What to Expect When Getting Clean and Sober: Drug Symptoms and Detox Timelines

Many of us, in recovery, as well as friends and family of recovering folks, have heard or said these sentiments: “will I ever be normal again?” I think what we mean is will I ever feel able to cope with life on life terms, hold a job, think rationally, be a positive contributing member of society…etc.,etc. And with great confidence, I can relay the message that yes, indeed, many who have uttered these exact doubts and fears have shifted into new abundant realities. Many have found consistent peace and stability, and are evolving every day (way better than normal, right?) Although, in terms of time frames, mental clarity levels, and what-have-you, there is a lot of relativity.

In other words, be gentle with those that are learning a new way to live, whether that be yourself or a loved one, for in compassion there is room to grow. With that said, there are some timelines and general, measurable improvements that can be emphasized to give an idea how long certain substances take to fully recover from physiologically. In this article, I will discuss a list of substances, common symptoms of use and detox, and average lengths of time to recalibrate the body.

Before I dive into the plethora of mind-altering substances and their unique attributes of destruction, I’d like to first acknowledge that everybody is different and has it’s own unique way of processing whatever it consumes, and quite frankly, everything is energy and energy intensely influences the process. That’s why drugs of choice are so varied and experiences are as well.

In general, water-soluble drugs exit the body in 3-5 days (marijuana is fat soluble and takes longer.) So what is it that takes so long to reach a level of stability and successful healing? Well, this, of course, has to do with a lot of different factors- background, physical environment, negative brain patterns, and in some opinions, an esoteric surrender to the natural forces of healing. However long it is taking and however uncomfortable the process is, the compassion and patience to persevere and continue to grow will yield incredibly worth-it results in freedom- a freedom that is only dreamt of in the midst of active addiction (and keep dreaming it, because science has proven that what the mind creates, without resistance and doubt, has a large part in what the whole being experienced in reality.) With that said, here is a list of the top players in the pursuit of instantaneous relief, and their subsequent affects and average detox periods:

• Marijuana

Scientists have researched the particular parts of the brain affected by marijuana use and labeled these sites the Endocannabinoid system. There are many different receptor sites scattered throughout the brain that are influenced by this system. The body also creates it’s own brain chemicals that act similarly, on these sites, to the primary active altering compound in marijuana- THC. Essentially both THC, and the body’s own natural equivalent, act as a sort of dimmer switch for information traveling from synapse to synapse But back to the point of this article- it can take up to 3 months for marijuana to completely exit the body, the more you consume/smoke, the longer it takes. And the process of reintroducing a natural production of the brain’s own stress-reducing chemicals, after depending on the plant for a period of time, is just that- a process, not precisely measurable and varying from person to person.

• Opiates

Whether it’s street Heroin, or prescription opiates like Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Percocet, or Vicodin, the intensity of euphoria from this particular class of drugs, comes with a large detox price to pay. A little background info: The human brain of course makes it’s own small level of opiates which bind to opioid receptors in the brain, spine, and central nervous system. However the rush of dopamine in the system from taking synthetic opioids is a hundred times stronger. Other affects are:

– pain

– slowing of the respiratory system (a key factor in opiod overdoses)

– nausea or vomiting

While the drug can be out of the system in 3-7 days, there is a lot of excruciating pain involved and it is best to detox from opiates in a controlled, medically supervised environment. Even with a relatively short detox period though, there are a host of other factors that can make this recovery process intensive. Opiates can produce immense changes in brain wiring and structure both in short term and long term. Reward circuits rewire themselves, tolerance leads to dependance, some areas of the brain with long term use actually physically shrink or “go dark” so to speak. In as little as a month of using Morphine, the brain has shown neuroplastic changes, changes in volume, and reduction in gray matter, which can affect associative learning, reinforcement, and dependence. On a positive side: If you, or a loved one, are someone overcoming the affects of opioid dependence, there is a wealth of research to support the malleability of brain structure. Some activities that actually physically increase that previously reduced gray matter are:

– yoga

– juggling (coordination strengthening practices)

– meditation

– learning to play an instrument ‘

– omega 3 fatty acids – exercise – intermittent fasting.


