If you’ve made it this far, congratulations—considering detox is a crucial step towards recovery. No matter your situation, it is wise to conduct some research ahead of time, as the detox process may pose serious health risks if not done with care.Laudet, A. B., Savage, R., & Mahmood, D. (2002). Pathways to long-term recovery: a preliminary investigation. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 34(3), 305–311. … Continue reading In addition, it’s important to have an idea of what to expect so you can make a healthy transition and begin your individual process of recovery.
If you or a loved one is curious about detox, maybe you’re wondering how long symptoms last or whether you can handle it on your own. You may be wondering, “What is detox really like? What are the risks, and what can you expect?
Detox Is Individual
Detox looks different from person to person, so it’s hard to say exactly what it will look like for you. That’s why we will meet with you for an initial intake appointment to assess the best care for your personal needs. The level of medical care recommended and the degree of withdrawal symptoms vary greatly based on several factors.Inanlou, M., Bahmani, B., Farhoudian, A., & Rafiee, F. (2020). Addiction Recovery: A Systematized Review. Iranian journal of psychiatry, 15(2), 172–181.
What detox is like depends on:
- The substance you’re detoxing from
- How long you’ve been using the substance
- Your age
- Your physical health
- Psychological and mental health factors
In general, withdrawal symptoms last a few days or up to two weeks.
How Long Does It Take to Feel the Effects of Detox?
Once you’ve stopped taking the substance, the first withdrawal symptoms may begin as soon as six hours into your detox.Zhu, H., Wu, LT. National trends and characteristics of inpatient detoxification for drug use disorders in the United States. BMC Public Health 18, 1073 (2018). … Continue reading If you’re recovering from alcohol dependence, the symptoms at this early stage of withdrawal may include:
- Changes in blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
These initial symptoms generally reach their peak within the first 24 hours. Within 12-48 hours of your last drink, your symptoms may intensify. It is possible to experience hallucinations or seizures due to disturbances in your brain’s neurotransmitters. Between 3 days and the first week after your last drink, you may experience delirium tremens.Grover, S., & Ghosh, A. (2018). Delirium Tremens: Assessment and Management. Journal of clinical and experimental hepatology, 8(4), 460–470. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jceh.2018.04.012
Delirium tremens may require intensive medical care and could include the following symptoms:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Mood swings- anger or anxiety
- Disturbed sleep
- Decrease of blood flow to the brain
What Do Withdrawal Symptoms Mean During Drug Detox?
Drug detox is a difficult process that often poses significant physical, mental, and emotional discomfort. Withdrawal symptoms from drugs vary widely, depending on the type of substance used. Many symptoms are like those of detoxing from alcohol but may take longer to appear. So, what are symptoms for drug detox?
Consider the following withdrawal symptoms from various drugs and how long withdrawals last:
For “short-acting” opioids such as prescription pain medication and heroin withdrawal, you can expect to experience symptoms within 8 to 24 hours after your last use. Symptoms may last from 4 to 10 days.Srivastava, A. B., Mariani, J. J., & Levin, F. R. (2020). New directions in the treatment of opioid withdrawal. Lancet (London, England), 395(10241), 1938–1948. … Continue reading
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Teary eyes
Withdrawal for “longer-acting opioids” such as methadone, may include symptoms beginning 2 to 4 days after your last use. In general, symptoms will dissipate within 10 days.Kleber H. D. (2007). Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 9(4), 455–470. … Continue reading
Symptoms may include:
- Irritability, anxiety, and feelings of restlessness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Runny nose
- Abdominal cramping
Benzodiazepine (ex. Valium and Xanax) withdrawal symptoms will likely start between 1 to 4 days after the last use.Rickels K, Schweizer E, Case WG, Greenblatt DJ. Long-term Therapeutic Use of Benzodiazepines: I. Effects of Abrupt Discontinuation. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1990;47(10):899–907. … Continue reading Symptoms may last from 5 to 28 days and tend to peak to their most severe around week two.
Symptoms may include:
- Anxiety/panic attacks
- Muscle weakness, stiffness, and/or pain
- Body pain
- Dry mouth
- Flu-like symptoms; including fever and/or chills
- Blurry vision
Though cannabis is less commonly acknowledged as an addictive substance, there are marijuana withdrawal symptoms.Bonnet, U., & Preuss, U. W. (2017). The cannabis withdrawal syndrome: current insights. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 8, 9–37. https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S109576 When you are detoxing from cannabis, symptoms may last from days to months, depending on the duration of your use and the quantity you used. Most reported withdrawal symptoms are insomnia and depression.
Symptoms may also include:
- Decrease appetite
- Abdominal pain
Will I Experience Cravings?
It is common to experience intense cravings during detox, no matter which substance you have grown dependent upon. The body has grown accustomed to using that substance to self-regulate and has adapted to its use. As you detox, your body wants to return to its familiar state—with the use of the substance. Thus, it is normal to feel cravings during this time.
A supportive medical team can help oversee and manage the symptoms listed above, as well as your cravings. Detox and recovery take more than willpower—it is a physical and chemical process of relearning how to exist without the addictive substance.
What Are the Risks of Detox?
There are many factors to consider before you detox. Your own unique underlying conditions and other factors will contribute to your individual risk. These can include issues with your overall mental, emotional, and physical health. There are also risks depending on where you choose to detox. Should you detox at home? Can you detox alone? Do you need medical supervision? Can a loved one supervise your detox?
