Addictions Recovery: This is How Long it Takes to Recover from Addiction

October 13, 2020

Recovering from an addiction is a long and difficult journey that can be intimidating to people trying to achieve sobriety. 

Defining exactly what “recovery” looks like and exactly how long it takes to get there is a difficult question to answer and does not look the same for everyone.

Detox can take anywhere from one day to ten weeks. Total recovery is a process that will last for most people’s entire lives. However, residential treatment and therapy programs can give people the tools to maintain sobriety and live fulfilling, substance-free lives.

Each person’s journey to recovery is going to be unique to them, and there are hundreds of rehabs, outpatient programs, and other resources available to help people decide which path to take. The information below will outline the different options that are available and the amount of time they can take.

How Do I Begin the Journey to Addiction Recovery?

Once a person has acknowledged their addiction and made the decision to get help, they can officially begin their journey to recovery. If a person is regularly using a drug or alcohol or has overdosed, it is necessary for them to physically cleanse their system of the offending drug in a process known as “detox.”

What Happens When Someone Begins a Detox?

Detoxification is the first major physical step in the recovery process. Before a person can begin the therapeutic processes of recovering from addiction, they need to completely eliminate the presence of the drug in their body so that their brain can begin to recover from its effects. Outlined below are the most common detox methods and what types of addiction they are most effective for.

  • “Cold Turkey” Detox
  • Medically Assisted Detox
  • Holistic Detox

Cold Turkey Detox

The “Cold Turkey” method refers to people who abruptly stop using drugs completely without any medicinal intervention. While it is the quickest and most effective way to detox, it is also the most difficult. While it can be effective for less intense addictions such as caffeine or nicotine, it is rarely successful for stronger addictions and often leads very quickly to relapse.

Medically Assisted Detox

Medically Assisted Detox involves being prescribed a specific dose of medication given by a trained medical professional to lessen the severity of symptoms of withdrawal. As withdrawal symptoms subside, the medication will slowly be weaned off until the person is fully detoxed.

Medically Assisted Detox is the most common and effective detox method for most people struggling with addiction. Every person’s detox process is different, so it is extremely important to work with a medical professional to determine the proper medication and dosage for this type of detox to be effective.

Holistic Detox

Holistic Detox gives people the tools to better connect with themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually on their journey to recovery. These detox programs offer a variety of different natural practices, including:

  • Mindfulness Exercises
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Nutritional Therapy

These practices can help people become more in-tune with their thoughts and emotions and provide emotional outlets during difficult stages of withdrawal and detox. Many recovery centers have a Holistic Detox program that can be used in combination with other detox plans. 


When an individual begins a detox, they will most likely experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Withdrawal is the brain’s fight-or-flight response to losing the dependency it has developed on a drug. Symptoms can be both physical and psychological and can be very severe in the peak withdrawal phase.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Physical symptoms of withdrawal vary depending on the drug but can often be extremely serious. Physical symptoms generally occur very quickly after a detox is initiated and can last for weeks before subsiding. Some of the most common physical symptoms of drug withdrawal include:

  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or Bone Pain
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Major Changes in Appetite
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Chills
  • Fatigue and/or Exhaustion

Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms

While physical symptoms are often more intense in the short-term, psychological withdrawal symptoms can be severe for months or even years after a detox. Some of the most common psychological withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Mood Swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Strong Drug Cravings
  • Depression
  • Suicidal Thoughts

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

Symptoms of withdrawal can begin almost immediately and can last for multiple days or weeks. The more severe the withdrawal symptoms, the longer it may take an individual to fully detox and begin care. The severity and length of an individual’s withdrawal depend largely on the following:

  • Type of drug being abused
  • The dose of a drug when entering detox
  • Length of addiction
  • Half-life of the drug

Type of Drug Being Abused Dictates Withdrawal Length

The length of the withdrawal process depends largely on the type of drug currently in the system. The chart below offers a general timeline of the average time it takes an individual to detox from the most commonly abused drugs.

Drug Peak Withdrawal Detox Period
Cocaine Hours after the last dose – 10 days 1-10 weeks
Prescription Opiates 12-72 hours after last dose 1-2 weeks
Methadone 2-3 days 2-4 weeks
Benzodiazepines 1-4 days 1-2 weeks
Alcohol Hours after last drink – 5 days 5 days – 4 weeks
Heroin 2-3 days 5-10 days

Dose of a Drug When Entering Detox

The higher the dosage of the drug being used when the individual enters detox, the more severe withdrawal symptoms are likely to be. This may delay the detox’s length as the individual will need more time and medical assistance to eradicate withdrawal symptoms.

Length of Addiction 

Individuals who have been using a drug for long periods often build up a tolerance and handle much higher doses than first-time users. This can also lead to more intense withdrawal symptoms.

