Detoxing From Drugs: How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

a couple is sitting separately thinking about how long do withdrawal symptoms last

Detoxing from drugs and alcohol comes with various symptoms. While some symptoms are mild, symptoms such as withdrawal seizures can be life-threatening. Understanding how long do withdrawal symptoms last and how to deal with drug withdrawal can encourage recovery.

It can be easy when detoxing from drugs to have a recurrence of use. This often happens because of symptoms such as alcohol withdrawal shaking. However, finding an accredited detox facility can ease the potentially severe symptoms of withdrawal.

What is Drug Withdrawal?

The Centers For Disease Control reports in 2018, 11.7 percent of Americans 12 and older misused an illicit substance a month before the survey. Misusing prescription and illegal drugs can lead to dependence. Once a body is physiologically dependent, it can’t function without the drug.

So, when someone dependent on drugs tries to stop or reduce their use, it can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The unpleasant symptom when detoxing from drugs is the body adjusting to its new normal. However, the combination of mental, physical, and emotional symptoms can often be life-threatening. 

Generally, symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors or shakiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Generally, withdrawal symptoms last 3-7 days. But, the exact length depends on the substance being misused and the severity of the misuse. In some cases, it can take days, weeks, or months to rid the body of substance completely. 

The timeline when detoxing from drugs is generally:

  • Short-Acting Opioids (heroin and some prescription painkillers) – withdrawal symptoms begin within 8-24 hours after last use and may last 4-10 days. 
  • Longer-Acting Opioids (methadone) – withdrawal symptoms may begin 2-4 days after last use and may last for ten days.
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan) – withdrawal begins within 1-4 days after last use and peak in the first two weeks.
  • Alcohol – withdrawal symptoms often appear within 2-4 hours of the last drink and peak 24-28 hours after the last drink.

How Do You Minimize Withdrawal Symptoms?

Medical detox programs are often the first step in recovery. These programs can help individuals understand how to deal with drug withdrawal. Symptoms such as withdrawal seizures and alcohol withdrawal shaking can be dangerous. But, medical detox can minimize the effects of detoxing from drugs.

While a medical detox program can help ease the discomfort of detoxing from drugs, there are various other ways to help minimize withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Have a healthy sleep schedule
  • Eat balanced meals
  • Exercise regularly
  • Use holistic therapies such as yoga, meditation, massage therapy, chiropractic care.
  • Talk with a therapist, counselor, or trusted drug-free friend

Can Drug Withdrawal Cause Seizures?

Depending on the substance, yes, withdrawal seizures can be a symptom of withdrawal. Seizures are severe and life-threatening complications. For example, alcohol withdrawal seizures are common in heavy drinkers within 6-48 hours of the last drink. If someone is having a seizure, immediate medical attention is needed. 

Symptoms of withdrawal seizures include:

  • Temporary confusion
  • Loss of consciousness, unaware of surroundings
  • Uncontrollable jerking, shaking or twitching

What is Alcohol Withdrawal Shaking?

Alcohol withdrawal shaking, also known as tremors, is typical when heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking. Because alcohol withdrawal shaking can begin 5 to 10 hours after the last drink, people with severe alcohol use disorder often wake up with tremors. As a result, they may reach for a drink to steady their hands.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol is the most commonly consumed addictive substance in the U.S. However, many people don’t think of it as a drug. While many people start as social drinkers, they often develop alcohol use disorder. When alcohol misuse becomes severe, it can be life-threatening to stop suddenly. 

For example, stopping “cold turkey,” for example, can increase the risk of withdrawal seizures and other complications of detoxing from drugs. For this reason, medical detox centers help people minimize the effects of alcohol withdrawal while providing mental and emotional support. 

Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, suddenly stopping can overly excite the nervous system and cause dangerous side effects. Although alcohol withdrawal shaking may begin within a few hours of the last drink, more severe side effects may last for days. 

Detoxing from alcohol may cause the following symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Alcohol withdrawal shaking
  • Withdrawal seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium Tremens

Because it’s difficult to know how severe the withdrawal symptoms will be or when they will appear, it is crucial to be under medical supervision. 

