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Severe Alcohol Detox Timeline

Alcohol detox is the process of withholding alcohol so that all traces can leave the body and brain function can begin to return to normal. The alcohol detox timeline isn’t the same for everyone. Withdrawal from alcohol can take a few days, or it can take a couple of weeks. Some symptoms may linger even longer. Some of the factors that determine the alcohol detox timeline include:

7 Minute Read | Published Sep 26 2023 | Updated Feb 27 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Amber Asher
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Amber Asher
Reviewed by

The alcohol detox timeline depends on a number of factors.

  • Your age.
  • The length and severity of your addiction.
  • How much alcohol is in your system at the time of detox.
  • Your general state of physical and mental health.

Medical detox through a high quality treatment center is essential for safety during detox, which can produce severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms that are fatal for five percent of those who experience them.

Why Withdrawal Occurs

Withdrawal occurs when you’ve developed a dependence on alcohol. Dependence isn’t the same thing as addiction, which is largely behavioral and psychological. Dependence is purely physical.

Heavy alcohol abuse leads to changes in the brain’s chemical function as the brain tries to compensate for the presence of alcohol. This produces tolerance, which means that you need increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to produce the desired effects. As you consume more alcohol, the brain continues to change its chemical function. At some point, the brain may begin to operate more comfortably when alcohol is present. Then, when you stop drinking, normal brain chemical function rebounds, and this causes withdrawal symptoms.

While alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur in a predictable pattern, the alcohol detox timeline is a little different for everyone.

Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically set in within eight hours after the last drink, although they may occur up to a few days later. Although most symptoms normally peak around 24 to 72 hours, some may persist for weeks. The most common mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Fatigue.
  • Irritability.
  • Tremors.
  • Mood swings.
  • Insomnia and nightmares.
  • Cognitive difficulties.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

During medical detox, a variety of medications are administered as needed to reduce the severity of symptoms and improve your comfort and sense of wellbeing. Medical personnel are on hand to help prevent dangerous complications that can lead to alcohol withdrawal death.

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal

Delirium tremens, or DTs, is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves sudden and sever changes in your mental or physical health. DTs occurs most commonly in people who:

  • Stop drinking after a period of heavy alcohol abuse, especially in those with poor nutrition.
  • Have a history of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Drink four to five pints of wine, seven to eight pints of beer, or one pint of liquor every day for a few months.
  • Have used alcohol for more than 10 years.

Like mild alcohol withdrawal, the alcohol detox timeline for DTs isn’t set in stone. Symptoms usually set in within 48 to 96 hours after you stop drinking, but they may occur up to ten days after the last drink. Symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal usually occur suddenly and escalate to a medical emergency very quickly, and they may cause alcohol withdrawal death. Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Sudden, severe delirium.
  • Body tremors.
  • Agitation.
  • Deep sleep lasting a day or longer.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Swift mood changes.
  • Restlessness.
  • Rapid or irregular heart beat.
  • Chest or stomach pain.
  • High fever.
  • Seizures.

Medications given during medical detox can help prevent symptoms of severe withdrawal, and they can help save your life if symptoms do occur.

Supervision is Crucial for Safety During Detox

Because the symptoms of withdrawal and the alcohol detox timeline vary, undergoing detox on your own can be dangerous or fatal. Supervised medical detox is essential for your safety and wellbeing during withdrawal.

Remember: Detox is not addiction treatment. It only addresses the brain’s physical reliance on alcohol. A high quality treatment program will treat the addiction through a variety of traditional and complementary therapies.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at (800) 429-7690.


bullet Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.).
"The Big Book. New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc."
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bullet Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006).
"Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US)."
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bullet Del Boca, F. K., & Darkes, J. (Eds.). (2007).
"Alcohol Use and Misuse by Young Adults. New York, NY: Springer Science+Business Media."
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bullet Mayo Clinic. (2021).
"Alcohol withdrawal: Symptoms."
Retrieved on December 01, 2017
bullet National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021).
"Alcohol Facts and Statistics."
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bullet National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018).
"Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)."
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bullet Ries, R. K., Fiellin, D. A., Miller, S. C., & Saitz, R. (Eds.). (2014).
"The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine (Fifth Edition). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer."
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bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015).
"Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs: Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 43. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US)."
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