A person who is dependent on alcohol or has been using it for an extended period may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop drinking. These symptoms occur because the body goes through a period of detoxification, or detox, when a person quits drinking. Detox is the process of eliminating substances like alcohol from one’s system, and it is the first stage of recovery for people with alcohol use disorders. 

There are several different methods for alcohol detox, but each one can vary in terms of length, comfort and safety. How long it takes to detox from alcohol will depend on a person’s individual characteristics, their drinking habits and the detox method they choose.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox is the process of quitting alcohol and going through the physical effects of alcohol withdrawal until they completely resolve. Alcohol detox is generally uncomfortable and unpleasant, and it can also be dangerous. Alcohol detox can cause seizures or lead to a dangerous condition called delirium tremens, which can be fatal without medical treatment.

Alcohol withdrawal will occur when dependence on alcohol has developed. Dependence occurs when prolonged, frequent alcohol use causes the brain to adjust to the continuous presence of alcohol. Once alcohol use is stopped, the brain must readjust to the absence of alcohol. This readjustment process is what causes withdrawal symptoms to occur.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

There are a number of factors that affect how long it will take to detox from alcohol. However, the average alcohol detox timeline lasts between two and six days. Immediate effects can be felt within six hours of stopping drinking, and acute symptoms will occur within four to 48 hours of the onset of withdrawal. There are other symptoms that can last up to a week or more.

The severity of symptoms depends on how long a person has been using alcohol, how much alcohol they use and the severity of their alcohol use disorder. Immediate and acute withdrawal symptoms usually involve sweating, tremors, headaches, feeling restless or anxious and being unable to sleep. In more severe cases, it can also involve hallucinations or seizures.

While the withdrawal process will be slightly different for everyone, the general timeline for alcohol withdrawal will often include:

  • Onset of symptoms: Within six to 12 hours of the last drink, symptoms can begin. These symptoms may include anxiety, jumpiness, irritability, headaches and sweaty or clammy skin.
  • Increasing intensity: Within six to 72 hours into the withdrawal process, symptoms will begin to increase in intensity and severity. New symptoms will start to develop during this period, including nausea, vomiting, tremors, loss of appetite, insomnia and even seizures.
  • Peak symptoms: The peak of symptoms is the most dangerous part of withdrawal and generally occurs 48 to 72 hours after the last drink. If delirium tremens or seizures occur, this is when they are most likely. Almost every symptom that will occur will be present at the peak, and they will generally be at their most intense during this time.
  • Reduction in symptoms: After the peak, symptoms of withdrawal will decrease in intensity, gradually disappearing one by one. Physical symptoms will disappear more slowly than they appear, but they will typically be gone seven to 10 days after stopping alcohol.

Factors Affecting the Alcohol Detox Timeline

A large factor in how long it takes to detox from alcohol is the amount of alcohol used by the person undergoing detox. The factors that affect how long it takes to detox from alcohol include:

  • Amount of alcohol consumed
  • How often alcohol is consumed
  • How long the person has been drinking
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Body fat content
  • Ethnicity
  • Overall health
  • Genetics
  • Medication use

Related Topic: Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol at Home?

Alcohol detox at home usually involves quitting cold turkey (stopping alcohol use suddenly) without the assistance of other medications. This can be dangerous when a person’s body is used to having alcohol in its system. In this case, a person will likely go through withdrawal symptoms when alcohol starts to leave their system.

The withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, based on how dependent on alcohol a person has become. Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from two days to several weeks. Detoxing from alcohol at home can be dangerous or even deadly if the withdrawal symptoms are severe.

Risks for Detoxing from Alcohol at Home

Detoxing at home carries many serious risks. A person detoxing at home may be more likely to use alcohol to suppress the withdrawal symptoms, making it necessary to restart the entire process. They may also go through severe withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening.

One very serious alcohol withdrawal symptom is delirium tremens. A person experiencing delirium tremens may have hallucinations and become agitated or extremely confused. They may also experience a fast heart rate, high blood pressure, fever and sweating. These effects usually occur within 24 to 72 hours after stopping alcohol use. Delirium tremens can be deadly, with a mortality rate of 37% when it is not treated.

How Long Does Professional Alcohol Detox Take?

There are many options for professional alcohol detox that a person can choose from. Most professional alcohol detox programs will involve medication-assisted detox, where medical professionals monitor the individual while they are going through alcohol withdrawal and give them medications to ease symptoms. This process focuses on keeping the individual as safe and comfortable as possible during detox.

Related Topic: Alcohol Detox

Benefits of Medical Detox

The benefit of doing professional alcohol detox is that a person will have someone supporting them along the way. They will have assistance not only during detox, but also in rehab treatment and throughout the long-term recovery journey. This continued support helps make it more likely that people will be able to abstain from alcohol use and maintain lasting recovery.

Learn About Alcohol Detox in Florida

Quitting alcohol by yourself is often more dangerous and uncomfortable than attending a medical detox program. Often, the hardest part of becoming sober is making the decision to seek professional help. 

At The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health, we have extensive experience in helping people successfully complete detox and achieve lasting sobriety. Contact us today to find out how we can help you have the safest and most comfortable alcohol detox experience possible.

Medical Disclaimer: 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.