Drug addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that causes long-lasting changes in the reward, motivation, and memory centers of the brain and is often marked by periods of remission and relapse.1,2 These changes in the brain can create strong cravings for the substance and reduce your impulse control. Addiction often leads to negative effects on relationships, employment, and finances, and sometimes precipitates legal issues.1
A simple way to understand addiction is the ABCDE concept:1,2
- Abstinence: Addiction makes it difficult to maintain long-term abstinence, with users commonly relapsing after periods of sobriety.
- Behavior: Addiction is marked by an inability to control behavior, leading to poor decision-making or trouble at work, school, or in relationships.
- Cravings: Strong urges to use are another characteristic of addiction, and these often lead to relapse.
- Diminished ability: Addiction can lead users to fail to recognize major issues with behavior or in relationships, which can be caused or exacerbated by addiction.
- Emotions: People with addiction often have difficulty expressing or managing emotions, and using drugs may mask or numb these emotions, making them even more challenging to experience and deal with when not intoxicated.
The continued, and often escalating, drug use that accompanies addiction can greatly increase your chances of overdosing, which can be lethal or have long-lasting negative effects on your physical and mental health.3 Symptoms of a drug overdose can be very different, based on the substance used, and should always be addressed as a medical emergency.3
In 2015, more than 50,000 deaths from drug overdose were recorded in the United States, which is more than double that of the overdose death rate in 2002.4 Opioids accounted for nearly 35,000 of these deaths, almost 9,000 were from benzodiazepines, and cocaine overdoses accounted for about 7,000 deaths the same year.4 Many of these deaths involved more than one substance, particularly alcohol.4
Drug detox is the earliest phase of treatment for most people, but the experience you have when detoxing from a drug varies widely depending on the substance you abuse. Since there is no way to know for sure how you may tolerate your withdrawal symptoms, attending a quality, licensed detox program is the best way to get through it safely. In this setting, medical and psychiatric professionals can provide medications and care to ease the discomfort often associated with the withdrawal process.5
You can go through detox in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on your needs, the severity of your addiction, and the substance you abuse.6 And while a supervised program helps oversee and support the process of clearing the body of drugs, it does not address the issues surrounding the underlying addiction, so long-term substance abuse treatment is usually recommended post-detox.5,6
What Exactly Happens in Drug Detox Programs?
Most people have many questions about detox—this is completely normal. Reviewing this list of common questions and their answers might help calm some anxiety you may feel about entering detox.
How long does a detox program last?
Depending on the substance used, detox can last from several days to a month. You can stay in a detox program until symptoms are dramatically reduced or have stopped.2,7
Should I quit cold turkey? What are the dangers?
Again, this depends on the substance or substances being used. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, and some other types of sedating medications can have potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms, so detox from them should never be attempted without professional help. Detoxing from drugs such as opioids or stimulants can be markedly unpleasant and, in some instances, is associated with the development of withdrawal complications, so a supervised detox is often suggested in these cases as well. 2,6
What are the dangers of withdrawal?
Alcohol tends to carry some of the greatest and potentially deadly withdrawal dangers such as seizures and autonomic instability, which can lead to impaired control of body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Opioid withdrawal creates extremely uncomfortable symptoms such as high blood pressure, abdominal cramps, and bone and muscle pain, which often lead a person to use again to relieve the discomfort. Detoxing from any drugs can also cause or worsen anxiety or depression, so people in detox are frequently monitored for mental health concerns or suicidal thoughts.2,6
What is PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome)?
PAWS, also known as protracted withdrawal, is when withdrawal symptoms persist after the established timeline for acute withdrawal. Depending on the substance used, PAWS can last for weeks or months after detox, although the severity and intensity of symptoms may vary.7
Is rapid detox a viable option?
While the idea of a quick, painless detox sounds appealing, there is very little data to show that this is an effective means of treatment. Its use is highly controversial and can be associated with a variety of health risks.8
How do I choose the best detox program?
A good detox program is tailored to meet the specific needs of each person. The best detox programs use methods that have been extensively studied and demonstrated to be safe and effective (otherwise known as evidence-based treatment), create a comfortable environment, and have a basic philosophy that aligns with your values.5
Guides to Detoxing from Different Drugs of Abuse
Alcohol Detox Guide
- Alcohol Guide – Information about detox symptoms and effects of alcohol, as well as a timeline of withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine Detox Guides
- Ativan Detox Guide – Information about Ativan detox symptoms and effects, and a typical timeline of withdrawal.
