Timeline for Withdrawal: What to Expect During Recovery

Timeline for Withdrawal

Over 98,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2021, and that number continues to escalate each year. Many drugs are associated with a significant risk of dependence, especially when consumed frequently or in large amounts.

When addiction occurs, users are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms as they try to stop drinking or using drugs. The intensity of these symptoms varies, depending on your biological makeup and drug of choice. But what is the timeline for withdrawal, generally and for specific substances?

Keep reading to learn more about how long does withdrawal last, and get actionable advice as well as medical detox and support options at Purpose Healing Center. Let’s take a look!

What Is Drug Withdrawal?

Drug or alcohol withdrawal is the physiological response the body has when you suddenly quit or slow down the use of a substance you’ve become dependent on. Drug withdrawal varies from person to person and may include mental, emotional, and physical symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if they’re not managed appropriately.

Typical Symptoms of Drug or Alcohol Withdrawal

The symptoms of withdrawal can vary depending on the person, the drug, and the severity of the addiction. Some common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches or pain
  • Tremors or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Dilated pupils

In some situations, severe symptoms, including seizures, hallucinations, or delirium may occur. The type of drug, the amount of time you’ve taken it, and the dosage can all affect withdrawal symptoms.

Why Does Withdrawal Occur?

When you drink alcohol or use drugs over a period of time, your brain begins to change and adjust to the presence of these harmful substances. Some people become physiologically dependent on drugs or alcohol and rely on them to function and feel normal.

When someone has developed a significant level of dependence, withdrawal is a common response when they try to stop or reduce their drug or alcohol use. These symptoms may begin when someone tries to quit “cold turkey” or substantially reduces their drug or alcohol intake.

During the withdrawal process, the body tries to rid itself of the lingering chemical influence of the substance in question. This can disrupt your brain chemistry and result in difficult mental and physical symptoms of withdrawal.

Can Withdrawal Be Dangerous?

Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol can be quite difficult. This is especially true if you try to do it on your own without medical supervision. 

Although it is rare, serious withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. That’s why it’s so important to receive medical detox and proper care.

Severe alcohol withdrawal can be associated with a condition known as delirium tremens. If left untreated, this syndrome can lead to seizures and even death.

This condition is present in fewer than 5% of individuals who experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, it is fatal in 15% of those cases.

Although opioid withdrawal is seldom life-threatening, it can be extremely uncomfortable. This is a significant reason those who try to go through withdrawal on their own often return to using opioids.

When this occurs after an extended period of abstinence from opioids, the risk of overdose increases. Medical detox is a much safer way to detox from drugs or alcohol.

A team of medical professionals can help you manage your symptoms of withdrawal, minimize discomfort, and lower the risk of complications. Medical detox is an important part of drug treatment and early recovery. 

Examples of the Timeline for Withdrawal: How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

The timeline for withdrawal varies based on the substance someone uses and their dependence on it. It may take days, weeks, or even months for a complete resolution of withdrawal symptoms.

Here is a look at some commonly used drugs and their characteristic timelines for withdrawal.


After stopping alcohol use, the first symptoms of withdrawal may appear several hours after the last drink. Symptoms typically peak within 24 to 72 hours.

Delirium tremens may develop 48 to 72 hours after someone stops drinking heavily and can last up to eight days.

Short-Acting Opioids

Short-acting opioids include heroin and some prescription painkillers. The withdrawal symptoms usually occur 8 to 24 hours after the last ingestion and symptoms can last up to four to 10 days.

Longer-Acting Opioids 

Longer-acting opioids include methadone and certain painkillers. It may take two to four days for withdrawal symptoms to begin after the last ingestion. The withdrawal period can last up to 10 days.


Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, and others. The withdrawal period from benzos typically begins within one to four days after the last ingestion, with symptoms peaking during the first two weeks.

In some cases, some individuals may experience protracted withdrawal and troubling symptoms for months or years without proper treatment.

Alcohol Withdrawal

People with severe alcohol use disorder are at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms. They should not attempt to quit drinking “cold turkey” due to the likelihood of severe symptoms or complications.

Alcohol detox can be uncomfortable. It can be dangerous to detox from alcohol without medically assisted detox. 

Alcohol is a CNS depressant. Quitting or slowing down usage abruptly can lead to nervous system excitation while the body tries to restore its equilibrium. 

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary. People who are dependent on alcohol may experience any of the following symptoms during the withdrawal process.

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Racing pulse
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Headache
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

It’s not always easy to predict who is at risk for serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The likelihood of troubling symptoms increases with the quantity and frequency of alcohol abuse.

Those who have experienced previous episodes of alcohol withdrawal may be at greater risk for troubling symptoms.

Heroin and Opiate Withdrawal

Heroin is in the opioid class of drugs. Opioids attach to opioid receptors in the body.

This activation process begins with the release of dopamine. This results in a pleasurable effect and reinforces the continued use of these types of drugs.

Opiate use is at an all-time high. Dependence on opioids can occur in a short amount of time, even for those with a prescription. Some people are able to use opioids for pain release under the supervision of a doctor.

Misuse of opioids greatly increases the risk of dependence on these dangerous drugs.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal may include characteristic symptoms, including:

  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle cramps
  • Body aches
  • Sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Frequent yawning

Although opioid withdrawal is rarely associated with life-threatening symptoms, the withdrawal process can be very unpleasant. Difficult symptoms can present a challenge to the recovery process.

Left unmanaged, opioid withdrawal can lead someone to relapse quickly. This is yet another reason medically-assisted detox and drug addiction treatment are critical for long-term recovery.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

These drugs are sometimes referred to as “benzos” and are typically used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, or seizure disorders. These medications create a drowsy or calming effect on the user.

Some commonly prescribed benzodiazepine medications include:

  • Ativan
  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Klonopin

Some typical Benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures

Benzos, when used under the care of a doctor, can help people with anxiety and other mental health conditions. Misuse of these drugs raises the risk of dependence and addiction.

Why Is Drug Detox Necessary?

There are a variety of factors to consider when determining whether someone needs medical detox to manage withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can be challenging and uncomfortable for someone who is trying to get sober.

It’s important to seek the guidance of a medical or addiction specialist. Under the care of medical personnel, withdrawal symptoms can be managed and minimized to make the process more comfortable.

They can monitor the patient’s blood pressure and body temperature. They can provide medication as needed to ease discomfort. The goal of medical detox is for the patient to reach a comfortable level of physical and mental stability.

Individuals addicted to alcohol, benzodiazepines, opioids, or other drugs or sedatives can benefit from medically assisted detox. It allows them to complete the detox process with the least amount of adverse consequences.

Some facilities offer same-day admission detox for those needing help right away. If you’re suffering from an addiction and need help, you’re not alone.

Reaching out for treatment is the first step toward addiction recovery.

How Long Does the Detox Process Last? 

Many patients complete detox in a couple of days, or it could last a week or more. How long detox takes depends on a variety of factors, including the drug of choice, the severity of addiction, and the individual’s overall health.

Seeking Addiction Treatment

Suffering from an addiction makes life difficult and uncertain. If you’re ready to change your life, it may be time to seek addiction treatment.

You may be wondering how long does withdrawal last. The answer varies depending on the substance, the depth of the addiction, the amount you’re taking, and more.

Regardless of the source of your addiction, you deserve a better life. At Purpose Healing Center, we’re here to help.

We offer individualized inpatient and outpatient programs to help you or a loved one recover from drug or alcohol addiction.

Reach out to Purpose Healing Center today to begin your journey to a new life.