Even though some people mistake drug detoxification and rehab as the same thing, they’re not interchangeable. The former is a stage of addiction treatment, and it’s shorter than the entire rehab process. But how long does it take to detox from drugs?
In this article, we’ll discuss the timeline of different drug detoxifications. We’ll also explain the factors that affect the length of the former process. So, keep reading to find out more!
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How Long Does It Take to Detox From Drugs?
Generally, the drug detoxification process ranges from a few days to several weeks. In some cases, the withdrawal symptoms associated with detox can last for months. Regardless, most symptoms usually peak within the first week to 10 days of withdrawal.
That said, detox is just one part of addiction recovery. The latter process is a lifetime journey that requires ongoing therapy and support to maintain sobriety and prevent relapses.
What Are the Types of Drug Detoxification?
Typically, addiction experts can use two methods to remove the substance from a patient’s body. Those are cold turkey and tapering. Each treatment option is effective for withdrawing certain drugs, and in many cases, doctors pair them with other prescription medicines to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at the two main drug detox methods!
As you might have known, cold turkey refers to the abrupt cessation of drugs. The term comes from the symptoms patients experience when they suddenly stop abusing substances. Those include cold burns and goose pimples appearing on the skin, which resemble a cold turkey.
Of course, abruptly quitting drugs results in an unpleasant experience that can be even life-threatening. For that reason, the former method should be done under the care of a doctor or a rehabilitation center.
Even with the potential serious side effects, the cold turkey method can be more efficient in detoxifying certain substances than tapering. That’s especially true in the case of nicotine.
Research suggests that patients who quit smoking cold turkey abstain from tobacco longer than those who gradually decrease the dosage. Other drugs that are safe to detoxify cold turkey include:
- D-lysergic acid (LSD)
- PCP (phencyclidine)
- Magic mushrooms (psilocybin)
As you might have noticed, the above drugs are psychedelics, which are generally less addictive than other drugs. Consequently, they are safe to quit cold turkey.
Tapering is the exact opposite of going cold turkey. The former refers to slowly weaning off the drug by gradually decreasing its dosage. As you can see, this method is safer to use on drugs that cause serious side effects when quitting cold turkey.
Typically, such substances cause the nervous system to adapt to high dosages and alter the system’s function.
That creates feelings of extreme euphoria, which the brain records. Because those happy memories are associated with the drug, the body craves heroin. Over time, the brain stops producing dopamine and relies solely on opioids to feel rewarded.
The problem doesn’t just stop there; there’s also the risk of tolerance. After an extended period of taking heroin, the brain receptors become less responsive to the drug. Consequently, it leads to higher-dose abuse.
From the above, you can see how drugs alter the body’s physiology. For that reason, quitting cold turkey leads to health-threatening side effects, such as seizures, anxiety, severe depression, heart problems, and psychosis.
Alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates are other drugs that cause life-threatening withdrawal effects when treated using the cold turkey method.
In the case of opioids and alcohol, the doctor won’t give patients low dosages of the substances to wean them off. Instead, other medications that mimic those drug effects inside the body are used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Factors That Influence Drug Detoxification Length
Several factors play a role in drug detox duration. Drug type is probably the most significant factor in determining detoxification length. Other factors that influence the period include the severity of use, age, and health condition.
Let’s discuss each factor in further detail!
Since drugs act differently inside the body, the withdrawal timeline, as well as symptoms, vary from one substance to another.
Here’s a brief explanation of the detox time for common drugs:
Withdrawal symptoms begin as anxiety, insomnia, and shaking after 24 hours and peak on the third day. Hallucinations, fevers, and seizures usually occur after 72 hours and last until the fifth day. After the first week, symptoms begin to taper off.
Symptoms may begin after a few hours and cause insomnia, anxiety, sweating, and muscle pain. Peak symptoms happen in the first five to seven days. In severe cases, detoxification may take up to six months or more. Withdrawal symptoms of the latter include:
- abdominal cramping
- Blurry vision
- Rapid heart rate
- Digestive problems
Peak symptoms of detoxifying stimulants, such as cocaine and meth, occur during the first week and can last for several months. Those include drug cravings, severe depression, and other psychological effects. The former symptom is the most persistent.
Early symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, and muscle pain, happen after 24 hours. Anxiety can appear after a few hours of withdrawal.
Peak symptoms include irritability, shaking, restlessness, dry retching, and heart palpitations. Those usually last for two weeks before tapering off.
The severity of Drug Abuse
Aside from the drug type, how long a patient has been abusing a substance also influences the detoxification period. As mentioned earlier, long-term use of drugs builds tolerance in the body.
As you might have guessed, such addiction late stages take more time to eliminate drug dependency from the body.
Unfortunately, even though detoxification helps the body get rid of drugs and heal, extended abuse of substances can cause irreversible damage.
Age and Overall Health Condition
Detoxification involves eliminating drugs through the body’s natural metabolism. Sure, doctors can prescribe medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, but the process mainly relies on the body’s natural ability to detoxify harmful substances.
The problem is that such physiological processes to eliminate drugs slow down as we age. That’s why the elderly can take longer to detox from substances. Not to mention the underlying medical conditions associated with aging, such as diabetes, can also impair the body’s metabolism.
So, how long does it take to detox from drugs?
Drug detoxification generally ranges from a couple of days to several weeks. In severe cases, getting rid of withdrawal symptoms completely takes a couple of months.
However, the length may vary depending on several factors. Those include drug type, the severity of drug abuse, age, and overall health.
Regardless of the drug addiction you want to cure, it’s best to seek medical help, as withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.