A person undergoes alcohol detox when they cease drinking, and alcohol begins to leave their system. This can be a challenge for someone dependent on alcohol, especially if they have misused it for many years.
The time it takes to detox from alcohol varies from person to person. It’s often influenced by many factors, such as age, weight, drinking history, and the severity of alcohol use disorder (AUD). These variables make it difficult to determine how long detoxification will take, but in general, most people can overcome their cravings and alcohol withdrawal symptoms in four to five days and their initial detox phase in around a week.
Due to the complexity of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, it is recommended that patients undergo the detox process under the guidance and supervision of a treatment provider. Support from professionals in a treatment facility can help patients manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms and get through the detoxification process safely and comfortably.
What Is Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol is a depressant on which the body becomes reliant over months and years of use. This reliance causes your brain to stop generating certain chemicals that it acquires from alcohol, resulting in alcohol dependence. Alcohol detox is the natural process the body goes through while trying to flush out the toxins from the system after long-term alcohol intake. A detox process is not a cure in and of itself, but the first step to recovery for people with alcohol addiction.
Most detox programs conducted by treatment providers include medication, medical monitoring, and behavioral therapy. It assists recovering patients in overcoming unpleasant withdrawal symptoms without giving in to their cravings. Depending on the severity of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, the recovery process may vary from person to person.
Detoxing from alcohol in a treatment facility under medical supervision is essential. This is primarily due to potentially fatal health issues that can emerge during alcohol detoxification. Medical professionals at a treatment center will ensure your safety throughout detox by prescribing the appropriate medicine, if necessary, and providing around-the-clock care.
What to Expect During Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox is the preparatory step before an addiction treatment program. Detox programs provide individuals in recovery with a secure and encouraging environment to overcome their withdrawals. Most alcohol detox programs include the following:
- Initial assessment – The first step in a medically assisted detox program is a comprehensive medical evaluation to determine your precise needs. A healthcare provider will collect information about your medical history, the frequency of your alcohol intake, your mental health, and the severity of your addiction in order to formulate a specific detox plan.
- Establishing a treatment plan – The treatment plan includes goal setting, behavior modification techniques, ongoing individual and support group counseling, and aftercare after treatment from a detox center.
- Medication-assisted treatment – To help cope with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, patients will be prescribed medication as part of the detox process. These medications can help alleviate anxiety and depression, promote sufficient sleep, and relieve alcohol cravings.
- Psychological counseling – Individual and group therapy enables those battling alcoholism to recognize the origin of their addiction. Counseling assists in identifying and treating the psychological causes of alcoholism.
- Continued support – While medical detox can ease acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms, patients must continue to receive treatment for their dependence on alcohol at an inpatient or outpatient treatment center. Only with ongoing care can a patient be on the road to recovery.
Alcohol detoxification can be mentally, physically, and emotionally draining. Therefore, you must seek treatment at a rehab center where experienced and compassionate professionals can supervise the detoxification process and manage withdrawal symptoms for your health and safety.
Futures Recovery Healthcare knows just how challenging and complicated this recovery phase can be. Our team of experts is here to provide medically assisted detox and comprehensive treatment programs to assist our clients in achieving sustainable recovery.
Withdrawal Symptoms Experienced During Detox
When a person stops drinking, the nervous system becomes overactive, which can lead to various mental and physical symptoms. The most common alcohol detox symptoms include the following:
- Alcohol cold
- Extreme fatigue
- Rapid heart rate
- Abnormal breathing
- High blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Body tremors
- Cravings for alcohol
More severe withdrawal symptoms include mental confusion, delirium tremens (DTs), and seizures. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, DTs are the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, with an anticipated mortality rate of up to 37% without professional treatment. DTs can persist for up to 5 days and occur as early as 48 hours after abrupt cessation of alcohol use in individuals with an AUD. For this reason, detoxification can be extremely dangerous if not done under medical supervision for a heavy drinker who is used to binge drinking.
How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?
The time it takes to detox from alcohol varies depending on the individual. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically subside in four to five days after the last drink. However, some individuals may experience symptoms for much longer, depending on the severity of their physical dependence. These protracted symptoms can last for months or years in some individuals and are commonly referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Individuals with a history of substance use disorder are more likely to develop the psychological symptoms of PAWS.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
There are generally four stages in the alcohol withdrawal timeline. The following is an overview of what people typically experience during each phase of withdrawal:
- 6-12 hours – Typically, mild symptoms appear six hours after the last drink. Alcohol cravings are one of the initial symptoms to manifest. Individuals may also experience nausea, headaches, insomnia, and tremors during this detox period.
- 12-24 hours – After 12 hours of sobriety, moderate withdrawal symptoms may begin to manifest. For those with a mild to moderate dependence on alcohol, these symptoms typically peak between 18 and 24 hours and subside within four to five days.
- 24-48 hours – During this alcohol detox phase, patients may experience alcohol cravings, anxiety, rapid breathing, hypertension, irregular heartbeat, clammy skin, rapid mood swings, fever, and confusion.
- 48-72 hours – This stage of the withdrawal process is the most intense and may require medical supervision. People are most at risk of experiencing life-threatening symptoms such as alcohol withdrawal delirium, visual hallucinations, abnormal heart rate, heart attacks, and alcohol withdrawal seizures during this alcohol detox phase.
Factors That Influence a Detox Timeline
There is no precise timeline for alcohol withdrawal because every individual is unique. How long the detox process takes and which withdrawal symptoms are experienced depends on each person’s individual circumstances.
Individuals may experience alcohol withdrawal differently based on a variety of circumstances, including:
- Gender, weight, and age
- The length of alcohol consumption
- The severity of alcohol abuse
- Overall mental and physical health
- History of substance use disorder
- Whether or not alcohol has been combined with other drugs
- Whether or not they have experienced alcohol withdrawal in the past
Continuing Care After Detox
After completing a medical detox program, patients must continue with treatment to address and overcome their addiction at a rehab facility. Depending on the severity of their condition, patients can receive treatment at inpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), or a partial hospitalization program (PHP). These rehab programs offer individual and group counseling, family therapy, 12-step programs, and dual diagnosis treatment, among other evidence-based treatments. These treatment programs help people in early recovery develop healthy routines, stay accountable, and maintain their motivation to stay sober.
The first stage in alcohol addiction rehabilitation is to complete an alcohol detox program. Most patients require months or years of ongoing treatment to reduce the risk of relapse and sustain sobriety. Therefore, ongoing treatment is of the utmost importance.