How Long Does It Take to Detox From Alcohol?

Most people enjoy a drink from time to time, but for certain people, alcohol consumption can pose a problem due to its addictive nature. Alcohol abuse can damage your psychological health as much as it can damage your physical health. It can put pressure on your relationships, work and social life, and mental health, as well as impact your body.

If you or someone you love is engaging in frequent and heavy drinking, then they may be struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD). There is no shame in AUD and addiction is a disease and not your fault. The important thing is to understand that you are not alone, it is treatable, and there are numerous treatment options available to help you overcome this safely and effectively.

The precise length of time it will take to detox from alcohol will depend on each person as there are numerous factors that can affect it. We will discuss these, along with AUD, symptoms, and treatment options below.

There is a lot of courage and strength in reaching out and seeking help. Well done for acknowledging your addiction, as this is a difficult first step. With the right support, you can break free from this disease and go on to live a healthy and fulfilled life.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

When someone has become dependent on alcohol, either physically or psychologically, they can be said to have an addiction to alcohol. Alcohol Use Disorder is the name given to both alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction, with alcohol abuse being at the mild end and alcohol addiction being a severe form of AUD characterized by a dependency on the substance and an inability to quit. if you are suffering from alcohol cravings, and spend a significant amount of time drinking, thinking about drinking, or recovering from drinking, then you may have AUD.

It is important to be aware that alcohol addiction can happen to anyone and it is nobody’s fault for developing it. It is a medical disease and as such should be regarded in the same way as a physical illness. This is important in destigmatizing mental health and starting open conversations around mental health and the need for compassion and care in our society rather than judgment. Some factors that can lead to alcohol addiction include the following:

  • Certain pre-existing personality disorders
  • Genetics
  • The home environment
  • Cognitive functioning

Alcohol detox is an important first step in overcoming alcohol addiction. The detox process involves removing alcohol slowly from the body so that the physical dependence is broken. Alcohol detox can feel very challenging, and it is actually one of the most difficult drugs to quit due to the intense physical withdrawal symptoms. This is why it is vital to only attempt alcohol detox under the guidance of licensed medical professionals as it can be extremely dangerous to quit alcohol cold turkey. At inpatient detox, those seeking addiction treatment will receive medical supervision from a healthcare professional 24/7, which involves withdrawal management and mental health support.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Why Do They Happen?

Abusing alcohol carries risks and leads to withdrawal symptoms because of the way that the drug interacts with GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is a chemical messenger in the central nervous system (CNS). GABA leaves you feeling relaxed and content, and drinking often and heavily can interfere with the production of GABA. This means that, when alcohol is removed, the levels of GABA in your system will be low because alcohol is no longer prompting its production. This is why withdrawal symptoms happen.

Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol will be different for each individual, based on the following factors:

  • How much alcohol is being consumed
  • The length of the alcohol addiction or abuse
  • Family history
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms happen when someone dramatically reduces their intake of alcohol or they suddenly stop drinking. Those who suffer from mild alcohol use disorder may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, but they are unlikely to lead to death. Relatively mild symptoms are not pleasant, but they are not deadly.

People who have a more severe AUD and have been dependent on alcohol for a long time are at risk of experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can be frightening and even life-threatening. It is for this reason that you should never attempt alcohol detox without medical advice and attention.

Some common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Stomach upset
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sweats
  • Headaches
  • Trembling or shaking

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include life-threatening symptoms:

  • Delirium tremens (the DTs). Withdrawal delirium, or delirium tremens, can be life-threatening. It is imperative to dial 911 and seek medical attention as soon as possible if someone is experiencing the DTs. Withdrawal delirium is one of the most dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms and left untreated it can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or death. Three to five percent of people who experience withdrawal symptoms will experience delirium tremens. Other symptoms of the DTs include: vomiting, faster heart rate, increased blood pressure, fever, delusions, delirium, tremors, nightmares, and feeling disorientated.
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

How Long Does It Take to Detox From Alcohol?

The following timeline for alcohol withdrawal is an approximate guide for when expecting each symptom, although as stated this can vary from person to person.

Six Hours – Twelve Hours

Initial withdrawal symptoms often begin to kick in around 6 hours after the last drink was consumed. The initial withdrawals are typically mild but unpleasant. However, those who have been abusing alcohol for a long time may get seizures at this stage.

12 Hours-48 Hours

This part of the withdrawal is generally more intense, with 24-72 hours after the last drink is often the most intense stage of withdrawing. Some people hallucinate 12-24 hours after the last alcohol consumed, and seizures may occur in some people around 24-48 hours after they stop drinking.

People with mild symptoms often peak during withdrawal 18-24 hours after they stop drinking and typically begin to ease off after 4 to 5 days.

48 Hours- 72 Hours

During this time frame, some people may get the DTs with symptoms sometimes persisting up to 2 weeks. The symptoms can peak at 72 hours.

Although rare, withdrawal symptoms can sometimes persist for a month. Benzodiazepines are sometimes given to those experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms to reduce their severity.

Continued Treatment Options

Substance addiction and alcohol dependence can be overcome through treatment. Alcohol addiction treatment centers offer support through the detox process, as well as continued aftercare and support to stop drinking long term. After detox, you may be referred to a rehab center, which can be either inpatient or outpatient treatment. During rehab, you will be in contact with mental health services, such as a therapist, who will help you to work through your psychological addiction so as to help break free from it. Treating mental health issues is vital in preventing relapse.


Alcohol use is widespread in the United States, but it can be extremely dangerous and difficult to quit. However, know that it is entirely possible to get through alcohol withdrawal and recover from drug abuse with the right addiction treatment. Substance abuse treatment ensures safety if you experience withdrawal symptoms that are intense such as during acute alcohol withdrawal, and is the best way to keep you safe from severe symptoms such as delirium tremens.

Quitting alcohol cold turkey can be fatal as it can lead to delirium tremens, alongside other severe withdrawal symptoms. A medical detox during addiction treatment is recommended for those with severe alcohol dependence in order to have the safest and most comfortable experience. Overcoming substance abuse will be challenging but incredibly rewarding, and seeking treatment is a hugely courageous thing to do, so well done.

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