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The detoxification process duration varies depending on the drug, genetic and environmental factors, and the severity of addiction. Generally, drug detoxification takes days – but withdrawal symptoms and behavioral issues can last much longer. In this article, we’re exploring one of the most common questions we hear from parents: how long does it take to detox from drugs? 

Your body is constantly in the process of breaking down and processing everything around it – from exhaust fumes to mineral water. The process of breaking down a poison or toxin in the body is called detoxification. 

Many drugs are, to a degree, harmful to the body. Alcohol, for example, can cause blackouts and even overdoses. The same goes for opioids like heroin or morphine, and stimulants like cocaine or amphetamine. At any given moment, your body works to metabolize and eliminate these substances from your bloodstream through the stomach, lungs, liver, kidneys, and skin, depending on how the drugs are taken. 

Every drug has an effective half-life, which is the average time it takes for the body to metabolize half of the dosage it was exposed to. This scales linearly, meaning if a drug has a half-life of an hour for 50mg, then there would be 25mg remaining in your body after an hour, 12.5mg after two hours, 6.75mg after three hours, and so on. Within a day or two, there would be an imperceptibly small amount of the drug left in your system – and trace amounts might still be found in your nails and hair for weeks afterwards – but it would no longer affect your brain. 

Different drugs have different half-lives, and most half-lives are defined by a range rather than a set number. The half-life of caffeine can range between 2 and 12 hours, for a dramatic example. This is why some people can have a cup of coffee in the evening and go to bed at a reasonable hour, while others might struggle to sleep if they’ve had an espresso earlier that morning. Similarly, some people sober up much faster than others. This is relevant for drug detoxification as well. 

Factors Influencing Detox Timelines

In addition to a drug’s estimated half-life range, there are other factors that influence how quickly the body can detoxify after taking a drug. These factors include: 

  • The frequency and severity of the drug use. Larger quantities of a drug take longer to process but may also affect the body’s ability to metabolize them. If a drug can negatively affect the liver and kidneys (many do), it can slow down the detoxification process. 
  • Health conditions. Liver cirrhosis, hepatitis, and other liver diseases impact the liver’s ability to filter and metabolize your blood. The same goes for the kidneys, lungs, and skin. 
  • Sex, weight, and age. Men metabolize some drugs faster than women. Body weight and size, as well as age and general health will also affect the rate at which you clear out any drug use. 
  • Genes. There are genes that aid or disrupt detoxification, as well as individual resistances to any given drug. Some people metabolize opioids incredibly quickly, to the point that they need much higher doses to avoid feeling pain, without building up any prior tolerance to painkillers. Other people can naturally metabolize alcohol much better, due to the abundance of an enzyme in the stomach that prevents alcohol from entering the bloodstream through the small intestine. These factors cannot be controlled but explain why some people have mild withdrawal symptoms and a faster detox period, while others go through a longer, tougher process. 
  • Water intake and exercise. Theoretically, getting your blood pressure up and increasing your fluid intake should speed up detoxification. But this stresses both the liver and the kidneys. If you’ve been taking drugs regularly, these organs are already stressed. Some drug detoxes are much tougher on the heart, liver, and kidneys than others. If you’re a severe alcoholic, for example, the last thing you want to do is give your heart a workout during withdrawal. Furthermore, chugging water and going for a run won’t do much to get a drug out of your system any faster than simply drinking a healthy amount of water, and trying to stay active as best you can. 

General Drug Detox and Withdrawal Timelines

Drug detoxes and withdrawal symptoms can vary in duration, so setting up a timeline for each drug or class of drug is usually pointless. It is important to remember that: 

  • The body generally metabolizes drugs in about 24-36 hours. Some people metabolize drugs faster, others take longer. The older you are, the weaker your liver and kidneys are, or the more drugs you’ve taken, the longer it takes. 
  • Acute physical withdrawal symptoms last anywhere from three days to over a week. These include the effects of the drug leaving the body, as well as the immediate neurological aftermath of a drug dependency. 
  • Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can last longer than a week, usually after the first week. These may include physical symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, and shivers. In other cases, the first week also denotes the period when cravings begin to grow in intensity. 
  • The first month is usually the point at which the body and mind begin to recover from intense drug use. This includes better concentration and general health improvements, from weight loss or weight gain to better skin, clear eyes, improved sleep hygiene, healthier hair, nails, and more. 

Do Drug Detox Kits Work?

There are many products that purport to speed up recovery with natural supplements or nutrients. In people with long-term health issues due to drug use, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be a roadblock towards faster recovery. Some of these detox kits can help, but so does an improved diet, better sleep, more fluids, or a visit to the hospital for an IV drip or prescription of withdrawal medication. 

Some drug detox kits can be outright dangerous. These are unregulated products and may contain ingredients that affect liver function for the purposes of temporarily improving the results of a drug test, for example. This can lead to severe physical consequences, especially for heavy users. 

If you want to detoxify safely, your best bet is to call a drug addiction clinic or talk to a doctor about medically supervised detoxification. Remember – your body does all the work here. Keeping yourself healthy or improving your health through a medically-approved detoxification regimen can help your body clear out any remaining drugs. 

But detoxification is always just the first step. Long-term recovery is a step-by-step process that centers on tackling drug cravings, identifying and eliminating relapse triggers, and creating a healthy support system. 

Learn more about long-term addiction treatment and life after withdrawal through our residential and aftercare programs here at Visions

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