• Cocaine

Cocaine comes in two forms, powder and rock. It’s easy to get hooked on this powerful stimulant, which comes as a sort of synthetic cesspool of all sorts of toxic additives like levamisole and anesthetics. It causes an intense high immediately followed by depression, edginess, and craving for more. It’s use often interferes with sleep and eating habits. Other negative affects are:

– increased heart rate

– muscle spasms

– convulsions

– paranoia

– anxiety

– psychosis

– hallucinations

Usually it can be out of the system in 3-5 days, but it can take as long as two weeks. How well the body metabolizes it can proportionately affect how long it takes to get out of the system. As with all drugs, the negative internal physical affects are wide and varied from liver, kidney, and lung damage to the destruction of tissues and damage of blood vessels. So even though the actual drug is out of the system, it does take time to repair and rebuild a healthier body and being. This process is highly affected by a person’s make-up, their particular patterns, and intensity of trauma response, as well as their will to live a better life, and also, not to be underestimated- their belief in their ability to recover. Science has shown that belief is directly correlational to the witnessing of evidence of this particular belief (placebo effect, quantum theory, etc.)

• Benzodiazepines

Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin are Benzos prescribed for anxiety. They are popular sedatives that have an intense withdrawal time, similar to opiates. Benzos, like most water-soluble drugs can be out of the system in 3-5 days, though the withdrawal symptoms can last quite a bit longer. Quitting Benzos can cause seizures and even death so it’s imperative to detox in a medically supervised facility or with medical supervision of some sort.

• Methamphetamines

This highly addictive stimulant is completely synthetic and has no legal uses whatsoever. It causes intense euphoria, followed by energy and alertness and a host of rather morbid physiological adverse reactions such as: convulsions, seizures, irregular heart beat, hyperthermia, elevated blood pressure, psychosis, sever tooth decay. The detox and early recovery period from this substance is mainly mental. Though it can take on average 3-5 days to get out of the system, it is a very confusing and disorienting 3-5 days. The adverse affects on the brain and body system require a longer period of time to begin to heal. Once the chemicals are out of the brain, it takes some time for the brain’s own natural biochemistry to recalibrate. The process can be very confusing and can include:

– hallucinations

– delusions

– loss of motor skills

– paranoia

– extreme depression

• Alcohol

Though Alcohol is the only one on the list that is completely legal without a prescription. It is also one that requires supervised detox (you can die or have seizures from alcohol withdrawal.) Though it only takes 12-24 hours for the alcohol to be out of your system, chronic drinkers can feel drunk or hungover for as many as 4 days. And of course the physical effects and physiological effects take time to heal and sometimes create lasting damage that will have to be worked around, as recovery progresses.


Also known as the “club drug” and the “date rape” drug. This substance causes euphoria and is sold in a liquid form. Usually GHB is out of the system in 24-48 hours, though symptoms of withdrawal such as body aches, fatigue, depression, and insomnia can persist for weeks.


MDMA is a very powerful main ingredient of ecstasy and “Molly.” There’s a misconception among those taking the drug Molly that it is pure MDMA, but according to the DEA only 13% of Molly contains any MDMA at all (often it contains the same ingredients as a drug called “bath salts.”) Originally used in therapeutic settings for couples, this has become a go-to source of instant euphoria and comes at a high price literally, and physiologically, as it can take a week for the body to fully process it. Though the remnants of the drug can be out of the system in as little as 72 hours, the brain and physiology have a lengthier process in recalibrating to their natural feel-good chemicals, and this recalibration can vary from person to person. It is also highly addictive so the psychological components of addiction can require a longer time to fully recover from.

• Methadone

Though this is often toted as a medicine of sorts for Heroine withdrawal, many in the recovery field consider this an equally destructive addictive substance. Though for some this may be a step in the right direction, most have just as hard a time getting off of methadone as the heroine and the side effects are at par with the negative effects of heroin use. Common symptoms of withdrawal include:

– nausea

– insomnia

– hallucinations

– all the withdrawal symptoms of heroine

Methadone should ideally be detoxed from in a supervised setting. Whew! That is sort of a depressing list I know, and of course, it’s not pleasant to witness the addiction in action, either from a personal standpoint of looking back on our own addiction or from the standpoint of looking at a loved one’s addiction. There is power in knowing that an immense amount of progress can be made in just 3 days to one week! The fact that many drugs can be fully out of the system in a week can either provide hope for successfully kicking the addiction or it can provide criticism for the remaining negative thought patterns, trauma, and other psychological factors that remain. These factors that contributed to the addiction in the first place- pieces of self-destruction and pre-addiction momentum require a lengthier period of time to address and heal from. So no matter what the drug, or the past circumstances, it’s important to remember that recovery is a personal journey and is a process with ebbs and flows, tsunami’s of discomfort, and also periods of relief, and huge leaps of creative rebuilding. So no matter where you or your loved one is on their journey; patience, hope, and compassion are always big players in fostering a positive environment for recovery to progress rapidly.

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