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Timeline of Drug Detox Symptoms

Drug detox can be one of the most uncomfortable stages in the recovery process. After experiencing so many withdrawal episodes, most every addict gets of taste of what detox will be like. This bit of foreknowledge accounts for why it’s so difficult for a person to stop using. Drug detox symptoms can take on any number of forms depending on:

  • Type of drug
  • Length use
  • Frequency of use
  • A person’s overall health status

These factors pretty much determine the timeline for drug detox symptoms.

In general, drug detox symptoms happen in two or three stages depending on the severity of the addiction. Someone with a long history of drug use will likely experience all three stages. For most everyone, both physical and psychological drug detox symptoms develop during the withdrawal period.

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Drug Detox Symptoms

Symptoms experienced during withdrawal result from the brain chemical imbalances that form from prolonged drug use. Opiates, stimulants, sedatives and hallucinogens all stimulate different areas of the brain in different ways. According to the NYU Langone Health, these differences bring on different types of withdrawal symptoms that inevitably surface during detox.

Withdrawal from different drugs may bring on the following types of effects –

  • Opiates – insomnia, extreme anxiety, nausea, shakiness, muscle aches and pains, irritability
  • Sedatives – abdominal cramps, anxiety, increased heart rates, seizures
  • Hallucinogens – paranoia, tremors, detachment
  • Stimulants – angry outbursts, excess sleeping, depression, abdominal discomfort

A person’s individual physiological make-up can affect how severe withdrawal effects will be as well as how long withdrawal periods will last.

Acute Withdrawal

Drug Detox Symptoms

Anxiety and nausea are common drug detox symptoms.

While drug detox symptoms can be both physical and psychological in nature, the acute stage of withdrawal entails mostly physical symptoms. Symptoms experienced may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Extreme body temperature fluctuations
  • Problems sleeping
  • Tremors
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Increased heart rates

The ongoing dread of withdrawal while using plays a big role in keeping so many addicts from getting needed help. Acute withdrawal marks the first stage of detox treatment.

The term “acute” refers to the severity or intensity of symptoms, which develop in full force during the first stage of withdrawal. Depending on the type of drug involved, acute withdrawal drug detox symptoms can last anywhere from one to three weeks. On average, the longer a person has used drugs the longer the withdrawal period.

Post Acute Withdrawal

Also known as post acute withdrawal syndrome, symptoms experienced during this stage of detox are mainly emotional and psychological in nature. Even after the physical drug detox symptoms start to subside, brain chemical imbalances still exist, at which point psychological withdrawal symptoms become more apparent.

Post acute withdrawal can last anywhere from two weeks to six months depending on a person’s drug history. Symptoms most often experienced include:

  • Problems concentrating
  • Muddled thinking processes
  • Irritability
  • Fluctuations in mood
  • Depression
  • Bouts of anxiety
  • An overall feeling of discontent

During this time, recovering addicts may experience fluctuations in mood and temperament from minute to minute or hour to hour.

For people coming off severe, long-term addictions, this stage can turn into what’s known as protracted withdrawal. Protracted withdrawal becomes a stage unto itself with the above symptoms lasting for as long as one to two years.

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  1. NYU Langone Health. (n.d.). Diagnosing Addiction.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory: News for the Treatment Field- Protracted Withdrawal. 
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