One of the main questions an individual or concerned family members asks regarding substance use disorder or addiction is how long someone needs to abuse drugs or alcohol before they need detox. Often a concerned parent, spouse or loved one will call a rehab or addiction treatment center because they are concerned about their loved one’s drug use or drinking. They will often ask if that loved one needs detox based on the amount of time the person has been misusing drugs or having issues with their drinking.


Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry or black and white answer regarding this question. Every person is different, with different factors regarding their substance misuse including different biology, different physiology, different mental health or medical issues, and different social issues. Not everyone that abuses drugs and alcohol are the same, therefore it is difficult to determine what level of care is needed simply based on the length of time that they have been abusing drugs and alcohol.


Detox is a process of safely and comfortably ridding the body of harmful toxins, managing any withdrawal symptoms, and making sure that the individual is physically, mentally, and medically stable. An individual may need detox if they’ve been using drugs and alcohol for a long-time or if they’ve only been using for a short time. They may require detox from drugs and alcohol if they’ve been using everyday for many years, or they may require detox if they’ve only been using for several weeks. There is also something to be said for the types of drugs and alcohol they been consuming. For example, someone using opioids may need detox after only a few days of continuous use, because the likelihood of them becoming physically dependent on opioids is very high. Other substances, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, can be potentially fatal if not stopped with the care and support of medical professionals in a medical detox, so detox is always recommended. Intermittent use, such as binge drinking or habitual use of cocaine or other stimulants, may also require detox.


There is no cookie cutter approach related to time or specific substances where it can be said that someone needs or does not require detox. While certain substances create physical dependence and other substances carry more inherent danger and risk of stopping without medical intervention, all substance use carry inherent physical, emotional, and medical consequences. Therefore, regardless of the type of substance, time or history of use, or consistency of use, it is always recommended that an individual seek help to stop through a medical detox with the care and support of 24/7 professionals. This is not only due to the physical withdrawal symptoms, but also the mental health and emotional well-being of the patient.


Whether someone has been using for decades or only a short period of time, best practices dictate making sure that person enters detox and has their care managed by team of medical professionals. This is true to make sure that their detox and withdrawal is medically managed, meaning they received necessary FDA-approved medications and are support by 24/7 medical staff. However, this is also true simply associated with the risks involved in the detox process, including any medical issues that could arise, potential physical complications, and also managing the mental health symptoms of detox, including stress, anxiety, depression, potential suicidality, or emotional distress. While a person may be able to detox themselves physically from substances, which is never recommended, they will also experience many mental and emotional reactions to the detox and withdrawal process, which can easily set themselves up to go use drugs and alcohol immediately in order to feel better, emotionally, mentally and physically. A medical detox is often vital because the patient will receive clinical services and recovery support, as well as a team of professionals that will work with the patient to set them up for success after they leave detox and are feeling physically and emotionally better. Detox is only the first step in getting sober or entering recovery. There is much more work to do to recover than simply stop using drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are only symptoms of addiction, and an individual needs to explore, uncover, and work through the underlying causes and conditions that led to addiction in the first place.


There is no magic bullet or right answer for how long someone needs to be abusing drugs or alcohol in order to need detox. There is no magic line in the sand, as if someone is okay and doesn’t need a detox if they’ve been using for 6 months, but anything after 6 months they automatically require detox. As such, there is also no direct answer for specific substances, as if heroin always requires a detox but someone using cocaine never does. There are too many situational, social, and biological factors to account for, meaning that it is always best, regardless of circumstance, to enter a medical detox to receive high quality care in order to stop the use of drugs and alcohol. If for no other reason than it will offer a safe, supportive environment to detox with a level of comfort, although in many instances it could save someone’s life.


If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorders, please give us a call. Innovo Detox offers the latest in evidence-based medical, psychiatric, and clinical care for those in need of detox and medical stabilization in Pennsylvania and the surrounding Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or a loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a detox, rehab, treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (717) 619-3260 or email our team at For more information on our company or services, please visit our website at