How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Detoxification: How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol? What are The Symptoms?

A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that 4 percent of people living in the United States had alcohol use disorder, and a further 10 percent reported having an alcohol use disorder in their lifetime. However, only about 25 percent got help for the treatable disease. This, according to NIAAA director, George F. Koob, Ph.D., is the reason why it’s so important to continue to understand how the disease works and how treatment can help. One of the biggest initial issues are the withdrawal symptoms. In this article, we will look at how long does it take to detox from alcohol, common symptoms, and why a medical detox is required. 

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Before we look at how long does it take to detox from alcohol, we will explore what a detox is. The first stage of recovery from alcohol use disorder, which includes moderate to severe addiction, is detoxification, or detox. It is essentially the period in which the body rids itself of the toxins caused by the excessive abuse of alcohol, and the time in which the body starts to return to its natural functioning state.

Why is Detox Required?

When a person first stops their alcohol abuse, there are still symptoms of withdrawal to deal with. Essentially, the body has become used to the constant presence of alcohol and the effects it has, and therefore adjusts its own chemistry and function to better accommodate the toxins in the body.

However, when this change occurs, which is considered to be the formation of a dependence, then the body in a sense needs the alcohol to function at its current state. When the person attempts to stop their abuse of alcohol, the body is in a keyed-up state and needs time to function normally again and regain its balance. This condition has consequences which are known as withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances that one can detox from due to the severity of the changes that occur. It is one of the few substances that can cause fatal outcomes if not properly managed or done professionally.

What is a Medical Detox?

A medical detox is the treatment solution for the dangerous and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that set in after stopping an alcohol abuse pattern. Alcohol is a substance that once you have become dependent on it, you need to find professional help, or risk possible fatal consequences.

So, how long does it take to detox from alcohol in a medical detox program? It tends to last about the same time as detoxing alone does; however, the symptoms can be greatly reduced and managed, making the experience far easier to cope with – and a lot safer. This is because a medical detox for alcohol provides medications that have been approved by the FDA for alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms such as cravings and insomnia can be managed to great effect.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Every person who is addicted to alcohol will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms; however, they may not have all of the symptoms, and some of the symptoms may be more impactful than others in some cases. The duration of the alcohol abuse, how much alcohol they drank on a frequent basis, and the physical health the patient is in can have an effect on alcohol withdrawal symptom intensity.

Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Shaky hands
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Mood swings
  • Fever
  • Profuse sweating
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

While it’s not possible to tell exactly how long each person will experience withdrawal, or how severe particular symptoms will be, there is a standard alcohol withdrawal timeline that we will look at.

The First Few Hours: Mild

One of the first things that an alcoholic will experience when they start with their detox is cravings. It is a sign that withdrawal has begun.

During the first few hours of detox, a person will also experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia and nightmares when they do manage to sleep
  • Tremors
  • An increase in blood pressure and heart rate

These symptoms will continue and become worse as the detox progresses.

The First Three Days: Severe

During the first two to three days of the alcohol withdrawal timeline, symptoms begin to increase in severity, with some of the more severe symptoms emerging.

As the body and brain respond to alcohol toxins leaving the body and changes begin to occur, the addict may experience:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Possible chest pains as heart rate and blood pressure increase
  • Delirium tremens

Delirium tremens is the most severe set of symptoms that occur during detox from alcohol. If a medical detox for alcohol is not used and delirium tremens set in, then the person is risking their life. It is difficult to tell if a person will have these symptoms, and therefore any severe addiction to alcohol should be met with a medical detox at a rehab to ensure the person recovers safely.

Delirium tremens symptoms include:

  • Vivid hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Racing heart
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fever
  • Extreme confusion
  • Seizures
  • Tremors

The factors that increase one’s risk of developing delirium tremens include:

  • Prior medical conditions such as infections or head injuries
  • Prolonged heavy drinking
  • Lack of proper nutrition
  • Previous alcohol withdrawal experiences

Day Four and Beyond

Many of the symptoms, especially cravings, persist throughout the whole detox experience. Some people may also experience the severe symptoms closer to day 7 of their last drink; however, in most cases, it takes 7 to 10 days for the detoxification process to end.

After day four, the symptoms that a person in detox from alcohol experience tend to decline in severity. The person will slowly feel better as each day passes until day 7 to 10 when they feel more like their usual self again.

In some cases, the psychologic symptoms may persist for weeks, especially when trying to detox alone. This is what is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). The symptoms that may persist include anxiety – which is caused by an imbalance in GAGA receptors – and depression. These symptoms can make it difficult to avoid relapse as the person finds it more difficult to adjust to a life without alcohol.

A medical detox is highly advised for any individual who has an addiction to alcohol. It is a crucial and pivotal part of recovery, and the most dangerous time for the recovering person. Furthermore, treatment doesn’t stop after detox; therapy and other types of treatment programs are essential to help prevent relapse and achieve long-term sobriety.

Get help with alcohol withdrawal by calling Better Addiction Care at 1-800-429-7690 today.