How Long Until You’re Clean and Sober?

If you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs, entering treatment is a tough decision to make. Outside of the financial considerations, whether or not you’ll be able to handle the physical, emotional and psychological elements of treatment, the first thing you probably want to know is how long it will take until you’re clean.

The answer is: It varies.

Getting clean in the sense that alcohol and drugs have completely left your body may take a matter of days. It may also take longer than that. Different chemical substances linger in your body’s tissues longer than others. Each person’s physical makeup is different, and how your body reacts to withdrawal from drugs and/or alcohol is not the same as someone else undergoing withdrawal. Your age, length of time you’ve been addicted, whether it’s addiction to one or several substances, your state of mental and physical health outside of your addiction, and other factors all come into play.

This article covers alcohol detoxification, but will also mention withdrawal symptoms and length of time for several other addictive drugs.

Detoxification – The First Step

The only way to get clean is to undergo detoxification. This process is where you stop taking the drug or, in the case of chronic addiction, you are gradually weaned off of the substance or substances you’re addicted to. Detoxification may involve medications to help alleviate the sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms that occur, as well as to help reduce or eliminate drug cravings.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox is the traditional treatment of alcoholism is carried out by medical professionals on an inpatient basis in an alcohol treatment center or facility. Approximately 95 percent of people who experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking alcohol may be able to undergo alcohol detox on an out-patient basis, but they still need medical treatment to help manage the withdrawal symptoms. But 5 percent of alcohol-dependent or addicted patients experience withdrawal symptoms that are so severe they require treatment either in a hospital or alcohol rehab facility that specializes in alcohol detoxification.

• Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: Mild to moderate psychological and emotional symptoms include anxiety, shakiness, irritability, depression, volatile emotions and rapid emotional changes, jumpiness, cognitive difficulties, disturbing dreams, and extreme fatigue. Mild to moderate physical symptoms may include: lack of appetite, clammy skin, enlarged or dilated pupils, headache, nausea, vomiting, involuntary movements of eyelids, hands and feet, insomnia, and rapid heart rate. Severe symptoms may involve agitation, fever, convulsions, blackouts (no memory of what happened during drinking), and visual hallucinations (called delirium tremens or DT’s).

• When Symptoms Occur: Some symptoms occur within a few hours after you stop drinking. Severe symptoms such as DT’s begin within 6 to 48 hours after no alcohol consumption.

• How Symptoms Are Managed: Some methods for management of mild withdrawal symptoms involve vitamin therapy (especially thiamin), and proper nutrition. For chronic abuse and addiction, however, there has been great success in both reducing or eliminating withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings with use of prescribed medications. The most effective results have been obtained by using benzodiazepines (shorter-acting Ativan and Serax or longer-acting Librium and Valium). Use of medications in alcohol detox also helps prevent possible seizures and brain damage in alcoholics.

• Medications After Withdrawal: Once the substance is out of your body, medications can be prescribed to help keep you from drinking again after you’ve suffered a relapse. Two medications used are disulfiram (Antabuse) and naltrexone (ReViaT). These medications must be prescribed by a doctor and work very differently. In chronic alcoholics, Antabuse triggers intense and unpleasant flushing, dizziness, nausea and vomiting if alcohol is consumed. ReViaT works on the brain’s pleasure center to short-circuit the reward associated with drinking and also to reduce cravings for alcohol.

Cocaine Withdrawal

Withdrawal from cocaine begins when the drug starts leaving the body. Beginning stages of withdrawal include fatigue, depression, bad dreams, sleeping too much or inability to sleep, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, extreme craving for the drug, and movement difficulties. Negative health effects include chest pain, lung damage and respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), muscle pain, shaking, and a feeling of being ill. The length of cocaine withdrawal varies from person to person and on the amount and frequency of use.

Heroin Withdrawal

Individuals who are physically and psychologically dependent on heroin suffer some of the nastiest withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms begin 6 to 8 hours after the last dosage of heroin, peaking at 48 to 72 hours and usually subsiding in about one week. Symptoms include: loss of appetite, stomach cramps, goose bumps, nausea, vomiting, sweating or chills, irritability, insomnia, muscle cramps, shaking, jitteriness, dilated pupils, watery eyes, runny nose, panic, and yawning.

Methamphetamine Withdrawal

Withdrawal from methamphetamines (meth) depends on how long the person has been using, how much and how often. Meth addiction has three levels of intensity: low-intensity, binge and high-intensity abusers. Meth withdrawal symptoms begin shortly after cessation of the drug and may last up to 48 hours. Symptoms include fatigue, insomnia and/or long disturbed patterns of sleep, intense hunger, moderate to severe depression, psychotic reactions, anxiety, mental confusion, restlessness and drug cravings. Withdrawal symptoms are more intense and of longer duration than cocaine withdrawal.

Marijuana Withdrawal

In chronic marijuana users, withdrawal symptoms begin in 24 hours after stopping use. The symptoms are most pronounced for the first 10 days and can last up to 28 days. Anxiety, irritability, decreased mood and appetite and physical tension are typical marijuana withdrawal symptoms.

Demerol Withdrawal

Symptoms of withdrawal can begin 4 to 5 hours after last dose and usually last from 7 to 10 days. Symptoms include anxiety (severe), chills, insomnia, muscle spasms, shivering, sweating and tremors.

After Detox – Treatment Begins

Getting clean and staying clean need to be part of any ongoing recovery process. This means that, after detox, the individual enters treatment to help understand the triggers that caused use in the first place, learn coping techniques and skills and new behavior, and be ultimately able to function free of alcohol and drugs. Individual and group counseling, educational meetings, family, behavioral and other therapies are generally part of a multi-disciplinary treatment approach.

Once you’ve gotten clean, it’s important to maintain regular attendance at aftercare and support meetings. How long until you’re clean? The quicker you get into detox, the quicker you’ll be able to answer that question for yourself.