Breaking an Addiction: How Long Does It Take to Get Rid of It?

Addiction is a complex disease that affects the body, mind, and soul. It is often intertwined with other problems such as mental illness, low self-esteem, financial issues, homelessness, criminal behavior, broken relationships, and more. As a result, addiction recovery is a long and difficult process that cannot be oversimplified in a 66-day magic treatment program. A TIME article provides scientific evidence that “it takes approximately 90 days for the brain to restart and get rid of the immediate influence of a drug.” Researchers at Yale University found that after an addict abstains for at least 90 days, there is a gradual reinstatement of appropriate analytical and decision-making functions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Just as it takes different periods of time to quit a habit depending on the nature of the habit, there is no timeline for breaking and curing an addiction. Usually, the process begins with detoxification of the body from the substance, whether it is drugs, alcohol or both. Detox programs usually take about 7 days to remove the substance from the body, but cravings can take an additional weeks or even months to go away. Once detoxification is complete, you can move on to inpatient rehabilitation, which can last 28 days or more.

The longer you stay in treatment, the greater your chances of breaking an addiction. Alcohol and drugs affect neurotransmitters and neural pathways in the brain. At the same time, the brain struggles to maintain balance. As a result, when drugs and alcohol change brain chemistry, the brain adapts.

Once adaptation becomes the norm, the brain will want to “correct an imbalance” when the drug is no longer present by taking the drug again. Over time, substance use disorder (SUD) changes both the structure of the brain and how it works. For additional resources on addiction recovery, visit SAMHSA's website or contact their National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Trained information specialists are available to answer calls and connect callers to state services or other appropriate intake centers in their states. Achieving full recovery from addiction is much more than just breaking a bad habit. While correcting harmful habits and lifestyles is an important aspect of addiction recovery, medical detoxification is only the beginning of a long process that requires ongoing commitment and maintenance.