Detox is often the first step in treatment for alcoholism as the therapeutic process cannot fully begin until alcohol has been removed from the body. Learn what the timeline is for detox from alcohol and what to expect during the process.


Duration and Length

There is no way to predict alcohol detox duration and length as it is an individual process. Most cases of acute detox are over within a week while some processes can last from a few hours to several months. The detoxification process is influenced by:

  • Length of time the individual was dependent on alcohol
  • Level of dependence
  • Tolerance to alcohol

The length and severity of withdrawal symptoms vary person to person and depend upon a few factors. Initial symptoms are relatively mild and include anxiety, insomnia and tremors. Symptoms may begin within 3 to 6 hours following cessation of drinking and before the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) has returned to zero. Symptoms typically abate within 1 to 3 days.


Schedule for Detox

Detox begins as the blood alcohol concentration in the central nervous system lowers. Heavy drinkers who abstain from drinking for 5-10 hours will probably get what is called ‘the shakes.’

The following timeline is what to expect during detox:

Day 1-2: Symptoms of early withdrawal range from mild tremors to massive convulsions. Mild cases may be uncomfortable with severe cases being life threatening. Typical timeline is 24-48 hours. Most reported symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heightened sensitivity to light and sound
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hallucinations (more serious cases)

Days 3-4: Two to four days after last drink, delirium tremens (DT’s) may occur. This symptom is not present for every person but mortality rates hover around 15%. Detox in a facility equipped to handle patients with DT’s is very important. Physiological changes to the central nervous system occur which may cause dehydration and other symptoms which may be life threatening. Hallucinations are also possible.


Average Detox Time

The timeline for an average person who experiences detox from alcohol varies. It is important to seek help immediately if a strong dependency has formed. For DT’s, medical help is necessary as soon as possible to avoid catastrophic consequences.


Detox from alcohol has a range of symptoms and impacts individuals differently. Many factors must be kept in mind when considering where and how to experience detox. Most professional addiction counselors recommend not quitting cold turkey, particularly where tolerance or dependence has developed. This can have dangerous consequences for the individual and is safest in the hands of experienced technicians and medical staff who can attend to the person’s needs.

Giving up alcohol for good takes courage and bravery. Detox may seem scary, but there are people available to assist and support along the way. If you or a loved one need help quitting drinking, contact Hired Power to find out how we can assist you.

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