Drug Withdrawal Symptoms: How Long Do They Last?

When someone is looking to quit drugs and alcohol, they can be very apprehensive of beginning what is often a challenging and uncomfortable process? Perhaps the biggest obstacle in discontinuing the use of drugs is dealing with the withdrawal symptoms. No matter the drug of choice, withdrawals can be uncomfortable and painful to endure. Many people who want to quit drugs are fearful of the withdrawal process because of the unknowns. A significant part of overcoming fears concerning drug withdrawal is understanding the symptoms and knowing a general timeline of the duration of symptoms.

As you read this article, keep in mind that the withdrawal timeline can widely vary depending on many factors. These include the drug or combination of drugs being abused, the length of time used, quantity, and the level of dependency. This article contains general timelines of the most commonly abused drugs.

Drug Withdrawal Symptoms: How Long Do They Last?

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin about 8 hours after the last drink. In that time frame, people may experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain and anxiety, among other symptoms. Within 24-72 hours, other symptoms such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and confusion may occur. The worst of the initial wave of symptoms usually happens 2-4 days after the last drink. During this period, people may experience hallucinations, fever, and seizures could occur. These symptoms are often associated with a condition called delirium tremens (DTs). This condition can be fatal.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

For those withdrawing from heroin use, symptoms usually start to appear within 6-12 hours after the last dose. One of the hallmarks of heroin withdrawal is a low-grade fever—usually around 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Another characteristic of heroin withdrawal is intense heroin cravings, which bring on extreme mood swings, sweating and nausea, and significant aches and pains. People withdrawing from heroin can also experience insomnia, restlessness, and diarrhea. These symptoms (among others) usually peak 1-3 days after the last dose and subside after 5-7 days on average.  

Oxycontin Withdrawal Timeline

As with other prescription painkillers, the severity of Oxycontin withdrawal symptoms varies depending on the level of tolerance and the duration of use. Usually, withdrawal symptoms can appear in as little as six hours after the last dose. Symptoms often include anxiety, agitation, profuse sweating, and insomnia. Users also experience increased muscle aches and pains as well as runny nose and sweating. Other symptoms that can manifest include abdominal cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. The timeline of these symptoms is usually prevalent up to a week, although they may last longer, depending on the user. 

Addiction definition

Beware of PAWS

After the initial round of withdrawal symptoms diminishes, some may feel that the worst is over. However, many in early recovery will experience a second round of withdrawal symptoms a couple of weeks after quitting their drug of choice. These symptoms are part of a phenomenon known as PAWS or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. While these symptoms can occur as the result of any drug, PAWS is most felt in those who have abused alcohol, heroin, prescription painkillers, and stimulants. Unlike the acute symptoms of withdrawal, PAWS symptoms are primarily psychological.

Common symptoms of PAWS include increased aggression and hostility, mood swings, increased states of depression and anxiety, lack of focus, and a lack of libido. It is often thought that PAWS symptoms arise from the stress of the environment, dealing with past emotional traumas as well as underlying psychological and physical issues that impede recovery.

The Need for Professional Treatment

If you or a loved one are looking to quit drugs and alcohol, it is essential to seek professional help. While it may be tempting to try and quit on your own, you will be doing yourself more harm than good. Under the care of experienced professionals, you will undergo medically supervised detox, which will help the withdrawal process become more tolerable. Once you become stabilized, you can enter treatment and receive the tools, support, and care you need to overcome your drug addiction once and for all.

Don’t wait another day to deal with your substance abuse issues. Contact your local addiction treatment professional and discuss the treatment options that best suit your individual and specific needs. 

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