Withdrawal Timelines: A Handbook

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When it comes to withdrawing from drugs and alcohol, the number one question people want an answer to when they get clean is….. how long is this gonna take? Want to understand withdrawal? Look no further. This tell-it-like-it-is handbook offers a guide to understanding this painful process, complete with withdrawal timelines for the most commonly used drugs.

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The Disease of Addiction and its Relationship to Withdrawal

Whether you’re smoking weed or shooting heroin, when you stop using your drug of choice, know this: there will be hell to pay. It’s called withdrawal. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” To be clear, addiction is a disease. Many people are confused about this, but all medical and addiction experts agree that addiction is not a moral failing, but an illness. The disease of addiction is arrested only when the addicted person stops the use of drugs and alcohol and commits to abstinence. Unfortunately, withdrawal always accompanies this decision. The pain of withdrawal is generally what keeps the addicted person sick. To avoid detox, chemically dependent people will continue to abuse drugs for years and stay stuck in the cycle of addiction.

What is Withdrawal?

When you withdraw drugs from your body, you go through withdrawal or “detox.” This is the process your body and your brain undergo once you remove an addictive substance from your system. It is how your body reorients itself to its normal state of functioning without the dependence of outside chemicals. It takes the body different periods of time to withdraw from different drugs. And, depending on the substance you are using, there will be accompanying withdrawal symptoms. Every substance is different. And, every system is different. Everybody goes through withdrawal differently and on a different timeline.

Withdrawal is A Very Real (and Very Painful) Part of the Recovery Process

Your age, weight, overall health, liver and kidney function, diet, and genetics all play a role in how your body withdraws from a particular drug. However; it is important to keep in mind that no matter what drug you have been using, the first week is always the most difficult. Things usually get better after the first seven days. The thing is, there is no way to recover from drug or alcohol addiction without going the painful, but necessary, process of withdrawal. This is an experience no one wants to endure. Nevertheless, if you want to find recovery, you are going to have to walk through a few days, weeks, or even months of discomfort. Unfortunately, there is no way around this.

The Two Phases of Withdrawal – Acute and Post-Acute

It is important to recognize that there are two phases to the withdrawal process. There is the acute withdrawal phase – also known as the detox phase. And, there is the post-acute withdrawal phase. Acute withdrawal is what happens when you immediately remove the drugs from your system. This is the worst of it. This is when someone who has the desire to recover is most susceptible to relapse because the pain is so intense. Acute withdrawal usually lasts from three days to a week. Post-acute withdrawal is when the most desperate physical symptoms have passed, but there are lingering effects from the substance abuse. Typically, post-acute withdrawal (unlike acute withdrawal) is not life-threatening. Of course, it is still madly uncomfortable and is a strong motivator for relapse. Now that we’ve defined the disease of addiction and talked about withdrawal, let’s take a look at some of the most commonly abused drugs and set forth some withdrawal timelines.

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Withdrawing from Opiates is Going to Be Rough – You Count on It  

Opiates, also called opioids, are a classification of narcotic drugs that are used for pain. There are prescription opiates and heroin. Prescription opiates are legal drugs prescribed by a doctor for pain. Although many people abuse their own prescriptions, others buy these pills on the streets for a hefty price. Heroin is also an opiate, but you have to buy it on the street. Oxycodone, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Codeine, and Percocet are among the most commonly abused prescription opiates. Prescription opiates are considered legal heroin. Millions of people around the world are abusing opiates every day – whether they get them legally from the doctor or on the street from a dealer. Withdrawing from heroin and withdrawing from prescription opiates are one in the same. You can expect the same symptoms, detox, and withdrawal timeline.

Some Symptoms of Withdrawal from Opiates

  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Debilitating headaches
  • Total physical exhaustion
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Extreme physical pain throughout the entire body
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

Opiates Withdrawal Timeline

  1. The onset of prescription opiate withdrawal is usually about 12 hours after someone has taken their last dose. With heroin, withdrawal symptoms sometimes come on as soon as six hours after the last fix.
  2. The first five to seven days are gruesome. This is when acute withdrawal kicks in. During this time, you will experience extreme symptoms. Your entire body will feel like it is on fire. You will sweat buckets. You will vomit profusely. You will have unrelenting diarrhea. You will not be able to eat. You will have pain throughout your body. You may develop a fever. You will have the chills.
  3. If you ride out these symptoms, they will pass within a week. After the first four to seven days, the withdrawal symptoms subside tremendously. This is not to say that opiate withdrawal is over.
  4. Usually, it takes 4-6 weeks to truly withdrawal from prescription opiates. During this time, you will continue to feel mild to moderate symptoms. Once this process is over, it may take up to a year for the brain to fully heal from prescription opiate abuse.

What to Expect from Cocaine Withdrawal

Although withdrawal from cocaine will not produce the violent physical illness found with opiates, detoxing from cocaine is very unpleasant.  The most difficult part about withdrawing from cocaine is withdrawing from cocaine. This is because most people don’t do it. They just use more cocaine to avoid the symptoms. When you kick cocaine, you will have to walk through some extreme cravings. Your body and mind (and even your soul) are going to scream at you to go get more cocaine. These cravings can last for weeks. If you are going to stop the use of cocaine, it is best to do this under supervision (or, at the very least, with the help of a recovering friend).