Detoxing from Drugs: Heroin and Prescription Opioids

The drug class, opioids, includes the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, and morphine. These substances work by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, causing a release of dopamine. 

Dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward, which encourages the misuse of these drugs. Opioids are highly addictive and some of the most commonly misused substances. Dependence on opioids may develop quickly, even when taking medications as prescribed. 

Opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Yawning
  • Sleep issues
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle cramps/body aches

While heroin detox is often not life-threatening, it can be highly uncomfortable. In fact, the physical and mental challenges of withdrawal can lead to a recurrence of use. Medical detox programs can increase the likelihood of lasting recovery. 

Benzodiazepine Detox and Withdrawal Seizures

Benzodiazepines or benzos treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as certain seizure disorders, tremors, and muscle spasms. Benzos are a central nervous system depressant that slows brain signals. 

Common benzodiazepines include:

  • Ativan
  • Klonopine
  • Librium
  • Valium
  • Xanax

While short-acting benzo withdrawal symptoms may begin within 8 to 12 hours of last use, long-acting benzos can begin 1 to 2 days after last use. Symptoms of benzo withdrawal may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Hand tremors
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • nausea/vomiting
  • Depression
  • Skin-crawling
  • Delirium
  • Withdrawal seizure or Grand mal seizure

Benzos are very effective when taken as prescribed by your doctor. But, when misused, benzos can produce euphoric effects. Because of the euphoric effects, benzos have a high risk of misuse. 

Cocaine and How to Deal With Drug Withdrawal

Cocaine is an intense and highly addictive stimulant. It works by stopping the removal of dopamine from the body. The increase in pleasure felt when using cocaine keeps people misusing the drug. 

Unfortunately, psychological dependence on the drug develops quickly. As a result, if someone stops using cocaine suddenly, it can cause a severe emotional rebound effect. Withdrawal symptoms may begin within 24 hours of last use and can last for weeks. 

Although cocaine withdrawal often lacks the life-threatening physical signs of dependence, the emotional withdrawal symptoms can be distressing and include:

  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Hallucinations
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Lethargy or tiredness

Meth and Detoxing from Drugs

Crystal meth or meth misuse in the U.S. is a devastating problem. Meth is a highly potent drug that quickly produces dependency and addiction. Occasional users may feel a “crash” after they stop using meth. This period typically lasts a few days, and symptoms may include:

  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Muscle weakness and pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches

Withdrawal symptoms from meth often vary from one person to the next. Additionally, many factors such as frequency of use and amount used, impacts the severity of the side effects. Furthermore, those who inject meth generally experience longer and more severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Symptoms of meth withdrawal may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive sweating
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Severe depression

Detoxing from drugs such as meth typically peaks within 2 to 3 days after last use and lasts about a week. But, the psychological symptoms may last for weeks, months, or even years, depending on the severity of misuse.

The Importance of an Accredited Detox Facility 

A common question when people think of detoxing from drugs is how to deal with drug withdrawal. And, while there are things to help yourself through detox, severe symptoms such as withdrawal seizures need medical supervision. 

For this reason, finding an accredited detox facility is significant for safety during withdrawal and lasting recovery. An accredited facility goes through a series of evaluations and reviews. These reviews examine a center’s staff, safety programs, member care, operations, and policies. 

Although attending an accredited detox facility offers benefits such as insurance reimbursement, a safe and therapeutic environment, and quality care, it does not guarantee success in recovery. Only you and your dedication to getting better can ensure lasting recovery. 

Detoxing from Drugs at Sana Lake

When you think of detoxing from drugs or alcohol, does the fear of the withdrawal process scare you? Is it preventing you from seeking recovery and living a better life? 

At Sana Lake, we understand the challenges of withdrawal and substance use disorder. Our team of dedicated therapists, counselors, and peer support staff is waiting to help you along your recovery journey. Contact us today and find out how we can help you. 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/drug-use-illicit.htm

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.