Young woman struggling with addiction

Most people have seen a withdrawal scene in the movies or on television. The person looks like they’re in agonizing pain, often they’re sickly and sweating, and they struggle not to give up.

If you’re about to get clean or have a loved one who plans to get sober, you might have a few questions about withdrawal. You might be wondering if withdrawal is really that bad, how long it lasts, and what to expect. We answer all these questions and more in this post.

What is Withdrawal?

First, it’s important to understand what withdrawal is and why it happens. When an individual’s body has become accustomed to drugs or alcohol, their body grows dependent on these substances. When that person goes clean, they suddenly deprive their body of that substance. The body then reacts with physical and psychological symptoms. This process is known as withdrawal or detoxification.

How Quickly do Withdrawal Symptoms Start?

Withdrawal looks different for everyone. How it will present itself depends on a few factors, including:

  • How long the person was using the drugs or alcohol for
  • The frequency and amount of drugs or alcohol being used
  • Their age
  • Their physical health

Most people will experience withdrawal symptoms within eight hours of using drugs or alcohol last. Once symptoms start, they usually reach their peak intensity at the 24-72 hour mark. After which, they can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

One of the factors that will significantly impact how quickly withdrawal symptoms start – and how long they last – is the substance itself.

Here is a breakdown of the average detox timeline for some of the most common substances:


Alcohol has a short but intense withdrawal period. Many people will see minor symptoms start at six hours. Symptoms will continue for the first 12 to 72 hours and reach a peak intensity around the 72-hour mark. Symptoms will die down after this peak intensity, and the withdrawal will end.

However, some individuals can experience mild withdrawal symptoms for several months after giving up alcohol.


Depending on the frequency of use, cocaine withdrawal symptoms can begin between one to eight hours after the last use. Withdrawal symptoms will peak around 24 hours. For most people, cocaine withdrawal symptoms end within one to four days.

For some individuals who have been using cocaine for an extended period, the withdrawal might last up to 10 weeks.


Heroin and other short-acting opioids see withdrawal symptoms in the first eight to 12 hours. The intensity will peak within one to three days and end after seven days.


Fentanyl and other long-acting opioids have a longer withdrawal timeline than their short-acting counterparts. People will typically see withdrawal symptoms in the first eight to 36 hours. The intensity will peak within the one to three days and will end after 14 days.


Meth will show withdrawal symptoms in the first 24 hours after use with an intensity peak between the 25-72 hour mark. The entire withdrawal period for meth can last up to four weeks.

How to Safely Navigate Withdrawal

Withdrawal is a necessary step in getting sober, but it can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Without supervision, withdrawal can lead to health complications that can even put the person’s life in danger.

The safest way to go through withdrawal is with a rehabilitation clinic. The clinic can offer withdrawal management services, so they monitor your symptoms and ensure you get medical attention if anything goes wrong. Additionally, patients can choose to enroll in “medical detox,” where controlled, prescribed medications are given to ease the impact of withdrawal symptoms.

America’s Rehab Campuses Can Help

Withdrawal is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a dangerous path. Commit to your safe, healthy recovery today by enrolling in addiction treatment with America’s Rehab Campuses. We can help you get started on the journey to recovery today.