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How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Thinking of quitting drinking? You must be wondering how long it will take for the toxins to leave your body.

If you quit drinking today, you’ll likely experience some withdrawal symptoms. In fact, some people are apprehensive about quitting drinking for fear of withdrawal symptoms, but alcohol detox is a crucial step in addiction recovery.

The time it takes for one to detox depends on many factors, including:

  • A person’s tolerance to alcohol
  • The severity of his or her addiction
  • How long one has been dependent on alcohol

So, exactly how long does it take to detox?

According to the American Addiction Center, initial detox takes about a week. However, the symptoms may continue for longer depending on the factors mentioned above. In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at the alcohol detox timeline.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms can begin to surface in as little as 6 hours after your last drink.

According to a 2013 literature review in the Industrial Psychiatric Journal, the following is a guide about when you can expect withdrawal symptoms to appear.

After 6 Hours

Mild withdrawal symptoms can start as early as 6 hours after your last drink. People with a long history of excessive drinking can experience severe withdrawal symptoms, like seizures, 6 hours after stopping drinking.

12 – 24 Hours

Most people begin to experience mild withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and hallucinations within 24 hours. Hallucinations may cause you to see or hear things that aren’t there. While these symptoms can be scary, doctors don’t consider them severe.

24 – 48 Hours

Similar to the first full day of detox, some of those scary symptoms may continue into the next day. Hallucinations and panic attacks are expected within the first 48 hours as your body rids off the alcohol from its system.

48 – 72 Hours

After 48 hours into detox, some people experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that doctors call delirium tremens (DTs). If you have this condition, you’ll experience occasional seizures, high blood pressure, confusion, and fever.

After 72 Hours

For the remainder of your first week of detox, you’ll experience the worst alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is also the timeframe where you’re at risk of life-threatening symptoms, such as seizures, agitation, and tremors. In rare cases, the symptoms can last for a month.

Some scholars classify withdrawal symptoms into three stages:

  • Stage 1: The first symptoms, which include insomnia, anxiety, and nausea, tend to begin within 8 hours of the last drink
  • Stage 2: Withdrawal symptoms at this stage may include confusion, abnormal heart rate, and high blood pressure and begin to manifest 24 hours after the last drink
  • Stage 3: The last stage is characterized by severe symptoms, including seizures, fevers, and agitation. These symptoms often appear 2-4 days after the last drink

As alcohol leaves your system, the withdrawal symptoms become less frequent and will disappear slowly with time.

In addition to the physical symptoms, you’ll likely experience psychological side effects, such as alcohol cravings and anxiety.

Not everyone will experience withdrawals in the same way—some people may experience more severe symptoms than others.

Likewise, the alcohol withdrawal timeline varies from person to person.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, symptoms usually peak by 24 – 72 hours but may go for weeks, especially if you have other medical problems.

Some withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and even fatal, particularly if a person experiences tremors or seizures. For this reason, it is advisable to seek the help of a trained professional, like a doctor, who will provide the care and treatment you need.

Other Factors that Affect the Alcohol Detox Timeline

Your tolerance to alcohol and the severity of your condition are the two major factors that influence the length of time it takes to detox.

The amount of alcohol consumed and the amount of time one has been dependent on alcohol can also affect the alcohol detox timeline.

Other factors that determine how long alcohol detox lasts include:

  • Age
  • Overall health
  • Weight
  • Mental health
  • How long the person has been drinking
  • Biological sex
  • Genetic factors
  • Tobacco or other drug use
  • Whether a person binge drinks or drinks at a steady pace

The way a person approaches detox can also have an impact on the withdrawal duration. For instance, quitting cold turkey is the fastest way to detox but also the most dangerous.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medications

A person with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the early stages of recovery may require medical attention to prevent incidences of life-threatening complications.

To assess the severity of alcohol withdrawals, doctors often use a scale called the Clinical Institute for Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol. The higher the score, the more severe the symptoms are and the more treatments you’ll likely need.

If you have mild withdrawal symptoms, you might not need any withdrawal medication. You can alleviate the symptoms through therapy or support groups.

But if you experience severe withdrawal complications, it’s advisable to see a doctor for immediate treatment. The following medications can be administered to combat cravings and chemical imbalances caused by alcohol dependency.

  • Benzodiazepines: – Doctors prescribe these medicines to manage seizures and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Anticonvulsants:  – These drugs are used to alleviate mild withdrawal symptoms, such as hallucinations, nausea, and cravings
  • Neuroleptic medications: – These medicines can be used as short-term or long-term treatments for psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.

In some cases, a doctor can recommend certain dietary changes or supplements, such as vitamin B-1 and B-9, to help your body cope with the decreasing alcohol intake.

Wrapping Up

Quitting drinking after consuming alcohol heavily often leads to withdrawal symptoms. The alcohol withdrawal symptoms may range from mild anxiety, nausea, or hallucinations to severe symptoms like seizures, high blood pressure, and tremors.

If you find yourself with any of these severe symptoms, it’s important to seek the help of a professional or detox at a medical facility.

Some facilities offer a rapid detox process, but on average, it should take you a few weeks to completely detox from alcohol.

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