No two people with substance use disorder (SUD) experience the same healing process. The specific symptoms change depending on multiple factors. Similarly, the length of a detox stay varies greatly, even among people who used the same substance.
The major factors that influence a detox stay include:
- The type of substance used
- Duration of use
- Possible polysubstance abuse
- Co-occurring mental illnesses
It is important for individuals to dissect each of these factors and examine how they influence the overall experience of drug detox.
Type of Substance
People with SUD experience different withdrawal symptoms depending on the substance consumed. Some drugs take only days to taper out of one’s system, while others can take weeks. The following are approximate time ranges the major types of substances take to be fully detoxed:
- Alcohol: 2-10 days
- Barbiturates: 4-14 days
- Benzodiazepines: 7-56 days
- Hallucinogens: 5-7 days
- Inhalants: 2-14 days
- Marijuana: 5-7 days
- Opioids: 4-20 days
- Stimulants: 2-5 days
Many of these include large variations in time. The individualized nature of addiction makes it difficult to pinpoint the precise number of days it takes to detox. No two people need the same care.
Additionally, the type of substance is not the only determining factor. People entering detox should build flexibility into their plans.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH):
40-60% of people with a SUD experience relapse.
Though society should not stigmatize relapse, they should hesitate to accept it as an inevitability. It is common, but it is also dangerous. If someone uses a high potency of drugs or alcohol, a relapse could be life-threatening.
Substance tolerance starts dropping the minute someone starts detoxing. After detox, if a person consumes the same potency of substances as before, they run the risk of overdosing. Doctors do not want to send a person home when they are at high risk for relapse. For this reason, the potency of drugs or alcohol used before detox can impact the length of stay.
Duration of Use
Duration of use also impacts the overall detox experience. A person who has used opioids for years will not have the same withdrawal experience as a person who has used them for a month or two. Both individuals deserve sobriety, but they will experience different paths to get there.
The same applies to every other substance. Over time, a person with a long history of substance use builds up a tolerance to drugs or alcohol. They become more dependent on the substances, needing them more often or in higher doses to feel the same effects. Because of the nature of SUD for tolerance-building, the duration of use will impact withdrawal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines polysubstance use as the consumption of two or more drugs either at the same time or within a short period of one another. When a person consumes multiple substances at a time, it can increase the side effects. They are at higher risk for overdose, may develop a stronger dependency, and can also build tolerance more rapidly.
All of these issues make detoxing from polysubstance use more difficult. The withdrawal process is unpredictable. One could finish withdrawal in days or months. It is simply a matter of what substances were used together.
Co-Occurring Mental Illnesses
SUD often coincides with other mental illnesses, which is known as a dual diagnosis. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that approximately 50% of everyone with SUD will develop an additional mental illness. This makes sense given that SUDs are a kind of mental disease. A predisposition for one mental illness frequently causes others as well.
When a person goes through SUD treatment with a co-occurring mental illness, they face an extra difficulty. Withdrawal causes a handful of mental symptoms on its own. Now that a person is no longer self-medicating, they must deal with the repressed symptoms of their mental illness as well. This can increase mental distress.
Co-occurring disorders may be treated during withdrawal as well. This is called a dual diagnosis program. These treatment plans take longer than detox on their own. They often wrap detox, intensive in-patient, and rehab programs altogether. Medications paired with behavioral therapy show some of the most promising outcomes for patients with co-occurring disorders. Better results can be found when doctors integrate the treatment of other mental illnesses with the treatment of SUD.
The Benefits of Individualized Care
The duration of detox will not look the same across the board. Medical professionals will assess a patient’s needs upon entering detox. Though it may be inconvenient when trying to plan for a detox stay, the individualized format ensures that everyone receives exactly what they need to safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol. This leads to a more successful long-term recovery.
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