Half-Life of a Drug

A quick-release drug has a shorter half-life, meaning that its effects are felt much quicker once they have entered a person’s system. Withdrawal symptoms from drugs with shorter half-lives can occur almost immediately after the last dose has been taken. Withdrawal symptoms from drugs with longer half-lives may take a few days to manifest.

How Long Does a Detox Last?

On average, the process of completely eradicating the presence of drugs or alcohol in one’s system takes up to two weeks. However, the length of detox can vary depending on a variety of factors, including:

  • Severity of Withdrawal Symptoms
  • Quantity of Alcohol and Drugs Being Consumed
  • The Individual’s Mental and Physical State

Severity of Withdrawal Symptoms

Extremely severe or prolonged withdrawal symptoms can delay the full detoxification process. Individuals with severe symptoms may need controlled medication to help resolve severe symptoms before complete detox.

Quantity of Alcohol and Drugs Being Consumed

The longer a drug has circulates through the body, the longer it can take for it to leave an individual’s system fully. This is why many long-term drug users have more severe withdrawal symptoms and increased difficulty detoxing than new or one-time users.

The Individual’s Physical and Mental Wellbeing

Physical and mental health conditions unrelated to addiction may delay a person’s detox process. For example, someone who has an underlying heart condition may not be able to take the controlled medications needed to help with their withdrawal symptoms.

What Kind of Continued Care is Available After Detox?

For most people, the journey to recovery does not end after the detox. While physical withdrawal symptoms may be managed, the psychological symptoms can be present for years, and may never disappear completely. Most people find that they need additional support to maintain sobriety and transition back into the real world.

How to Choose the Appropriate Residential Rehab Program

Residential rehab programs are structured in-patient rehabilitation programs for people who are not ready to return to their everyday lives after a detox. People in residential rehab programs live at their rehab center and receive around-the-clock support from medical professionals. 

These rehab Programs can last from days to multiple years, depending on how each person adapts to treatment. Many rehab programs have pre-set stay lengths that can be chosen depending on the severity of the person’s addiction.     

  • 30-Day Inpatient Treatment
  • 60-Day Inpatient Treatment
  • 90-Day Inpatient Treatment
  • Long-Term Inpatient Treatment (120+ days)

30-Day Inpatient Treatment

30-Day treatment programs are popular options for people receiving treatment for the first time or are not sure what level of treatment they need. This program’s length offers people enough time to recover from most physical withdrawal symptoms, while guiding prevents relapse after leaving the program. This is also the most cost-effective treatment program and can often be covered by insurance.

60-Day Inpatient Treatment

60-Day treatment programs usually provide enough time to fully detox from their addiction and begin navigating through sober living. These programs offer more intensive therapy sessions to help people develop individualized practices for maintaining sobriety.

90-Day Inpatient Treatment

While 90-day programs are the most intensive, they have the highest success rate of in-patient recovery programs. Most 90-day programs give people the time and opportunity to fully integrate into sober living and devise successful aftercare programs. This program is often the best option for people with very severe or long-term addictions.

What are The Different Types of Residential Rehab Programs?

Every residential rehab facility has a specifically structured program that they follow to help their residents achieve a successful recovery. Below are some of the most commonly used recovery programs and descriptions of how they work.

  • 12-Step Programs
  • Wilderness Therapy Programs
  • Faith-Based Programs

12-Step Programs

The 12-Step recovery program was founded by Alcoholics Anonymous and has since become the standard for addiction recovery. The program is centered around the 12 Steps of Recovery and focuses on a spiritual approach to achieving sobriety. These programs use support groups and group therapy so people can help and encourage each other as they progress through the steps.

Wilderness Therapy Programs

Wilderness therapy programs offer learning on how to navigate real-world problems and learn self-preservation by interacting in the great outdoors. Participants in wilderness therapy programs will learn how to become self-sufficient and collaborate with others doing activities such as:

  • Hiking
  • Backpacking
  • Backcountry Camping
  • Canoe Trips
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Rock Climbing

Wilderness therapy programs also allow people who are in longer-term rehab facilities to get outside and explore without fear of relapsing. 

Faith-Based Programs

Some recovery programs help people discover or use religious faith to overcome addiction. These programs offer a variety of ways for people to develop a deeper relationship with their faith, including:

  • Guided Worship or Prayer
  • Literature Study Groups
  • Therapy Sessions with Religious Leaders
  • Meditations

How to Choose the Most Appropriate Outpatient Rehab Program

Inpatient recovery is not the right path for everyone, and some people may choose a recovery option that does not include living in a residential facility. Outpatient rehab also allows people who have already completed residential rehab to transition into a more independent living situation while still getting care. 

