Any mind-altering drug can cause withdrawals, from nicotine or caffeine to heroin or meth. The withdrawal symptoms experienced during detox often keep people from quitting these substances, whether it’s cutting out coffee or putting down the pipe. Withdrawals from alcohol, heroin, or meth are obviously much more excruciating than those of caffeine or nicotine. People avoid getting sober from alcohol and hard drugs in order to avoid experiencing these withdrawal symptoms. The detox process is often difficult and painful, but it is worth it for the result of being sober. If you want to get clean, you have to detox and withdraw from your substance of choice at some point. The sooner you stop using, the sooner you never have to deal with detoxification or withdrawals again. We have outlined the withdrawal timeline for various substances to give you a better idea of what to expect during detox.
What are Withdrawal Symptoms?
Alcohol and drugs have a significant impact on the brain, especially in large quantities. Extended use rewires the natural patterns in your brain. In addition to cognitive impairments, heavy, long-term drug and alcohol use affects other parts of the body. If you drink or use for a long period of time, your brain and body become dependent upon the substances you use in order to function. If you are a heavy drinker or drug user and suddenly stop, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms vary in severity, the amount of time they last for, and which symptoms you experience depending on:
- The types of substances used
- The number of substances used
- The length of time you used the substances for
- If you mixed different substances
- Various personal characteristics, such as height, weight and overall health
Using drugs or alcohol in high amounts, or for a significant period of time will cause withdrawals to last longer. Withdrawal symptoms and their severity vary from substance to substance. Outlined below are a few different withdrawal timelines for various substances.
Alcohol is a drug that many don’t think of as being a drug at all. It is viewed as being relatively benign because it is so widely available in the United States. But this drug is not as harmless as it may seem. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that in 2015, there were 15.1 million people in the United States with alcohol use disorder. Furthermore, The Washington Post reported that one in eight Americans is an alcoholic. It is a disease that is prevalent and growing in our country. So many people want to stop drinking, but many simply do not know how.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Tremors and shakiness
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulties sleeping
- Hallucinations (both auditory and visual)
- Withdrawal seizures
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
A general timeline for alcohol withdrawals looks like this:
- 2 to 12 hours after the last drink: Physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin to show
- 12 to 24 hours after the last drink: Auditory and visual hallucinations start
- 24 to 48 hours after the last drink: Possibility of alcohol withdrawal seizures
- 48 to 72 hours after the last drink: Delirium tremens may occur if the individual is at risk for this condition
- 5 to 7 days after the last drink: Physical withdrawal symptoms of alcohol reach their peak
- 1 to 3 weeks after the last drink: Physical withdrawal symptoms begin to subside
- One month to two months after the last drink: Cravings for alcohol begin to subside
Not all drinkers will go through each symptom on the alcohol withdrawals timeline. For example, usually, only chronic drinkers will experience delirium tremens, the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal.
What is Delirium Tremens?
Signs of delirium tremens include:
- High levels of anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Severe body tremors
Alcohol withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens can be incredibly dangerous if they are managed alone. If you worry you or your loved one will experience either, medical detox may be the safest route to go. It is much better to choose a proven method of recovery than to suffer from the severe complications of withdrawals.
Heroin is commonly acknowledged as one of the most addictive drugs available. Just as it is one of the most addictive, it is also one of the most difficult drugs to stop using. Quitting seems impossible; especially for addicts who self-administer their drugs intravenously (IV users). If you only used heroin once, you are unlikely to experience any serious withdrawals. However, if you used heavily and for a long period of time, you will have a difficult withdrawal process. The amount of drugs you used rewired the pathways in your brain and will cause severe discomfort once you stop using. Cravings are another central aspect of heroin withdrawal. The cravings for heroin are often overwhelming and all-encompassing, occupying every thought the detoxing individual has. Kicking heroin is not impossible but requires extreme dedication and a desire to stop using drugs. If you don’t actually want to get sober, it is unlikely you will stay clean for a long period of time.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are often compared to an extreme version of the flu. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Body cramps
- Muscle aches
- Body twitches or tremors
- Rapid heart rate
- Dilated pupils
The Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
A timeline of the heroin withdrawal process looks something like this:
- 6 to 12 hours after last use: Physical heroin withdrawal symptoms begin to show
- 12 to 48 hours after last use: Physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal reach their peak
- 2 weeks after last use: Physical withdrawal symptoms subside
- Weeks to months after last use: Psychological withdrawal symptoms of heroin begin to subside
The likelihood of a heroin user staying clean over the long-term without the support of a community is low. Relapse is unfortunately common for those in recovery from this type of addiction. The cravings for the drug often last weeks to months after last smoking it, snorting it, or shooting it up. Once the physical withdrawal symptoms are finished, additional long-term addiction treatment or participation in a 12-step program is highly recommended. Through treatment or program participation, addicts can learn how to manage their lives clean and sober, without the help of heroin.
