How Long is Medical Detox?

How Long is Medical Detox?

Alcohol and drug deaths are continuously rising in the US. Despite this, overdoses are still taking many lives across the US. Alcohol and drugs affect the individual using, their family, and society. However, drug and alcohol abuse are symptoms of underlying problems. There are risk factors for substance abuse such as mental health issues, childhood abuse, and early exposure to drugs and alcohol. Comprehensive addiction treatment requires looking at the reasons people started using substances.

Medical detox is often the first step of recovery, especially if you use substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids which can have dangerous and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. We will discuss medical detox, who needs it, what it is, and how long it lasts. If you or a loved one might need medical detox for substance use, please read on to find out more.

Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Alcohol and drug abuse can have mental and physical health implications. The more you abuse substances the higher your chances are of developing dependence and addiction which make quitting extremely hard. Dependence tends to develop gradually, though this varies based on which substance you are using and personal factors including mental and physical health.

Dependence is where your body and brain start to think they need the substance to function normally. When you stop taking the substance you experience symptoms of withdrawal which can be extremely unpleasant and even fatal. Dependence usually comes together with addiction which is a disease characterized by compulsively seeking and taking a substance.

Mixing substances increases your chances of developing dependence and addiction as well as increasing your risk of overdose. For example, those with an alcohol addiction may mix it with other depressants to increase its effects. Or, they may mix it with stimulants to counter some of the negative effects of alcohol.

Substance Withdrawal

Not all substances can cause physical and psychological dependence and therefore they do not all cause withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, not all substances that can cause dependence will cause fatal overdoses. There are also some substances that may lead to dangerous symptoms of withdrawal when you stop. These include alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Although it is typically a socially acceptable substance, alcohol abuse can be very damaging. Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Elevated body temperature
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors

In severe cases you may experience symptoms including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Alcohol detox can be very unpleasant and even fatal due to the latter two symptoms. It is therefore important to get professional help if you are withdrawing from it.

Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzodiazepines (also known as benzos) are also central nervous system depressants that are used for the short-term treatment of anxiety and seizures. Due to chemically working in a similar way to alcohol they cause similar symptoms of withdrawal which can also be fatal, though they do not lead to delirium tremens. Examples include diazepam (common brand name Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin).

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioids are drugs that are extracted from poppy seeds or semi-synthetically or synthetically produced to have the same chemical effects. Like the drugs mentioned above, they are central nervous system depressants though they work differently in the brain. Some opioids such as oxycodone and morphine are prescribed for pain relief. Other opioids such as heroin are not recognized to have a medical use or are seen to be too dangerous to be worth it so can only be bought illicitly.

While opioid withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening in themselves, they can be extremely unpleasant and dangerous. There is a high risk of people relapsing when withdrawing from opioids and there is also a risk of self-harm.

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Body aches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Medical Detox

Medical Detox

Medical detox is when you rid your body of toxic addictive substances and their metabolites. If you seek addiction treatment you will first be assessed to determine what care you need. For example, you will be assessed for whether you have a drug or alcohol use disorder, if you have any medical conditions or co-occurring mental health disorders, and if you are at risk of having withdrawal symptoms. Your detox program will be tailored to your individual needs based on this assessment.

The detox process aims to manage symptoms of withdrawal so that the process is as safe and comfortable as possible. It takes place under the constant medical supervision of doctors, nurses, and therapists. This means that if you are experiencing bad physical or psychological symptoms, medical professionals will provide you with the medication or psychological support you need.

Medical detox is the safest way to detox from substances. You may have heard of quitting cold turkey. This is where you stop taking the substance without managing withdrawal symptoms or reducing your doses first. This can be dangerous if you are withdrawing from the substances mentioned previously, and it also puts you at a higher risk of relapsing. Under a medical detox program, you will taper off the substance you have been using. This means that your body can get used to functioning without the substance gradually. You may also be given a medical substitute to help manage withdrawal symptoms.

Medication Used During Detox

Detox programs will typically include medication to make the process easier to manage. The medication you take will depend on which substance you use. It will usually be a substance that has a similar chemical function to the substance you are taking. This means that your body and brain get less of a shock and withdrawal symptoms are less intense. You may also receive treatments that target specific withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, anxiety, and depression.


Benzodiazepines are sometimes used in the treatment of alcohol detox as they both work by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Since benzodiazepines are also addictive they should not be used for extended periods. Once you have detoxed from alcohol you are tapered off benzodiazepines.


