How Long Does Drug or Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

man going to rehab

Withdrawal is the process of cutting back or quitting an addictive substance such as illicit drugs, alcohol or certain medications. It is often a misunderstood aspect of recovery that can deter some people from accessing substance abuse treatment in Easton PA. While it’s true that withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, there are ways to manage these side effects and get you through the process safely and effectively. 

If you are currently struggling with a substance use issue, detox is the first step in the recovery process. Once you complete detox, you can move onto a treatment program such as partial hospitalization (PHP) or intensive outpatient (IOP). Recovery Cove provides expert care in a nurturing, compassionate environment where clients learn how to build substance-free lifestyles. 

Let’s learn more about the withdrawal process, why it happens and how long it lasts. We will also talk about the various therapies and medications that may be used to manage symptoms and keep you comfortable. 

Understanding Withdrawal

Withdrawal is the body's response to the sudden absence or reduction of a substance it has become accustomed to. This can happen with addictive substances like drugs, alcohol or nicotine, as well as with some prescription medications such as Adderall or Xanax. 

When someone decides to quit or reduce their use of these substances, the body goes through a series of physical and psychological symptoms as it adjusts to the new, substance-free state. Physical withdrawal symptoms are typically over in a week or so, but emotional symptoms can last much longer. 

Common Symptoms of Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the type of drug consumed, the severity of the addiction, the presence of an underlying condition and other factors. Here are some of the more common withdrawal symptoms that tend to show up during detox: 

  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Irritability 
  • Fatigue 
  • Mood swings 
  • Shaking 
  • Sweating 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Nausea/vomiting 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Seizures 
  • Aches and pains
  • Depression or anxiety 
  • Cravings 

Duration of Withdrawal Symptoms 

Even though each person is unique, withdrawal typically follows a similar pattern depending on: 

  • Substance type. Different substances can lead to varying withdrawal timelines. For instance, opioids and benzodiazepines may have more prolonged withdrawal periods compared to substances like nicotine.
  • Usage duration. The length of time you have been using a substance can also impact the duration of withdrawal. Long-term users often experience more protracted withdrawal symptoms.
  • Dosage. The amount of the substance consumed also plays a role. Heavier users may experience more severe and longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms.
  • Individual variations. Everyone's body is unique, so the way an individual experiences withdrawal can differ. Genetics, overall health and mental state can all influence the duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms. 

woman going through withdrawal

Withdrawal Timelines for Common Substances 

Let’s break down the general timelines for withdrawal symptoms for the following substances: 


Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically appear within 6-12 hours after the last drink. They can peak within 24-48 hours and gradually improve over several days to a week. In some cases, post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) can persist for months. 


Withdrawal from opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers often starts within 12-30 hours after the last use, peaking around 72 hours. Acute withdrawal symptoms can last up to a week, while post-acute symptoms may persist for several weeks or even months.


Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can vary in intensity and duration. Symptoms typically begin within 24 hours from the last use. Each benzo has a specific half-life that impacts the length of time it takes for the drug to leave the bloodstream. Shorter-acting benzos like Xanax may cause withdrawal symptoms in as little as 10 hours, while longer-acting benzos like Valium may cause symptoms in a day or two.


What’s unique about stimulant withdrawal is that it’s more psychological based. Symptoms usually start within the first 24 to 72 hours from the last use and can last for days or weeks. Some individuals also experience cravings and mood swings for an extended period.

Tips for Managing Withdrawal Symptoms 

As long as you detox under medical supervision, you can expect a safe and effective experience. You will have access to various medications and therapies that will keep you more comfortable. 

Here are some of the therapies and treatments available to manage withdrawal effects: 

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) 

Medication-assisted therapy is used to treat opioid use disorders and alcohol use disorders. Currently, the FDA has approved three medications: buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. These medications manage cravings, reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent favorable effects from the drugs. 

Other medications 

Your medical team may also prescribe other medications to manage your symptoms such as: 

  • Anticonvulsants to prevent seizures 
  • Benzodiazepines to control anxiety 
  • Suboxone or Subutex for opioid withdrawal management 
  • Acamprosate to help maintain abstinence from alcohol
  • Disulfiram to discourage the use of alcohol 
  • Naltrexone to curb opioid or alcohol cravings 
  • Ambien or melatonin to help with insomnia 


Taking care of yourself can also help you feel better and manage detox symptoms more effectively. This may include exercising, eating balanced meals, taking vitamin supplements, writing in a journal, practicing meditation and keeping a consistent sleep routine.

Talk therapy 

The support from friends, family and peers can be invaluable during this time. Some medical detox facilities offer behavioral therapies and self-help groups. You may also be encouraged to join a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous

Holistic therapies 

Alternative therapies can also prove beneficial during a time of healing. Your detox center may offer different therapies to heal the mind, body and spirit. Some common examples include massage therapy, yoga, mindfulness meditation, nature therapy, art therapy and journaling. 

Personalized Substance Abuse Treatment in Easton PA 

Withdrawal is an essential phase of the recovery process, and understanding its duration can help you prepare mentally and emotionally for the challenges ahead. Remember that while the withdrawal period can be difficult, it is temporary. Seeking professional help and support from loved ones can make the journey to recovery more manageable.

Once you complete detox, the next step is to move onto a treatment program. By participating in therapy, you’ll be able to understand your motivations for using substances, change negative thinking and behavior, develop healthy coping skills, strengthen relationships and build a life of sobriety. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and withdrawal, reaching out to a healthcare professional or addiction specialist is the first step toward a healthier, substance-free life. Contact Recovery Cove at 484-549-COVE to learn more about our outpatient treatment programs that follow medical detox.