There are many reasons why one might choose or prefer to detox at home as opposed to a medically supervised detox facility. Some advantages of considering an at-home detox are lower costs, receiving care from loved ones, and being surrounded by your own belongings – in an environment that is personal and familiar to you.Davis C. (2018). Home detox – supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction. Australian prescriber, 41(6), 180–182. https://doi.org/10.18773/austprescr.2018.059
Here are some common risks involved with detoxing at home:
This is one of the most significant risks to detoxing at home. The withdrawal symptoms can sometimes be so intense and the cravings so overwhelming that you may find it irresistible to reach for the substance you know will ease the symptoms and curb the cravings. It may be the only solution your brain knows it can rely upon to help relieve your discomfort. Though withdrawal symptoms are temporary and may not last long, they are often unmanageable enough alone to prompt a relapse.
The risk of relapse also lends itself to the risk of an overdose. When the body goes through detox, it may adapt and form a different tolerance to your substance of choice than you experienced previously. In other words, the amount of a substance you were used to consuming before you detoxed may become intolerable to your body after detox. This change in tolerance may alter your ability to determine an amount that is “safe” for you to consume. This change may lead to an overdose—and overdoses are often fatal.
Mental Health Risks
Depression and anxiety are common withdrawal symptoms from nearly all addictive substances. Those with underlying mental health conditions may be pushed past their limit during an at-home detox.McGovern, M. P., Lambert-Harris, C., Gotham, H. J., Claus, R. E., & Xie, H. (2014). Dual diagnosis capability in mental health and addiction treatment services: an assessment of programs across … Continue reading Withdrawal symptoms may worsen any existing mental health concerns.
For such individuals, the substance may be used to manage mental health symptoms. Detoxing from that substance can leave individuals feeling especially vulnerable and unsure how else to cope. An at-home detox could pose a significant risk or lead to a potential mental health crisis.
The toll of detox can be significant for anyone, both emotionally and physically. However, an at-home detox may pose an even greater risk for those with underlying health risks. As previously mentioned, withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, irregular heart rates, changing blood pressure, and more.
Though a loved one will certainly do their best to help you if you experience these complications, they are likely not equipped to handle or monitor medical complications. In most cases, medically supervised detox is recommended. Supervised detox can help ensure your withdrawal symptoms do not cause further physical or medical complications. After the risk for complications has passed, you are stabilized to approach long-term recovery.
Life After Drug Detox
It is brave to consider recovery. If you’re here, you’ve already begun. So, what happens after you complete detox? Moving forward, it is critical to receive help from substance use treatment experts, who can help you manage your continued cravings, resist the pull of relapse, and establish tools to live a sober life.
*Editor’s Note: This article was originally published Dec 13, 2019 and has been updated April 11, 2022.
Having been on both sides of active addition, both the person using, and the person affected by a loved one using drugs and alcohol, Lucas has been involved in recovery since 2009. He has been working in the treatment industry since 2013. Using his personal experience and wealth of knowledge learned from professional development and immersion in the recovery field, he has spoken with thousands of families and helped hundreds of people attain long-term sobriety. In 2020, the opportunity presented to join in and start Illuminate Recovery. Understanding the importance of personalized treatment plans and the complex nature between substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, has helped Illuminate Recovery build a strong curriculum and a phenomenal staff. Illuminate Recovery now has a medical doctor who is board certified in addiction medicine and a psychiatric medical doctor who works side by side with independently licensed therapists to provide compassionate and effective treatment.
|↑1||Laudet, A. B., Savage, R., & Mahmood, D. (2002). Pathways to long-term recovery: a preliminary investigation. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 34(3), 305–311. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2002.10399968|
|↑2||Inanlou, M., Bahmani, B., Farhoudian, A., & Rafiee, F. (2020). Addiction Recovery: A Systematized Review. Iranian journal of psychiatry, 15(2), 172–181.|
|↑3||Zhu, H., Wu, LT. National trends and characteristics of inpatient detoxification for drug use disorders in the United States. BMC Public Health 18, 1073 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5982-8|
|↑4||Grover, S., & Ghosh, A. (2018). Delirium Tremens: Assessment and Management. Journal of clinical and experimental hepatology, 8(4), 460–470. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jceh.2018.04.012|
|↑5||Srivastava, A. B., Mariani, J. J., & Levin, F. R. (2020). New directions in the treatment of opioid withdrawal. Lancet (London, England), 395(10241), 1938–1948. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30852-7|
|↑6||Kleber H. D. (2007). Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 9(4), 455–470. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2007.9.2/hkleber|
|↑7||Rickels K, Schweizer E, Case WG, Greenblatt DJ. Long-term Therapeutic Use of Benzodiazepines: I. Effects of Abrupt Discontinuation. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1990;47(10):899–907. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1990.01810220015002|
|↑8||Bonnet, U., & Preuss, U. W. (2017). The cannabis withdrawal syndrome: current insights. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 8, 9–37. https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S109576|
|↑9||Davis C. (2018). Home detox – supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction. Australian prescriber, 41(6), 180–182. https://doi.org/10.18773/austprescr.2018.059|
|↑10||McGovern, M. P., Lambert-Harris, C., Gotham, H. J., Claus, R. E., & Xie, H. (2014). Dual diagnosis capability in mental health and addiction treatment services: an assessment of programs across multiple state systems. Administration and policy in mental health, 41(2), 205–214. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-012-0449-1|