Some Symptoms of Withdrawal from Cocaine

  • Sweating
  • Paranoia
  • Mental confusion
  • Agitation
  • Extreme depression
  • Fatigue
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Psychosis

Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline

  1. Cocaine has a very short half-life. Your body metabolizes it rather quickly. This means when you stop using cocaine, you begin to feel withdrawal symptoms almost immediately – as soon as one hour after you stop using. Cravings will be intense. The brain will demand more of the drug.
  2. After the first few hours and the most severe cravings have passed, depression and uncontrollable crying will set in. Because a cocaine binge depletes the brain of the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine, extreme depression is part of the cocaine withdrawal process. This generally lasts three to seven days.
  3. After the first week, most acute withdrawal symptoms will pass. For the next two to six weeks, withdrawal continues to take place as the brain reorients itself. Mental confusion, exhaustion, general depression, lack of motivation, and a loss of motor skills are all notable.
  4. Full recovery from cocaine withdrawal generally takes about six months. It typically takes about this long for the brain’s neurotransmitters to start firing properly again. However, someone who has abused cocaine for an extended period may continue to experience long-term effects from the drug for years.

When You Stop Smoking Marijuana, Surprise! You Will Experience Withdrawal  

Most people don’t think smoking marijuana is that bad. Arguably, when compared to drugs like cocaine and opiates, it isn’t. But, marijuana is psychologically addictive and it does cause withdrawal symptoms. Many people have a terrible time putting down the weed and stay stoned for years to avoid the discomfort of quitting the stuff. Marijuana withdrawal is real.

Some Symptoms of Withdrawal from Marijuana

  • Agitated mood
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of focus and motivation
  • Depression
  • Mental confusion

Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline

  1. Withdrawing from marijuana is tricky. Marijuana is fat soluble, which means it stores in your fat cells. This means it hangs around in your body for awhile. It could take several months for marijuana to get completely out of your system. This means your body is processing the drug long after you’ve stopped using it.
  2. Stopping the use of marijuana is difficult. The brain and the body will crave it immensely those first two weeks. Feelings of sadness, loss of motivation, headaches, and a disruption to your mood will cause you to want the drug. You will be pretty cranky most of the time.
  3. For the first month, you can expect to have difficulty sleeping. You will be depressed. You will be lethargic. You will have a loss of interest in your daily activities.
  4. Usually, after about four weeks, most marijuana withdrawal symptoms pass and you return to a greater sense of normalcy. However; it usually takes a chronic smoker about six months to a year before they regain full use of their mental faculties.

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Want to Withdraw from Benzodiazepines? It’s Might Hurt a Little (Or A Lot)

Benzodiazepines are a classification of drugs prescribed by a doctor for anxiety and other mood-related disorders. The three most popular are Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin. Also known as “benzos,” these powerful sedatives are highly addictive and can result in an extreme physical dependence. People who have been using high doses of benzos for an extended period of time generally have to detox at a rehabilitation facility to find recovery. Why? Because withdrawal from benzodiazepines is quite an emotional rollercoaster ride.

Some Symptoms of Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines

  • Insomnia
  • Disorientation
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Depression
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Emotional deregulation

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline

  1. Withdrawing from Xanax, Valium, or Klonopin will most likely make you cry. The drug interacts with the brain in such a way that about 24 hours after you stop the use of the drug, you will feel extremely depressed, emotional, and out of control. You will want to take benzos just to feel normal.
  2. For the first five days of benzodiazepine withdrawal, you will have difficulty sleeping, eating, getting comfortable, and functioning as a human being. Everything will feel like an effort – even breathing.
  3. After being on a powerful sedative for an extended period of time, your emotional state will feel overblown for the first two to three weeks. Emotional deregulation is common with withdrawal from benzos. Everything will seem like a crisis, you will have extreme anxiety and will likely experience frequent panic attacks.
  4. Usually, about a month after you stop using benzodiazepines, your brain will begin to function properly and emotional regulation will return. Stopping the use of benzos is a challenging process. You shouldn’t try this on your own.

Withdrawing from Methamphetamines – You’re Not Hearing Voices, It’s Just Detox    

Quitting the use of meth is no walk in the park. Methamphetamines mess with your mind like no other drug. Much of the meth manufactured today is made with pesticides, household cleaners, and other harsh chemicals. When you use this stuff, you’re poisoning your brain and your body in a way that is different from other substances. Detoxing from meth will have you hearing voices, seeing hallucinations, and having delusional thoughts. When people go through meth withdrawal, they say they feel like they are going crazy. It’s best to kick meth in a safe place with people you can trust. This is not a journey you want to go alone.

