Alcohol detox can be dangerous, so it’s crucial to understand the best ways to take care of alcohol withdrawal symptoms that may occur during detox.
Detoxing from alcohol1 is the process during which your body eliminates any alcohol that remains in your bloodstream, then adjusts to the absence of alcohol. Those who use alcohol regularly will experience withdrawal symptoms during detox as the body adjusts to the absence of alcohol.
The severity and length of alcohol withdrawal2 will depend on the length of time that alcohol has consistently been used and how much alcohol is usually consumed. Detox typically begins about eight hours after your last drink, and withdrawal symptoms will peak between 24 and 72 hours. Symptoms will mostly resolve within a week, but may linger for two or more weeks. Alcohol cravings and psychological dependence on alcohol may continue for months or even longer, but this phase of alcohol withdrawal is not normally considered p
art of detox.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
The timeline for alcohol withdrawal5 will vary somewhat based on the individual, but will likely follow a relatively predictable course. The alcohol detox timeline often occurs in three distinct stages that many people withdrawing from alcohol encounter.
- Stage 1, 6–12 hours: Mild symptoms begin to occur. These may include alcohol cravings, nausea, insomnia and mood changes.
- Stage 2, 12–48 hours: Symptoms begin to escalate. The symptoms of Stage 1 will intensify, and physical changes such as blood pressure and heart rate elevation may occur.
- Stage 3, 48–72 hours: This is the most intense stage of detox and is when the most dangerous symptoms may occur. Seizures, hallucinations and delirium tremens may develop as symptoms peak during this stage.
Symptoms may peak within 24–48 hours in a mild detox, but are more likely to peak within 48–72 hours during more intense detox. Symptoms may continue for a week or more, but will gradually reduce after peaking. Withdrawal symptoms will usually resolve more slowly than they come on.
The length of time that it takes to completely detox from alcohol will vary for each individual. However, most people will complete their detox within seven to ten days after their last drink.
If you are going to experience withdrawal symptoms, simply stopping alcohol use will cause you to naturally detox. Depending upon the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, medical supervision to manage the symptoms of detox may be necessary.
Alcohol Detox Symptoms
There are several detox symptoms that someone stopping alcohol use is likely to experience. The most common of these symptoms4 include:
- Jumpiness or nervousness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Nausea or vomiting
- Suppressed appetite
- Tremors or shakiness
- Fast heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated temperature
In addition to these common symptoms, there are also some less common but more severe withdrawal symptoms that may occur. These effects of alcohol detox can even be fatal in some cases. These include:
- Seizures: These can occur as soon as six hours after stopping drinking, but are more likely to occur later during withdrawal. A seizure can cause severe harm, especially if you are alone.
- Alcohol hallucinosis: Sometimes occurring within 12–24 hours, alcohol hallucinosis is characterized by having hallucinations while otherwise conscious. This can lead someone to take actions they would not normally take, injuring themselves or others.
- Delirium tremens: Also called DTs, delirium tremens3 has a relatively high fatality rate if not treated. This condition causes a delirious state, restlessness and an unstable heart rate and temperature.
Alcohol Detox Medications
The medications5 used during alcohol detox are focused on treating the symptoms of detox. These medications can include:
- Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that interact with the same receptors that alcohol does. These medications can reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, treat anxiety, reduce the risk of seizures and treat delirium tremens.
- Anticonvulsants: While benzodiazepines are often used to treat seizures, other anticonvulsant medications may also be used for patients who are at risk for alcohol withdrawal seizures.
- Antiemetics: Antiemetics are medications used to reduce nausea, a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal.
- IV fluids: During withdrawal, the body is under stress and produces extra sweat, causing the heart to work harder. Providing IV fluids can help ensure adequate hydration and support the body’s recovery.
In addition to these core medications, there are several other types of medications that may be used based on the individual, the doctor treating them, and the unique situation they are encountering.
Best Way to Detox From Alcohol
The safest way to detox from alcohol is with a medical detox at a treatment facility, under the supervision of professionals. Anyone considering detox should consult with their doctor about the best option for them, as there are a few methods available.
Alcohol Detox at Home
Because alcohol detox is one of the most dangerous types of detox, it should only be done at home if your doctor says that it is okay. At-home alcohol detox typically works best for those with mild symptoms and addictions who are unlikely to experience any severe withdrawal symptoms.
Inpatient Alcohol Detox Center
Inpatient detox involves being admitted into a detox facility where you can be medically supervised and have your symptoms correctly managed. This is ideal for those who are at risk for severe withdrawal symptoms. Detox centers may also involve a rehab component, which is beneficial for those who may struggle to maintain sobriety. It ensures that the benefits of detoxing will continue.
Outpatient Alcohol Detox Center
In a way, outpatient alcohol detox is a cross between at-home and inpatient detox. You will still be able to detox at home, but will be medically supervised through outpatient appointments that do not require admission into a facility. This option is ideal for individuals who require some medical supervision, but do not warrant constant medical supervision.
How To Get Help
Getting help is the first and arguably most important step in achieving lasting sobriety. While it may seem daunting, getting help starts with reaching out to someone you can trust to help you take the first step in your recovery journey. Whether it is a friend, a family member, or your doctor, reaching out to someone is the beginning of lifelong recovery.
At The Recovery Village at Cherry Hill at Cooper, we have extensive experience in getting people the help they need. We invite you to learn more about how we can help you on your journey to lasting sobriety.
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- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” May 11, 2021. Accessed November 11, 2021.
- Dugdale, David C. “Alcohol withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, January 17, 2021. Accessed November 11, 2021.
- Rahman, Abdul & Paul, Manju. “Delirium Tremens.” StatPearls, August 27, 2021. Accessed November 11, 2021.
- O’Mally, Gerald & O’Mally, Rita. “Alcohol Toxicity and Withdrawal.” Merck Manuals, May 2020. Accessed November 11, 2021.
- Saitz, Richard. “Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 1998. Accessed November 11, 2021.
- Hoffman, Robert S. & Weinhouse, Gerald L. “Management of moderate and severe alcoho[…]withdrawal syndromes.” UpToDate, November 4, 2021. Accessed November 11, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.