Methadone is used to manage opioid withdrawal. Methadone is an opioid, so it is also an addictive substance. However, when taken under careful medical supervision it is very good at preventing symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The downsides of methadone are that it can be difficult to taper off.


Buprenorphine is used for opioid use disorder withdrawal and to prevent people from abusing opioids. It reduces symptoms of withdrawal and also prevents other opioids from binding so that they do not have the same effect as usual.

How Long Does Detox Last?

How Long Does Detox Last

You will start to experience withdrawal symptoms when the concentration of the substance in your blood falls below what is normal for you. This depends on the half-life of the substance to which you are addicted. For example, withdrawal from alcohol can begin within a few hours. The time that detox lasts depends on the person and their substance use. Though even if you have detoxed before your next withdrawal may feel completely different. Factors that affect detox include:

  • Which substance they used – symptoms and the speed of onset will vary based on this
  • How long, heavily, and frequently you have been using – the heavier your addiction the longer and more severe your symptoms are likely to be
  • Individual factors – metabolism, weight, genetics, and physical and mental health affect how long and severe withdrawal is

Below we provide a rough idea of withdrawal timelines for alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

  • Six to twelve hours – symptoms start. Common symptoms include headaches, anxiety, insomnia, stomach pains, and nausea.
  • Twelve to forty-eight hours – the severity of symptoms increase and may include hallucinations and seizures.
  • Forty-eight to seventy-two hours – symptoms peak and may include confusion, sweating, increased heart rate, and blood pressure, and delirium tremens
  • Four to seven days – symptoms start to improve after seventy-two hours and generally disappear by four to seven days.

Benzodiazepine Detox Timeline

  • One to four days – depending on the half-life of the benzodiazepine you are taking, symptoms will start at different times. For example, symptoms of Xanax withdrawal may start as soon as ten to twelve hours after your last dose. It may take two days to a week for symptoms to start if you are using longer-acting benzodiazepines. Common initial symptoms include anxiety and insomnia.
  • Over the next couple of days – symptoms will peak and may include muscle spasms, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hallucination, short-term memory problems, and cravings.
  • Ten to fourteen days – symptoms will generally decline after a few days and disappear by ten to fourteen days. Withdrawal can last from two to eight weeks for long-acting benzodiazepines.

Opioid Detox Timeline

Heroin and short-acting opioids

  • Six to twelve hours – symptoms start. Common symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, and diarrhea.
  • Two to three days – symptoms peak and may include abdominal cramps, sweating, shivers, and vomiting.
  • Five to ten days – symptoms decline.

Long-acting opioids such as methadone

  • Twelve hours to two days – symptoms start.
  • Two to four days – symptoms tend to peak around day three but may take longer if symptoms started later.
  • One to three weeks – symptoms subside and can last for three weeks.

Post-Acute Withdrawal

Following acute withdrawal, some people will experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms. These are typically psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Some people will also experience intense drug cravings for some time after they have quit. It is therefore important to continue receiving support after you have undergone detox.

Do I Need Medical Detox?

You should speak with a medical professional if you are currently using substances and want to stop. The following are some factors that might mean you need to undergo medical detox:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop using
  • Using a substance for an extended period
  • Developing tolerance to the substance
  • Craving the substance when you do not have it
  • Having tried to quit but not managing
  • Being pregnant
  • Abusing multiple substances

If you are using substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids it is particularly important to seek medical advice before you try to stop taking the substance by yourself. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests that people undergo inpatient detox for alcohol and sedatives such as benzodiazepines. They also recommend it for opioid withdrawal. Even though this is less dangerous in terms of withdrawal symptoms it can make you very sick leading to complications such as dehydration and to relapse due to the extremely unpleasant experience.

Addiction Treatment

Addiction Treatment

Detox is not the end of the recovery process. While you may have stopped taking the substance you need to deal with the original reasons you started taking them as well as triggers that may cause you to relapse. Without this, there is a high chance that you start taking them again. Most people who achieve long-term sobriety will relapse at least once during their recovery, so you should not lose hope if you experience setbacks along the way. There are many treatment options available, so finding treatment programs that work for you can be a huge help in making sure that you have the best chance of long-term sobriety.

Contact Us Today

At Ebb Tide, we understand how challenging it is to seek treatment and we are here to support you through the process. We offer a variety of treatment options to suit your individual needs, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Physical activities including gym workouts, yoga, and team sports
  • Balanced and nutritious meals
  • Aftercare

You can find out more on our website or by calling us on 561-508-8330. A staff member will be happy to speak with you about addiction treatment and how our treatment processes work. Start your new life with us today!

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