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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

02-19-16 | By

The Detox Timeline: How Long Will It Take?

The Detox Timeline

If you are about to enter drug treatment, there is a mix of relief, excitement and apprehension. There is no doubt that you are ready and eager to do the work necessary to address and overcome your substance abuse issues. While you are ready to start writing a new chapter in your life, your thoughts are also tinged with equal parts uncertainty and doubt.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle those seeking recovery will encounter is drug and alcohol detox. The medical detoxification process is an essential part of early recovery where the symptoms associated with drug use are minimized to the point where the addict becomes stable enough to enter treatment. Detox is important piece of recovery, but the discomfort that can be associated with the process may cause concern for those early in the process.

Even if people get past the initial unease of the detox process, the question that many addicts will ask will be how long will it take? While this question is completely understandable, it is very important to realize that medical detox is a process that cannot be rushed. Medical detox provides a stable foundation on which a rock solid program of recovery is built. If people try to rush the process or leave treatment altogether because “it is taking too long” any sobriety that a person obtains may be short-lived, and it is more than likely that the addict will continue being stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction.

The following article gives a general detox timeline for various substance groups and outlines what an addict can expect when they enter treatment. Before we jump into the detox timeline, it is important to outline the importance of medical detox.

Why Do I Need Medical Detox: Can’t I Just Quit On My Own?

There is no doubt that medical detox provides patients with tremendous physical and psychological benefits. However, many people may feel they can quit substances on their own by going cold turkey or by using various over-the-counter home remedies. While these methods of self-detoxification can be appealing, these methods are extremely risky.

No matter the substance that is being abused, each has its own set of withdrawal symptoms that can be uncomfortable and painful to endure. Depending on the amount of the drug that is taken, the frequency it which it was taken and the presence of any underlying medical issues, these withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and have the potential to be life-threatening.

Even if an individual does not experience any life-threatening symptoms, substances can produce withdrawal symptoms so excruciating that it often leads people back to active drug use just to minimize the pain and discomfort. Under strict and experienced medical supervision, medical detox staff will be able to administer the appropriate interventions in order to make withdrawals more tolerable.

Additionally, detox staff will perform a comprehensive evaluation during the detox process to diagnose any co-occurring disorders (commonly known as dual diagnosis) that may make recovery more difficult.

How  Long Will I Stay in Detox?

Each person’s detox timeline will be largely dependent on a variety of factors. However, the following will give a general estimate of how long detox can last and what people can expect.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detoxification needs to take place in a medical inpatient-based setting due to the quick onset of withdrawal symptoms and the overall detox process can last about a week. Withdrawal symptoms usually start 6 to 24 hours after the last drink where patients can experience tremors, restlessness, nausea and impaired judgment.

The more severe of these symptoms usually occur within the first 48 hours so medical monitoring is highly recommended. Continued medical supervision may be needed for a few days afterward due to the possibility of hallucinations and seizures which can lead to death. These symptoms are usually associated with a condition known as delirium tremens.

Drugs such as Dilantin and Clonidine can be used to relieve withdrawal symptoms, especially if the patient has seizures or experiences delirium. Depending on the overall health of the patient, those with even moderate withdrawal symptoms may benefit from medications in the detox process. Other drugs that may be used include diazepam, Atvian, and Tegretol.

Opiate Detox

While opiate withdrawal does not pose significant medical dangers, it can be intensely uncomfortable and unpleasant in which medical monitoring in highly recommended. Opiate detoxification can last five to ten days in which patients are closely monitored and throughout the detox process and given the appropriate medication to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and agitation. In opiate detox there is a tapering (a decrease of dosage) of a substance that is related to the original drug of abuse that is now substituted to prevent withdrawal.

Methadone is a commonly used drug in the detox process but it also has a high potential for abuse and needs to be carefully monitored by medical personnel. Other drugs such as Suboxone and Naltrexone are being used more frequently in the detox process due to the lower risk for addiction. However, both of these drugs still need to be administered under close medical supervision.

Benzo Detox

Like opiate detox, benzo detox generally can last between five and ten days. Medical detox is crucial due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms and especially the psychological symptoms. Those who are withdrawing from benzos can experience psychological symptoms that can mimic schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis and experience seizures if they have been abusing high doses. Additionally, benzodiazepines such as Xanax are commonly used with other drugs such as alcohol. Therefore, it is crucial those with benzo addiction undergo detoxification immediately.

There currently are no drugs that are FDA-approved in the management of benzo withdrawal symptoms. However, drugs such as Flumazezil and Catapres are commonly used to minimize both the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Along with medical detoxification, it is common those who are withdrawing from benzodiazepines can also utilize IV therapy.

Is Detox Needed for Drugs with No Physical Withdrawal Symptoms?

There are some drugs that have little or no physical withdrawal symptoms. Even though the physical symptoms aren’t present, the psychological withdrawals may warrant inpatient drug detoxification. For example, cocaine shows little to no physical symptoms of withdrawal but the psychological cravings and dependence for the drug creates intense discomfort. In these cases, cocaine detox in recommended and can last for a few days but not longer than a week.

Marijuana is another example of a drug with little or no physical withdrawal symptoms, but have pronounced psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety. For those withdrawing from marijuana, the detox process can last several weeks since THC, the active compound in marijuana, is stored in the body’s fat cells. However, the extent of detox would be the monitoring of psychological symptoms and any co-occurring mental disorders.

The thought of medical detox can put a substantial amount of fear in those who are entering treatment. Indeed, the withdrawal symptoms and timeline in which detox would be truly effective may be filled with a certain level of anxiety. With the help and support of experienced detox staff, the detox process can be made as safe and tolerable as possible–and people can be on their way to a meaningful long-term recovery.


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