Changes in the brain’s reward and pleasure system are one side effect of long-term drinking and drug use. As a substance use disorder progresses, your brain and body will become accustomed to the presence of drugs and alcohol to such an extent that you won’t feel “normal” when you’re sober. At this point, you may be at risk of experiencing various withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking or using. How long does withdrawal last?
What Is Withdrawal?
Drug withdrawal may include a combination of physical, mental and emotional symptoms — some of which can be dangerous, especially for people who try to quit cold turkey. If you have been abusing alcohol or drugs and have made it your goal to get sober, you’ll need to prepare yourself for the withdrawal phase. Otherwise, the cascade of unpleasant effects could trigger a return to substance use.
Your withdrawal period’s duration will depend on various factors, including the specific substance you’re trying to purge from your system, the severity of your dependence and your history of use. Based on these differences, it may take several days to free your brain and body of toxins.
Some people in the earliest stages of recovery also experience a phenomenon known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, a prolonged resurgence of symptoms like mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain and trouble concentrating.
The Withdrawal Timeline
Various drug classes bring unique symptoms and differ in how long they take to leave your system. Here’s what you should know.
Many people take stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin on their doctor’s orders to help manage conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy. However, these drugs have the potential for abuse, even if you used them exactly as prescribed.
Stimulant withdrawal can cause depression and a lack of interest in formerly enjoyable hobbies. Body aches, drug cravings and nightmares can also happen to people trying to stop abusing stimulant drugs.
These symptoms typically begin within a few hours to several days after your last stimulant use, with intensity peaking about a week in. However, psychological symptoms like depression can be long-lasting. A therapist can help you manage mood disorders by teaching you healthy coping skills.
When taken as prescribed, opioids can provide significant pain relief. However, opioids could also cause you to develop a dependence due to their effect on the brain’s dopamine levels. Opioid withdrawal brings about symptoms like flu-like body aches and chills, increased heart rate, nausea, insomnia and anxiety.
Depending on whether the opioids you relied on were short-acting or long-acting, it may take less time for your symptoms to emerge. For instance, short-acting opioid withdrawal symptoms tend to emerge eight to 24 hours after the final use and can last between four and 10 days. With longer-acting opioids such as methadone, it may take two to four days for withdrawal symptoms to emerge. These will likely fade within 10 days.
Drinking to excess is a common problem in the U.S. due to the ready availability of alcohol and intense social pressure to drink in circumstances such as parties and sporting events.
The first signs of alcohol withdrawal, such as shaking and impaired concentration, may appear within several hours after you quit drinking and peak over the next 24 to 48 hours. A risk of seizures may remain high for anywhere from 12 hours to 48 hours after, while other severe health concerns such as delirium tremens can remain a concern for as long as three days after your last drink.
Since many doctors prescribe benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax to help manage depression or anxiety, quitting drugs in this class can cause these mental disorders to return. Many former benzodiazepine users experience panic attacks or extreme anxiety and insomnia during their withdrawal period.
These symptoms vary in severity, typically begin within 24 hours and may last from a few days to a few months.
Medically Managed Withdrawal and Detoxification
The safest way to detox from drugs or alcohol is to do so under the supervision of trained medical professionals. If you have a substance use disorder, completing a detoxification process will ensure you’re medically stable enough to progress to the next stages of your treatment. Contact us when you’re ready to learn more.