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People abuse street drugs, such as crystal meth, cocaine, MDMA, heroin, marijuana, and LSD, for a variety of reasons, whether it be to get high, self-medicate a mental or medical problem, or alleviate withdrawal symptoms from other drugs. Abusing illegal drugs can have debilitating effects on a user’s physical and mental health and often impairs functioning in many areas of their life.

Illicit Drugs Detox Guide: Timelines, Symptoms & Effects

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Understanding the reasons someone struggles with substance abuse may be difficult for those who have never abused drugs. Some people use drugs to get high, lose weight, or stay awake for long periods of time. Others abuse drugs to self-medicate problems, such as the symptoms of mental illness or the emotional pain of relationship troubles. People frequently combine illegal drugs with alcohol or prescription medications, which increases the risk of dangerous side effects.

Chronic drug abuse can lead to addiction, which is a progressive and debilitating condition. People with substance addiction continue to use drugs even when they face negative consequences. Quitting drugs often takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Many people benefit from professional detox and addiction treatment.

When you try to quit taking drugs, you will likely experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may be difficult to deal with alone and often lead to relapse. A professional drug detox program will provide you with the support and treatment you need to withdraw comfortably and safely.

Common Drugs of Abuse

People abuse many kinds of illegal drugs. Some are more popular than others. Each drug has unique desired effects, side effects, and consequences. Commonly abused illicit drugs include:

If you are concerned that someone you love may have problems with drug abuse, it is important that you know these signs and symptoms. Recognizing the early signs may allow you to help your loved one get the drug detox treatment they need.

Consequences of Chronic Use

Long-term drug abuse has many harmful and potentially dangerous consequences. Each person will experience consequences unique to their situation and life. Below is a list of general long-term effects of chronic substance abuse.12

  • Driving under the influence
  • Violence or crime such as homicide, theft, or assault
  • Injuries
  • Homelessness
  • Absences from work
  • Loss of job or expulsion from school
  • Divorce or other relationship problems
  • Child neglect
  • Legal problems related to possession or dealing of illegal drugs
  • Financial hardship
  • Physical health problems
  • Mental health problems
  • Dependence, resulting in withdrawal symptoms with cessation of use.
  • Addiction, a complex condition characterized by continued use regardless of detrimental effects.

As you can see, the consequences of long-term drug abuse can be extremely serious; drug abuse is not something to take lightly.

Drug Detox Symptoms and Timeline

With chronic use of certain drugs, the body naturally adapts to and eventually becomes dependent on the substance. If drug use is abruptly reduced or stopped, a physically dependent person will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

The symptoms of withdrawal depend on several factors, including which drug a person takes and how long they have been taking it. In general, physical symptoms may last for several days, but general depression or other mood symptoms may last for weeks. No two people will have the same withdrawal experience.

There are certain factors that can affect the manifestation of withdrawal symptoms and how long they last, including:

  • Age of the person using.
  • The individual’s physiology.
  • Length of drug abuse.
  • Typical dose of the drug.
  • Frequency of drug use.
  • Use of multiple substances.
  • The presence of other physical or mental health issues.

Some withdrawal symptoms are potentially harmful, and it’s best to seek professional detox treatment to ensure safety during the withdrawal period.

Substance Detox Programs

To find the right detox treatment, a person should consider their unique physical and mental needs. The individual needs to feel comfortable in their environment in order to get the maximum benefits of detox treatment. What works for one person may not be ideal or appropriate for another person so it’s important to do your research when searching for detox programs. Detox can occur in a number of different settings, such as:

Drug addiction is a chronic health condition that benefits from being treated over the long-term. Once the initial detox treatment is completed, the person will need to connect with a post-detox community or program that will continue to assist them on their journey through recovery.

Post-Detox Options

Continuing addiction treatment after the acute detox program is very important for successful recovery. Post-detox programs help the person identify the underlying issues that led to the development of problematic patterns of drug use and learn new, healthy ways to cope with stressors. Common substance abuse treatment options include:

  • Inpatient treatment: Care is provided 24 hours a day in a non-hospital setting in which the person lives for various lengths of time depending on the program and severity of drug addiction. These programs use the community of residents, staff, and social setting as a part of the treatment program. This type of treatment may include group or individual counseling.
  • Outpatient treatment programs: An outpatient program may be best suited for people who have jobs, families, or other responsibilities and a strong support system at home. A low-intensity parogram may require a lesser time commitment, whereas a more high-intensity program may offer an intensive day treatment program. Group counseling is often a large part of outpatient treatment programs. Some outpatient programs may also be able to assist the person with medical or mental health issues.
  • Luxury programs: These programs offer upscale amenities, such as gourmet meals, swimming pools, spa treatments, and massage therapy while the person participates in the drug detox program. This type of program is often private pay.
  • Executive programs: Created specifically for the busy working professional, these programs are designed to address the confidentiality and work-related issues specific to this group. These programs often let participants continue work while they attend their treatment program.
  • Holistic programs: These programs have a whole person approach, focusing on healing the mind, body, and spirit. Alternative modalities include art therapy, music therapy, nutritional counseling, meditation, and yoga.
  • Faith-based programs: These programs address the addiction treatment needs of the person while integrating their religious beliefs and offering faith-based support.
  • 12-step programs: These programs follow a 12-step process of recovery. Common programs for drug users include Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Heroin Anonymous. Regular attendance of program meetings helps to create a community and support system for the person.
  • Non-12-step programs: These programs offer more secular support and utilize evidence-based practices surrounding addiction and psychology.
  • Population-specific treatment centers: Treatment centers may offer services to a specific population. Below is a list of some of the specific population treatment centers available:
    • LGBT: These programs meet the special needs of the LGBT people. This may include the social and interpersonal consequences of coming out to friends and family along with other specific needs of the LGBT population.
    • Women: Programs for women are created to address the unique needs of women with substance abuse issues.
    • Men: These programs aim to address common issues men may struggle with in recovery.
    • Veterans: Programs created specifically for veterans help them deal with the social and mental issues unique to this population and their past experiences, such as trauma.
    • Teens: These programs allow the teens to be with their peers while they learn new coping strategies.

Drug abuse and addiction should be treated as long-term health conditions with both a physical and mental component. No two people are the same, therefore, no two journeys through addiction, detox, and recovery will be the same either.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (2015). Substance use disorders.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Cocaine.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Synthetic Cathinones.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly).
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Hallucinogens.
  8. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet GBH.
  9. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet Opium.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Methamphetamine.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Addiction and Health.
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Magnitude.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Frequently Asked Questions.
  15. Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Drug Fact Sheet: PCP.
  16. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). What are synthetic cannabinoids?
  17. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa korth).

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