Prescription opioids, like Vicodin, Norco, Dilaudid, or Fentanyl, act on the same receptors in the brain as heroin does. Due to the similarities between these drugs, the prescription painkiller withdrawal process is extremely comparable to the heroin withdrawal process. Prescription opioids are intended to reduce or remove pain after surgical or other medical procedures. When you take large amounts, oftentimes they dull the brain’s ability to process pain. As a result, when you remove them from your system, the opposite tends to occur. This causes increased sensitivity to pain as well as muscle cramps and body aches. Detoxing and withdrawing from opioids is often a painful process. Again, the severity of the withdrawals you experience depends on the amount and length of time you used. If you were a heavy user, your withdrawal process will be more difficult than that of someone who was a casual user.
Prescription Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle cramps
- Body and bone aches
- Twitches or tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Dilated pupils
The Opioid Painkiller Withdrawal Timeline
The opioid or prescription painkiller withdrawal timeline looks like:
- 8 to 12 hours after last use: Painkiller withdrawal symptoms begin to show
- 12 to 72 hours after last use: Physical withdrawal symptoms peak
- 5 to 10 days after last use: Physical opioid withdrawal symptoms begin to subside
- Months after last use: Psychological withdrawals begin to subside
Physical withdrawal symptoms from painkillers usually don’t last as long as withdrawal symptoms from heroin. However, the psychological aspect lasts just as long. Addicts don’t immediately stop craving drugs as soon as the detox process is complete; a long-term treatment plan or program helps users manage these cravings.
Benzodiazepines, more commonly known as “benzos,” include drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, or Librium. They are prescribed to relieve intense anxiety and panic disorders, or as a sleep aid or muscle relaxant. Similar to opioids, when you stop using large amounts of these drugs, the opposite effect occurs. Benzos are actually very helpful in treating anxiety and other conditions. This is why doctors choose to keep their patients on them for such a long period of time. It is not uncommon for people to be on them for years, without even knowing that they are addictive. Even though some people become addicted to benzos by accident, others may form addictions because of continued abuse. They may be stealing medications from a friend or family member, buying them illegally online, or getting them some other way. When they are taken in excess amounts by someone without a prescription for them, they can easily lead to an addiction.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
There are a number of benzo withdrawal symptoms that can occur when someone stops taking these medications. They include the following:
- Increased symptoms of anxiety
- An increase in the number of panic attacks
- Problems with sleeping
- Muscle soreness
- Cravings for the drug
- Increased tension
- Perceptual changes
The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline
A common timeline of benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms is:
- 24 to 78 hours after last use: Physical benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms start to show
- 2 weeks after last use: Physical withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines reach their peak and begin to subside
- Weeks to months after use: Psychological withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepine use start to subside
If you use benzos heavily, it is best to seek the help of a medication assisted detox to manage the heightened panic and anxiety. These are signs of a co-occurring disorder. If a psychiatric professional does not address these symptoms, they may have a greater impact on your long-term well being than you expect. People often fail to realize that benzodiazepine withdrawal can lead to death. There can be complications that arise during the detox process, and they can become fatal. Many people have died because of seizures, high blood pressure and other conditions that resulted from benzo withdrawals. This is why it is so important to get professional help. You need to think of your health and well being first, and allow the professionals to guide you through detoxing.
Withdrawals from meth are largely psychological but physical symptoms do exist as well. Meth has an incredible effect on your brain and the way it processes information, resulting in an intense mental withdrawal. Similar to heroin addicts, meth addicts who inject intravenously (IV users) experience more severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop using. Cravings for the drug are prevalent during the meth withdrawal period as well. Meth is a very dangerous drug. Some experts even refer to it as the most dangerous illegal stimulant on the streets. There are even those who believe that using it just one time can lead to a quick addiction. While this has yet to be proven, people do tend to become addicted to it quicker than they do with other drugs. Once someone is addicted to meth, they may feel the need to use every day; possibly even multiples times per day. It becomes very difficult for them to think about managing their lives without it. It is a strong addiction, and it is very difficult to stop using; especially for those who attempt to quit cold turkey, or to detox on their own.
Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawals from meth include physical and psychological symptoms such as:
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Difficulties concentrating
- Difficulties sleeping
- Mood swings
- Flat emotional state
- Limited energy
- Body aches
- Increased appetite
- Distorted thinking
- Significant cravings
The Methamphetamine Withdrawal Timeline
The timeline of meth withdrawal looks something like:
- 12 to 72 hours after last use: Physical meth withdrawal symptoms are at their highest
- 48 hours to 10 days after last use: Physical withdrawal symptoms from meth start to subside while psychological meth withdrawal symptoms start
- One week to one month after last use: Minor physical withdrawal symptoms persist while psychological symptoms remain significant
- One month to three months after last use: Physical withdrawal symptoms cease and psychological meth withdrawal symptoms begin to subside
The psychological sensations of meth withdrawal, particularly the auditory and visual hallucinations, are unnerving. Some addicts refer to seeing “shadow people,” or shadows near the edges of their vision that appear to be real people. Strong cravings to use more of the drug to relieve withdrawal symptoms persist for a few weeks.
Cocaine is an extremely potent drug that works by increasing the availability of dopamine in the brain. In this way, it is very similar to the other substances on our list. This drug is extremely attractive to users as a recreational substance. They report that it has a positive effect on their mood, motivation and energy levels. People get addicted to cocaine because of how it increases dopamine in the brain. This is the chemical that is responsible for euphoria, and excess amounts of it serve as a reward. Once people use this drug enough times, they become dependent on it because they are no longer able to make their own dopamine. Instead, the brain relies on the drug for that purpose. Just like with meth, there are those who believe that using cocaine can lead to quick addiction. The withdrawal symptoms that people experience are intense, and treatment is necessary to help them avoid complications.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
The most common withdrawal symptoms of cocaine are:
- Feeling agitated and restless
- Intense cravings for the drug
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling extremely tired and fatigued
- A general, overall feeling of discomfort
- An increased appetite, and possible weight gain
- Unpleasant dreams and sleep disturbances
- Slower activity than normal
Like with other drugs, the severity of withdrawal will depend on how long the person was using cocaine. Those who have only been using a short time should recover relatively quickly. Those who have been using a long time could take several weeks to get through the detox process.
The Cocaine Withdrawal Timeline
The good news is that cocaine has a relatively short half-life. That means it leaves the system pretty quickly as compared to other drugs. You might expect the cocaine withdrawal timeline to look like this:
- Within the first 90 minutes: The earliest symptoms of withdrawal should start to appear.
- Between days 1-3: Symptoms should begin to increase in severity.
- Between days 4-7: Symptoms should start to decrease in severity and slowly become more manageable.
- Between days 8-10: Many symptoms should disappear completely, but there are some that will linger.
- Between days 11-14: The individual is usually feeling quite a bit better, and many only have fleeting cravings for the drug.
At any point in time during the withdrawal process, the addict may be at a risk for suicidal thoughts or gestures. This is because of the way the drug leads to severe depression once it is stopped. This is just one reason why it is best to go through withdrawal within a program that can provide treatments for your symptoms. By choosing this method, you may just save your life.
Many do not realize it, but prescription stimulants can be just as dangerous as illegal ones like cocaine and meth. These drugs are commonly prescribed for people who have either ADD or ADHD. They work very well, and it is not uncommon for people to remain on them for years at a time. Some examples of prescription stimulants include:
These drugs are abused in many different ways. The most common one is frequently seen among college students. They will use prescription stimulants because they believe they make them smarter. Many of these young people will use them in excessive amounts as a way to stay up late and study.
Prescription Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms
All of the above-listed drugs have significant withdrawal symptoms. They include the following:
- Extreme fatigue
- Problems with sleep (hypersomnia and insomnia)
- Psychomotor agitation
- Increased appetite
- Vivid nightmares and dreams
- Aches and pains
- Depression symptoms
- Mood swings
- Problems with social functioning
These drugs are very difficult to stop, and they should never be stopped immediately. This also applies to anyone who has been taking them with a valid prescription. People can easily become dependent upon them without even realizing it is happening.
The Withdrawal Timeline for Prescription Stimulants
You should expect the withdrawal timeline to look something like this:
- Within 36 hours of the last dose: Withdrawal symptoms should begin.
- Between days 1-2: The individual will experience a “crash.” This is when most of the drug is out of their system, and it begins to get difficult to function correctly. Cravings, depression and an increased need for sleep are common during this early phase.
- Between days 3-4: Symptoms will still be difficult to manage, but should start to resolve by the end of the fourth day.
