a risk for specific classes of addicts. For example, a study in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that 48 percent of those who had seizures had five or more previous detoxifications. Those who go through multiple withdrawal processes might have a very increased risk of seizure, as this study makes clear.

In formal alcohol detoxification programs, doctors closely monitor their patients to ensure that they are not developing any symptoms of tremor or seizures. If these symptoms are discovered, doctors provide medications that can stop the phenomenon in its tracks, and ensure that the person gets through the process without enduring any life-threatening complications.

Benzodiazepine Detox

Benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium can help agitated, nervous people to feel calmer and more positive about their lives. These drugs work in much the same way as alcohol, keeping the brain in a sedated and relaxed state by suppressing the production and use of specific chemicals. When people attempt to stop taking these medications, the chemicals are still available for the brain to use, and they may be present in incredibly large amounts. People who go through benzodiazepine withdrawal may experience many of the same symptoms as people who go through alcohol detox, and they may also be at an increased risk of seizures.

The length of time that withdrawal takes can vary, depending on the medications that the person takes and the length of time the person has been taking those medications. Fast-acting formulations of the drug, for example, tend to do more damage than slower-acting versions of the drug. In general, however, benzodiazepine withdrawal can be a long process that might take weeks or even months to complete. Some people stay in formal detoxification programs for only a few days, until moving on to their rehabilitation programs, but other people find that they need to stay in their detoxification programs for an extended period of time because they simply feel too ill to do the hard work required in a formal addiction rehabilitation program. This is something patients must discuss in consultation with their doctors, and the answers can be different for each and every person in recovery.

Marijuana Detox

Marijuana was once considered a harmless drug that users could abuse and then stop abusing at will, without experiencing difficult side effects. Now, experts know that marijuana is a powerful drug that can be hard for some users to kick without help. As a result, many people are choosing to enter formal detoxification programs for their marijuana usage. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, inpatient admissions for marijuana use rose in 41 states between 1993 and 1999, and 10 states experienced an increase of 150 percent or more. It’s clear that people need help to recover from this addiction, and detox is a good place to start.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms begin about a day after the user stops taking the drug, and symptoms peak within two to three days, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. The symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Anxiety

Symptoms tend to subside within one to two weeks, but some people experience symptoms that last for an extended period of time, for weeks or even longer. Some medications can help people to move through this process a bit more comfortably, but marijuana users might also benefit from supportive counseling during this time, so they stay motivated to recover despite the pain they’re feeling.

Stimulant Detox

Cocaine and methamphetamine are common illicit stimulant drugs taken by people who are addicted, but prescription medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are also considered stimulants. People who have taken these drugs for long periods of time tend to take them in binges, taking extremely high doses of the drugs all at once, and then repeating that high dose over and over, hoping to maintain a high. When these users attempt to stop using, they may experience three separate stages of withdrawal, according to an article published by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In the first stage, the users “crash” and feel depressed and anxious. In the intermediate stage, the users feel fatigued, and they may be uninterested in their surroundings. During the final stage, people may feel an intense craving to take these stimulant drugs again.

The length of time it takes to move through these stages can vary, depending on the drugs the person has taken and the length of time the person has been using drugs. In general, however, most people move through these stages in a matter of weeks, and they may obtain prescription medications to help them through some of the more troublesome symptoms of withdrawal.

Getting Help

It’s clear that different types of drugs can cause different types of withdrawal symptoms, and many of those symptoms can be eased with medications and supportive therapy. It’s best to remember that even though thinking about going through withdrawal can be scary, living with an addiction that has not been addressed can also be life threatening. It’s best for people to get the help they need for their addictions, even if this means enduring some minor discomfort in the process.

If you’re ready to leave drugs behind, we’d like to help you do that. We provide detoxification services to our clients, combining up-to-date medical interventions with comforting and comfortable surroundings. If you’d like to know more about our approach, please contact our operators. We can start the enrollment process over the phone, and help you get the care you need.