Some people stay in outpatient rehab for a few weeks or months, and some will remain in it for the rest of their lives. Listed below are some of the most common outpatient rehab scenarios.

  • Outpatient Day Programs
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs
  • Aftercare
  • Sober Living Facilities

Outpatient Day Programs

Day programs are the most rigorous form of outpatient care and are still conducted in a mostly residential setting. People in outpatient programs spend 5-7 days a week in an outpatient facility for therapy and counseling but are allowed to return home at the end of the day. This is a good option for people who want to live independently eventually but still need the structured care of an in-patient treatment facility. 

Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive outpatient programs offer structured care plans for people who have work or family situations that require them to live outside of a residential facility. People usually spend a few hours a day early in the morning or at night in a group or one-on-one therapy and are given specific goals or milestones to achieve. They are then able to slowly decrease their time commitment to treatment as they reach their milestones.


Aftercare is the least intensive outpatient treatment option. It is great for people with mild recurring addictions or those with stronger addictions who have completed a more intensive program and are ready to live autonomously. Aftercare programs are usually group therapy sessions that meet once or twice a week.

These programs allow people to connect with others struggling with addiction and be held accountable for their actions. Many recovering addicts continue with aftercare programs for the rest of their lives.

Sober Living Facilities

Sober living facilities offer transitional housing for people who are ready to live independently but still require day-to-day structure and accountability. These homes require residents to remain sober to continue their stay. Sober living homes usually have multiple residents who share household responsibilities and help hold one another accountable.

What Happens If I Relapse?

Contrary to popular belief, relapse is a normal part of the addiction recovery process. Many addicts will relapse one or multiple times on their road to recovery. Relapses can make people feel like they have failed and have no hope for a full recovery, which can trigger continued abusive habits. 

After experiencing a relapse, people need to have a structured plan for what steps need to be taken to continue the recovery process. If someone has experienced a relapse, they should take the following steps to determine what to do next:

  • Decide whether to go to rehab
  • Identify triggers
  • Adjust therapy goals
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help

Decide Whether to Go to Rehab

If someone has a very intense relapse or has fallen back into habitual drug use, they may decide the best option is to return to the structured care of a rehab facility. This way, time can be taken to adjust a person’s recovery plan to focus on learning strategies to prevent another relapse.

Identify Triggers that Contributed to the Relapse

Part of undergoing therapy for addiction recovery involves identifying a person’s “triggers” that compel them to want to use again. Triggers usually fall into three categories:

  • Emotional 
  • Environmental
  • Exposure

Emotional Triggers

Emotional triggers are tied to specific feelings or thoughts that are strong enough to justify using again. People will relapse to try and get rid of negative emotions or to continue experiencing positive emotions. These can include:

  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Complacency or Boredom
  • Joy or Euphoria

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers are external pressures or forces that lead to the desire to use. They can also be brought on by a specific memory or sensation. Examples of environmental triggers include:

  • Pressure from friends
  • Pressure from social media
  • Family issues 
  • Pressure at work or school
  • Memories that create strong emotions
  • Returning to a location of former drug use
  • Sights, sounds, or smells 
  • Major life change or event

Exposure Triggers

Exposure triggers occur when a person is exposed to drugs and alcohol and can quickly lead to relapse. These triggers can be especially difficult to avoid for people who are working on integrating back into everyday life, and can include:

  • Direct exposure to a drug or alcohol
  • Seeing others using drugs or alcohol
  • Smelling a drug or alcohol
  • Images in movies or on TV

Triggers can continuously change, and a relapse can be brought on by a trigger that was not previously strong or prevalent. That is why it is important to re-establish triggers and develop new tactics to handle them after a relapse.

Adjust Personal Therapy Goals

After experiencing a relapse, a person will most likely need to establish different goals or milestones to help prevent another one. Working one-on-one with a therapist to adjust goals or return to a more structured recovery plan for a short time can help people get back on the right track.

Do Not be Afraid to Ask for Help 

When a person relapses, they can have extreme emotions of guilt and failure and may be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. Above all else, people need to remember that there will always be help available if they ask for it. Relapsing is scary and disappointing, but it is by no means the end of a recovery journey.

Is Full Recovery from Addiction Possible?

The vast majority of people will never fully recover from an addiction, but that does not mean that they cannot live happy, fulfilling, sober lives. Triggers and temptations will most likely be a part of every former addict’s life, but they will be able to overcome them using the tools they have gained from rehab and therapy. It may take a lifetime to recover from addiction, but it can still be a beautiful one. 

Reach out to Steps Recovery Center

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the staff at Steps Recovery Center can be a saving grace. We support a holistic approach to recovery. Contact us with any questions you may have or to learn more. We have treatment centers in Salt Lake and Utah counties in Utah. 

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