- Between day 5 to several weeks: Some symptoms will remain, but they should be less severe. Cravings for the drug may be the biggest problem.
- 2 weeks to one year: Most of the withdrawal symptoms should be gone by this time. It is not uncommon for people to experience protracted symptoms from long-term prescription stimulant use for as long as one year.
Withdrawing from prescription stimulants may be the most difficult challenge you undertake. It can be a very long process for anyone who attempts it. But, it is also very rewarding. With the right treatment, you can detox the right way, and feel better faster than someone who attempts to quit on their own. It is never recommended to try to stop prescription stimulants without the help of medical detox.
Marijuana is a drug that most people are very familiar with. It is a plant that people use for a number of different reasons. Some may use it recreationally as a way to get high, but many are starting to use it for medicinal reasons. Medical marijuana has been legal in many states, all over the U.S. for several years. In fact, more are being added to that number each year. Also, a growing number of states have made recreational marijuana legal. It should be no surprise that there are more people becoming addicted to it. Despite the belief that it is impossible to get addicted to marijuana, many people do. This is not a drug that typically leads to a physical addiction, but it can and does often cause a psychological addiction. This means that those who use it believe that they need it. Without it, they do not feel like themselves, and they also have cravings for it. Because this drug is addictive, stopping its use can also lead to withdrawal symptoms. This is something that often shocks people, but it is very true.
Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms
It is interesting that marijuana can lead to both physical and psychological withdrawal. Some of the most common symptoms people experience include:
- Abrupt mood changes
- Decreased appetite and possible weight loss
- Loss of focus
- Sleeping problems
- Intense cravings
- Hot and cold sweats
- Symptoms of depression
- Stomach issues
Not everyone will have all of the symptoms that are on this list. Some may only experience a few of them. Either way, it is difficult to stop using pot once you are addicted to it. The right treatment program can make it much easier.
The Marijuana Withdrawal Timeline
You might expect the marijuana withdrawal timeline to look like this:
- Within the first 24-72 hours: Symptoms should start to appear following the last use.
- Within the first week: At some point, withdrawal symptoms will continue to get worse until they reach the peak. After that, they should begin to improve.
- The first 1 to 2 weeks: This is how long marijuana withdrawal should last. At some point before the end of the second week, most of the symptoms should have resolved.
- The first 30 days: There are some types of withdrawal symptoms that may persist for up to a month. For example, people may continue to have trouble sleeping.
- After the first 30 days to 6 months: Most people find that all of their symptoms are gone by this point. It is normal to have the occasional craving for marijuana at any point during this timeframe.
Many people attempt to stop smoking pot on their own, and they do so with success. They should be commended because it is not easy to stop using. But for those who cannot stop on their own, it is wise to seek the help of professionals who can assist them.
What Can You Do To Manage Withdrawal Symptoms?
Whether or not you will need a medication assisted treatment depends on how severe your symptoms are. It may be best to consult with your doctor before making any decisions regarding treatment. An assessment at an addiction treatment center may be beneficial to help you determine the severity of your addiction. You know yourself best. Only you can honestly say how much you drink or use. You may want to begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do you drink alcohol or use drugs all day, every day?
- Have drugs and alcohol become a constant presence in your life?
- Will they prove difficult to stop using?
- Have you tried to quit in the past without success?
- Are the people who love you trying to encourage you to go to detox and/or rehab?
Although you might be able to manage the withdrawal symptoms on your own, consider the potential danger involved. Assess your situation honestly before making any decisions about how to move forward. Avoiding getting sober because of the withdrawal process isn’t the best idea, though; by putting off getting clean, you simply prolong the pain caused by drugs or alcohol. Give yourself the opportunity you deserve to get sober. With dedication and the help of addiction treatment, you can have a chance at a sober and free life.
Do You Need Treatment for Withdrawal Symptoms?
Help is available to you if you are addicted to any of the drugs listed above. Here at Denver Women’s Recovery, we have had the pleasure of working with many women with addictions. We know that it is very hard to stop using, and we can provide you with the tools you need to be successful. We can offer you a referral for detox, and once you have completed the program, you can return to us for rehabilitation services. You are in good hands. Do you have questions about drug withdrawal symptoms or treatment? Please contact us today.
“Substance Abuse Information Card” Cambridge Health Alliance http://www.divisiononaddiction.org/html/publications/redcard.pdf “The nature, time course and severity of methamphetamine withdrawal” PubMed.gov https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16128721?dopt=Abstract