If you’re struggling with substance abuse and addiction, you may be wondering how long it takes to get sober. While the answer isn’t quite that simple, it’s an important question to ask because it allows you to set your goal.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at one of the most common questions we hear from people interested in addiction recovery – how long does it take to get sober?
How Long Does it take to Get Sober?
When considering starting out on the path of recovery, concern about the amount of time it will take to reach the goal of sobriety is always a factor. The amount of time that it will take to achieve your goal will depend on several factors. These factors include the type of substance used, the length of time in addiction, and personal dedication to the ongoing process of recovery.
So, how long does it take to get sober?
To answer that question, we need to look at a few specific types of addictive substances and addiction timelines.
Types of Addictive Substances
While this is not an inclusive list, the following substances are those most often involved when discussing matters of addiction. Each of the substances operates on the brain in a unique way, and each has a varying level of addictive quality. Understanding the mechanisms behind the addiction can provide a basis for seeking effective addiction treatment.
Not everyone who tries alcohol will become addicted. Studies indicate that up to 85% percent of those who imbibe do not end up becoming dependent on alcohol. For those who do develop a problem, the source of the addiction appears to lie in the way that the individual brain processes chemicals. Scientists have discovered that the absence or presence of transporter proteins in the brain can either discourage – or encourage – a person to keep seeking out the high of alcohol in spite of very obvious, negative, consequences. This type of information lends weight to the hypothesis that the propensity to become an alcoholic originates in our genes.
Amphetamines are a stimulant drug. It operates by forcing the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that produces the feeling of reward. It is what our brain uses to motivate us toward a goal. With amphetamine addiction, the brain has learned that it no longer needs to produce dopamine on its own. It will wait for the signals from the drugs to release large amounts of this reward sensation. This change in brain function can result in physical dependence, and an addiction can be followed very quickly.
Similarly to amphetamines, opiates hijack the brain’s natural processes. Rather than producing the rewarding feeling of dopamine, however, opiates force the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the mechanism that the body uses to relieve pain. Opiates induce an excess of this pain relief, resulting in a sense of overall wellbeing for the person who is using them. Once this good feeling has worn off, the person is left feeling worse than before. This can lead to the vicious cycle of using more and more of the drug, which is the setup for addiction.
With marijuana being legalized in many places, whether it can be considered on a list of addictive substances is often in dispute. While it is a natural substance, it cannot be denied that using it causes chemical changes in the brain. Over time, a person can begin to struggle when attempting to face the reality of the world without the filter of marijuana in place. It has been determined that those who begin to operate under the influence of marijuana in their adolescent and teen years are more likely to develop a dependency on the effects of marijuana, and addiction can be identified when a person does not stop using it, even in the face of negative consequences.
Symptoms and Timeline of Withdrawal
Just as each of the listed substances has their own effects on the brain and body, each of them has different symptoms and timelines associated with withdrawal. Giving the brain and body time to withdraw from an addictive substance is the first step toward recovery.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe. For some, the process of ridding the body of the effects of the substance can be experienced as the typical hangover. For those who have spent a longer amount of time abusing the drink, the withdrawal symptoms can be severe enough to require hospitalization. The typical timeline for being rid of the physical addiction aspects of alcohol is 24-48 hours after the last drink, making it one of the fastest habits for the body to kick.
The effects of amphetamine withdrawal are basically the polar opposite of what the high delivers. Feelings of increased motivation and not sweating the small stuff are replaced by a deep sense of depression and increased irritation at everything and everyone. The weight-suppressing aspect of amphetamine use can also be replaced by an incessant hunger, and the hyperfocus can be replaced by an inability to concentrate on anything. These withdrawal symptoms – along with fatigue and even suicidal thoughts – usually begin within two days of last use, and the acute symptoms of withdrawal can last around two weeks. Lingering effects of withdrawal can persist for a year or more.
The experience of opiate withdrawal is often similar to severe flu. While it is not often life-threatening, a withdrawing person can feel extremely uncomfortable and may need to visit the hospital due to the risk of dehydration. Depending on the strength and type of opioids used, withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours or days of last use. Unlike the longer-term prospects of amphetamine withdrawal, the body’s dependence on opiates tends to fade in under two weeks.
Symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include mood swings, insomnia, changes in appetite, and feelings of depression. The withdrawal symptoms are a result of the brain has become dependent on operating while under the influence of a psychoactive. Adjusting to the reality of the world with a sober perspective can be a difficult hurdle. And, as anyone who has experienced anxiety over potentially failing a drug screening is aware, ridding the body of even trace amounts of marijuana can take anywhere from days to months.
Maintaining the Sobriety
While the timelines provided give an indication of the days needed to cleanse the body of addiction, a person struggling with addiction is not out of the woods, yet. A major component of addiction is psychological dependence. Many people who develop an addiction to substances start out using them to avoid real-world situations and undiagnosed mental health problems. These types of problems still remain once getting sober, and – in some cases – have become even worse.
For many people, the process of becoming mentally sober lasts much longer than the physical withdrawal. It is important to have a support system and a proactive plan in place to avoid giving in to cravings and falling back into the addiction trap. Holding onto sobriety takes courage and determination. Given enough time, the life of sobriety will become second nature.