Some Symptoms of Withdrawal from Methamphetamines

  • Mental disorientation and confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Once fatigue wears off, insomnia
  • Terrible nightmares
  • The feeling that bugs are crawling all over you
  • The sweats and shakes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paranoia

Meth Withdrawal Timeline

  1. Generally, when people stop using meth, they crash. This means they sleep for about 24 hours after they stop using. When they wake up, the nightmare begins. Meth withdraw begins about 8-10 hours after the last use. Fortunately, many meth users sleep off the first part of the withdrawal process.
  2. The first week of meth withdrawal is long and hard. During this time, in extreme cases, the brain will produce images and sounds that are not real. There will be paranoia, delusional thinking, and visual and auditory hallucinations. Insomnia, loss of appetite, and insomnia are common.
  3. The second week, the brain is still healing from the surge of the chemicals from the meth. There will be a continued sense of mental confusion, disorientation, and depression. Performing routine tasks will be difficult.
  4. By week three, someone in recovery from methamphetamines will experience a real sense of relief from withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, it can take a hardcore meth user over a year to get their mind right.

Alcohol Withdrawal Will Make You Sick – Guaranteed  

Alcohol is a drug. Period. Because alcohol is legal, most people completely underestimate how dangerous alcohol really is. Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances. It is particularly difficult to withdraw from. It can even be deadly. If you’ve been drinking wine, beer, or liquor (or any combination of the three) for any length of time, you can expect to have to have withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking. For heavy chronic drinkers, alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. This is why it is so important to consult with a doctor before you quit alcohol. You might need medical help to do so.

Some Symptoms of Withdrawal from Alcohol

  • Hand tremors (the “shakes”)
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

  1. Alcohol is one of the most difficult substances to withdraw from. Much like opiates, you will get very sick when you stop drinking. Typically, detox from alcohol begins 12-24 hours after the last drink.
  2. For the first 24-72 hours, you can expect extreme nausea, diarrhea, the shakes, the sweats, and an overall feeling of discomfort. Five percent of heavy alcoholics will experience hallucinations or delusions during the acute withdrawal phase. You will experience an overwhelming feeling of disorientation and you can count on having insomnia.
  3. These physical symptoms will continue to slowly subside for the first two weeks of alcohol withdrawal. During this time, depression will set in and the recovering alcoholic will likely want to do a lot of sleeping. Sleeping is good. The body will need rest to recover.
  4. After the first two weeks, the body and brain continue to slowly heal with time and a continued commitment to abstinence from alcohol. Generally, it can take several months for the alcoholic body to resume to a normal state of functioning.

Another Addictive Substance that Causes Withdrawal? Caffeine

We’ve covered some highly addictive substances that people withdrawal from. Let’s talk about another one few care to mention. Caffeine. If you’ve ever smoked crack or shot heroin in your arms, you’re probably offended when you see caffeine on any list where drugs are named. “As if. Caffeine. Really? Give me a break!” Sound familiar? This is the typical reaction from hardcore drug users where the idea of caffeine being classified as a drug is concerned. But, the fact is, caffeine is a powerful and highly addicted stimulant abused by millions of Americans every single day. This is a commonly used addictive substance for addicts in particular. Most people who are recovering from addiction abuse caffeine. Think about it. What’s served at every 12-Step meeting. Coffee! Coincidence? If you’re a chronic coffee or soda drinker, and you decide to quit cold turkey, you are going to go into withdrawal. And while it may not be as uncomfortable as kicking heroin, detoxing from caffeine is no fun.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood

Caffeine Withdrawal Timeline

  1. When you remove caffeine from your system, you can expect extreme cravings. Your body is going to jones for the stuff like it were cocaine. That is because both drugs are in the stimulant family. Caffeine withdrawal usually begins about eight hours after your last consumption of the stuff.
  2. For the first day, you are going to have the jitters, become anxious and highly agitated, and feel an overall consuming sense of discomfort. You are also going to feel crashed – as if you have no energy to accomplish your daily tasks. Plan of being a not nice, unhappy, bitterly discontent human being – even though you wish you weren’t.
  3. On days two through seven, you are probably going to have severe headaches. This is a result of removing the caffeine from your system. Your brain is accustomed to functioning with caffeine, and without it, it doesn’t know how to operate.
  4. After the first week of caffeine withdrawal, your body will begin to regulate itself. However; you will still have cravings for caffeine for another several weeks. Generally, people say they do not stop having a desire for caffeine until about a month after they stop consuming it.

Should I Go Through Withdrawal on My Own? Is Detox Really Necessary?

Now that we’ve presented withdrawal timelines and symptoms for some of the most commonly abused drugs, you may feel a little apprehensive about detoxing on your own. In all honesty, withdrawal from any drug can be terrifying. But, what’s more terrifying is a life lost to addiction. Deciding whether to go through withdrawal on your own depends on what kind of drug you have been taking and for how long. If you are simply smoking marijuana, for example, you could withdraw safely on your own without medical supervision. If you are addicted to opiates, benzos, or alcohol, you probably should not detox on your own and will need help to detox. If you’ve been abusing drugs or alcohol, and you’re ready to quit, you may want to talk to your doctor. He or she can help you make the decision about whether you can go through withdrawal on your own. Ready to surrender your addiction? Learn more about taking steps toward recovery.