- Valium Detox Guide – Detailed information about symptoms of Valium withdrawal, the timeline for a typical detox, and the effects of Valium use.
- Xanax Detox Guide – Information about detox symptoms, the withdrawal timeline, effects of addiction, what to do if you are pregnant and want to detox, the safety of counterfeit Xanax, and the additional dangers of combining Xanax with alcohol.
- Klonopin Detox Guide – An explanation of the effects of Klonopin addiction, signs and symptoms of withdrawal, and the typical withdrawal timeline.
Opioid Detox Guides
An overview of opiate withdrawal, a timeline of symptoms, and the effects of the use of opioids. Various other topics are explored, including the risks of detoxing at home; how opioids affect the brain; information about overdose; how to manage chronic pain without using opioids; the current opioid epidemic in the United States; the risks of combining opioids with other drugs or medications; and how addictive opioids are.
- Heroin Detox Guide – A detailed overview of heroin withdrawal symptoms, a detox timeline, and the various effects of this drug. It also explains how heroin use increases risk for Hepatitis C; which medications are used to manage withdrawal symptoms; the long-term effects of heroin; how to identify paraphernalia commonly used in heroin abuse; the dangers of experiencing withdrawal and detox while pregnant; and the controversial use of Ibogaine to treat addiction to heroin.
- Fentanyl Detox Guide – A description of withdrawal symptoms and how long they generally last, along with the effects of fentanyl use.
- Oxycodone Detox Guide – A description of the withdrawal symptoms, a timeline for detox, and the effects of oxycodone use.
- Vicodin Detox Guide – Information on the symptoms and timeline of Vicodin withdrawal and the effects associated with Vicodin use.
- OxyContin Detox Guide – An explanation of the difference between OxyContin and oxycodone, along with the withdrawal symptoms, detox timeline, and effects of use.
- Percocet Detox Guide – Specific information on detox from Percocet, including the withdrawal symptoms, the common timeline for withdrawal, and the effects of use.
- Hydrocodone Detox Guide – Education about the detox timeline, symptoms of withdrawal, and the effects of use.
- Morphine Detox Guide – Detailed information about morphine detox, how long to expect detox to last, and the effects of use.
- Dilaudid Detox Guide – An explanation of what to expect when withdrawing from Dilaudid, how long detox generally lasts, and the effects of use.
- Suboxone Detox Guide – Information about withdrawal symptoms and a timeline, as well as effects of Suboxone and how it is used to treat addiction to opioids.
- Methadone Detox Guide – A discussion of how methadone is used to treat addiction to opiates, symptoms of withdrawal, a general timeline for detox, and the effects of methadone use.
- Roxicet Detox Guide – Explanation of symptoms and a timeline for withdrawal from Roxicet, along with the effects of use.
- Tramadol Detox Guide – Information on the typical withdrawal symptoms for tramadol, how long detox generally lasts, and the effects of this drug.
- Codeine Detox Guide – Detailed information on the symptoms of codeine withdrawal, how long detox lasts, and the effects the drug can have on a person.
Prescription Stimulants Detox Guides
A detailed description of the various types of prescription stimulants, the withdrawal symptoms associated with these drugs, the general detox timeline, and effects of using prescription stimulants.
- Adderall Detox Guide – Explanation of the symptoms of detox from Adderall, along with the general timeline for detox symptoms and the effects of this drug.
- Vyvanse Detox Guide – Description of the symptoms of withdrawal, the expected timeline for the detox process, and the effects of Vyvanse.
- Dextroamphetamine Detox Guide – A discussion of the timeline of the detox process and a list of the symptoms and the effects of dextroamphetamine.
- Methylphenidate Detox Guide – A description of methylphenidate and information on the symptoms and timeline of the withdrawal process, as well as the effects of this drug.
- Ritalin Detox Guide – A guide to ritalin abuse and detox, as well as a timeline of withdrawals and treatment options.
- Concerta Detox Guide – A guide to detoxing from Concerta, a typical ADHD medication, that can have mental and physical symptoms when detoxing.
