How Long Will Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Understanding the process of drug and Alcohol Detox.

Jackie, the 30-year-old office manager and wife of a soldier in the Army shares her story of addiction and how the dangerous withdrawals finally drove her to get substance abuse treatment. It may be difficult to predict how long they will last but Jackie’s story illustrates that Alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms can be managed in detox, allowing one to recover from withdrawal symptoms in a shorter period of time.

“The first time I took Vicodin, I admit it wasn’t for pain and I didn’t have a prescription. My sister’s boyfriend, who was infinitely street-smarter than I was, told me about how good Vicodin makes you feel and offered me a pill so I could try it myself. I thought, ‘Sure, one time won’t hurt.’ I couldn’t have been any more naïve about the road I was about to go down.

That night I tried it and it did feel good; in fact, it felt amazing. I remember lying in bed that night, watching a movie with my husband and gazing at the room around me. I felt grateful, deeply in love, and utterly joyful on what would have otherwise been a standard weeknight. I’m almost certain I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

The next morning, I woke up feeling well rested and content. I thought that Vicodin would be a great tool to have for stressful weeks in which I could use a “reset.” So when my sister’s boyfriend offered me 6 more Vicodin pills at a “reasonable” price, I thought I’d do myself a favor and stash them away for a rainy day.”

Jackie’s justification for misusing the prescription medication is a source of concern, as addiction is often born from discontent and opportunity. Her struggle to manage her stress was relieved by the Vicodin, which her brain notably registered immediately. While there was no recognizable time period of substance withdrawal after her first use, she was falling victim to a common thought pattern that often leads to addiction.

“My qualifications for what deemed a week stressful enough to grant myself a “reset,” in the form of a Vicodin high became increasingly flexible. One day when I recognized this, I resolved to keep my “reset” allowance to Saturday nights, until one particularly stressful Friday when I couldn’t wait one more day to relieve the stress of the week.

Soon, I was finding excuses to indulge in a “reset” every day. I soon learned that I wanted to take Vicodin when I woke up in the morning as well. What better way to start your day than a guaranteed great mood soon after simply swallowing a pill?

My tolerance for Hydrocodone, the Opioid in Vicodin began to build, which decreased the effects I was trying to achieve. However, that was easily ironed out when I started taking two pills at a time once in awhile; which quickly turned into taking two pills at a time every day.”

After her first use of the Vicodin pills, Jackie became a regular user. Her regular use resulted in a dependence on the Opioid. Dependence is the earliest stage of addiction in which the body relies on the substance for daily functioning. Alcohol and drug withdrawal can often last a few days for someone with substance dependence.

“When my sister and her boyfriend broke up, it became exponentially more difficult to get the pills. After I eventually took my last one, I woke up the next morning irritable and anxious. I tried to contact my dealer (my sister’s ex-boyfriend) relentlessly all day from work. He didn’t respond to my increasingly urgent texts or voicemail messages.

That evening, I convinced my husband that I had been experiencing back pain since working in the yard the previous weekend and that over-the-counter medications I’d tried hadn’t helped all day.

Together we contacted friends and family in the search for a stronger pain medicine, preferably an Opioid, but were unsuccessful in reaching anyone that could help me. I was praying that something would work out the next day.”

Here, Jackie displays a behavior that does not align with her values. Her extreme craving for Vicodin compelled her to lie to her husband, family, and friends; something she thought she would never do. This is an indication that her dependence on Vicodin has escalated to an addiction. The duration of Alcohol and drug withdrawal is longest at this stage. The symptoms are acute and sometimes fatal.

“Later that night, I found myself in familiar surroundings. I was lying in bed with my husband while watching a movie. Except for this time, I didn’t feel joyous. I was craving a pill. That craving soon turned into a prolonged agony that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

The aching continued to intensify and move throughout my body for hours. Sleeping was out of the question and yet I was yawning repeatedly. I was desperate for relief and was willing to try anything. It occurred to me to soak my aching body in a soothing bath.

At 4:15am, as I was stepping into the warm water, cramps developed in my abdomen that gradually became worse until I vomited. The next day when I was finally able to make contact with my dealer, I immediately swallowed two Vicodin pills.”

The earliest period of time for drug and Alcohol withdrawal is the most severe, with symptoms lasting for about three days, or for those healing a prolonged addiction, up to seven days or longer. After this peak, symptoms subside over a period of up to three weeks.

“The withdrawal symptoms, including panic and anxiety, subsided completely about an hour after taking the pills. This allowed me to realize that I had just suffered from Opioid withdrawals.

The realization that I needed to consume a minimum amount of this narcotic to avoid excruciating withdrawals came, making the severity of my addiction real to me.

“My dealer wasn’t as accessible to me as he’d once been; it wasn’t long before I suffered another withdrawal episode that felt worse than the first. During this round of excruciating withdrawal symptoms, I confessed to my husband that I had a substance abuse problem.

I checked into an addiction treatment facility the next day.

Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Duration in Detox

Addiction is a mental health disorder with physical detriment. The first priority for our patient after checking into a treatment facility is his or her physical health and safety. Detox is the safest environment for the duration of drug and Alcohol withdrawal and is the start of the journey to a happy and sober lifestyle.

This is not to say that detox is easy. The brain undergoes changes that manifest themselves to the individual in emphatic emotional variations.

Jackie reported that she persistently second-guessed her addiction as a whole. In addition, she felt a sense of shame and there were several moments in which she wanted to give up. In these moments, she admits, she didn’t want to change her way of life.

However, while she was in rehab, medical professionals monitored her vital signs around the clock and medications were used to keep her more comfortable and to stabilize these racing thoughts.

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to detox from, especially for those who’ve been abusing it for a long period of time. Tremors, high pulse and blood pressure, seizures and often the DTs peak around the first three days of abstinence and then subside after about seven – 10 days. There are phases of Alcohol withdrawal and it helps to know what they are when planning to stop drinking so that you can be appropriately prepared.

The substance withdrawal period from Opioids is usually about one week; however, some rapid detox programs can decrease the withdrawal time period to as low as three days by pharmaceutical strategies in which the individual is under anesthesia.

Watery eyes, runny nose, agitation, insomnia, depression, irritability, body aches, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, paranoia, and anxiety are symptoms of Opioid withdrawal that can be managed in terms of safety and comfort in detox.

Once the peak of Jackie’s symptoms passed and the period of substance withdrawal came to an end, she reported a substantial sense of relief. The daily pressure of substance abuse that plagued her every moment had been lifted.

Treatment After the Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Period Ends

After detox, Jackie was moved to a residential treatment center in which she began her recovery. She became reacquainted with accountability and social skills through a structured life of treatment.

While Jackie opted for a residential treatment program after detox, there are several paths to long-term recovery. In addition to a residential treatment program, one may opt for an outpatient program or an intensive outpatient program (IOP.)

All three programs facilitate different levels of treatment, which depend on the variables of one’s addiction. These could include individual and group therapy, dual diagnosis treatment, family therapy, behavioral therapy and life skills training.

As the treatment program comes to a close, a therapist often helps the patient construct an aftercare plan. This is a strategy to turn to in moments of cravings or in the face of potential relapses outside the treatment center that will help one stay committed to a sober lifestyle in early recovery.