The detox process is often different for each prescription drug—some substances have medications available to ease symptoms of withdrawal, while others do not.5,6 Mixing prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol can also influence the length of detox, as does your physical and psychiatric makeup.6 For more detailed information about the detox process of specific prescription drugs, click on the links below.
- Ambien Detox Guide – Description of the symptoms of Ambien withdrawal, the general length and progression of detox, and the short- and long-term effects of this medication.
- Zolpidem Detox Guide – A guide to the symptoms of zolpidem abuse and withdrawal, including timeline, symptoms, and treatment options.
- Carisoprodol (Soma) Detox Guide – Information about the withdrawal symptoms, expected timeline for detox, and the long-term effects of Soma use.
- Dextromethorphan Detox Guide – Description of the symptoms, a timeline for detox, and the effects of use and withdrawal from dextromethorphan.
- Barbiturate Detox Guide – Information about barbiturate withdrawal symptoms, a detox timeline, and how barbiturate use and withdrawal affects the user.
Illicit and Other Drugs
Withdrawal from different types of illicit drugs also varies depending on the substance or substances used, how long the detox takes, the type of symptoms that can be experienced, and what medications can be used to manage withdrawal, if there are any. These articles provide detailed information about the detox process of specific illicit drugs.
- Steroids Detox Guide – Explanation of what to expect from steroid withdrawal, how long it lasts, and the effects of steroid use and withdrawal.
- Cocaine Detox Guide – Information about cocaine detox symptoms and a general timeline. This article also covers the effects of cocaine; its level of physical addictiveness; the long-term effects on the body and brain; the difference between cocaine and crack cocaine; the effects of cocaine use during pregnancy; the risks of combining cocaine with other substances; and the paraphernalia associated with cocaine use.
- Crack Cocaine Detox Guide – Information about detoxing from crack cocaine, including withdrawal symptoms, the timeline of the detox process, and the effects of crack cocaine.
- Crystal Meth Detox Guide – An informative resource discussing the timeline and symptoms of withdrawal from crystal meth and the short- and long-term effects this drug has on the body and brain.
- Inhalants Detox Guide – Information on what to expect when detoxing from inhalants, including the symptoms of withdrawal, the length and progression of the detox process, and the effects they have on the mind and body.
- Kratom Detox Guide – Information about its legality and if it can cause a high, along with the symptoms and timeline for detox and the effects Kratom can have on the mind and body.
The detoxification process for many synthetic street drugs may be unpredictable, since they are often adulterated with other harmful substances. The frequently unknown chemical makeup of these drugs contributes to a withdrawal process that varies widely for each user, especially as new variations of these drugs continue to appear. Additionally, some synthetic drugs are illegal and can have serious legal consequences. These pages discuss in more detail some of the more commonly abused synthetic drugs.
- PCP Detox Guide – More information for readers about what to expect from PCP withdrawal, such as the symptoms and timeline associated with detox, as well as how this drug affects users.
- LSD Detox Guide – A page exploring the symptoms of withdrawal from LSD, a detailed timeline for detox, and the effects this synthetic drug can have on the mental and physical health of users.
- Ketamine Detox Guide – Detailed information on the withdrawal symptoms of ketamine, along with a general timeline of what to expect during withdrawal and how the drug affects the mind and body.
- MDMA Detox Guide – Information about the difference between MDMA, Molly, and ecstasy; withdrawal symptoms; the timeline for a typical detox; and the varying effects this drug can have on the body and brain.
- Ecstasy Detox Guide – Specific information about ecstasy and the effects it can have on users, as well as a clear timeline and description of withdrawal symptoms.
- GHB Detox Guide – Information about GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric acid) and the withdrawal symptoms and timeline, as well as the effect it has on users.
- Bath Salts Detox Guide – This page details withdrawal symptoms of bath salts, the typical timeline for detox, and the effects on the mind and body.
- Spice/K2 (Synthetic Marijuana) Detox Guide – More information about the detox timeline and withdrawal symptoms of Spice/K2. This page also outlines the effects it causes on the mind and body and presents facts about the many strains of this type of drug.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2017). Definition of Addiction.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (2017). Drug Overdose: A Medical Emergency.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Overdose Death Rates.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (3rd Edition): Types of Treatment Programs.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131, Rockville, MD.
- Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Protracted Withdrawal.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2005). Rapid and Ultra Rapid Opioid Detoxification.