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What Is Detox And How Long Does It Take?

Detoxification, also known as detox, is when toxins like alcohol are removed from the body. It is one of the first steps in alcohol addiction recovery. During the process, recovering users battle discomforts known as withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant physical reactions that occur during the detoxification of an addictive substance. The effects are different for everyone, and the transition can vary from a few days to several months. 

Alcohol Detox Timeline

The timeline for an alcohol detox ranges from person to person. For individuals battling mild or moderate alcoholism, the process can begin within 8 hours after their last drink. Withdrawal can then last anywhere between 4 to 5 days. Those struggling with severe alcoholism can experience symptoms for 2 weeks or more. Though the detox timeframe may vary by case, there is a general timeline for alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

The First 6 Hours Of Detox

Alcohol’s ability to depress the central nervous system causes an imbalance in the body. As a response, the brain signals the production of more neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters excite the central nervous system, thus creating a balance within the body. Once alcohol is gone, the body becomes overactive due to the extra neurotransmitters. The overactivity causes an assortment of symptoms known as withdrawal. Within the first 6 hours of detox, recovering users will experience discomfort. The signs typically start about 6 hours after a person’s last drink. 

Typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Tremors (shaking)
  • Increase or decrease in blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweats
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Anxiety
  • Faster than the regular pulse 

Individuals who are chronic heavy drinkers may even experience a seizure during this timeline. 

12 To 24 Hours

During the first 12 to 24 hours, people healing from heavy alcohol use may experience hallucinations. The recovering individual may hear or see apparitions. It is important to note that illusions only affect a small number of people. Though hallucinations may be frightening, medical professionals do not consider them serious complications. More common yet severe symptoms include disorientation, hand tremors, and seizures. 

24 To 48 Hours Later

Once a day or two have passed, most individuals may still experience mild symptoms. Fortunately for people battling only minor withdrawal, alcohol detox signs will generally peak at 18 to 24 hours. 

These symptoms may include:

  • Headaches 
  • Tremors
  • Upset stomach

Still, for those experiencing stronger alcohol cessation, individuals could be dealing with much more serious symptoms like:

  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • High fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Delirium tremens

48 Hours To 72 Hours

During this time frame, it is essential for medical professionals to keep a close eye on patients who were once heavy drinkers. A rare condition called Delirium Tremens (DT) tends to appear during the second day of detox. 

Delirium Tremens can lead to :

  • High heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Confusion 
  • Nervous or angry behavior
  • Extreme hyperactivity
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dehydration

Delirium tremens is severe and can be fatal. However, some sedatives may prevent the condition. It is essential to seek treatment in a medical facility before detox to avoid any lethal complications. 

After 72 Hours

Once the 72 hours have passed and symptoms have peaked, individuals tend to improve. However, it varies case by case. In rare instances, withdrawal symptoms can last 30 days. Among the moderate symptoms, a person may feel rapid heart rate and experience delusions. 

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Once the acute physical symptoms of alcohol begin to subside, some individuals may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS is a rare condition that involves withdrawal symptoms that occur after the initial 72 hours. It can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. 

Post Alcohol Detox Timeline

Once an individual finishes their initial detoxing, they are not fully recovered. Detox is only the initial phase of recovery. A person’s cravings for alcohol may persist even after detox. 

To truly understand and overcome addiction, therapy may be necessary. Treatment usually is used to help rehabilitate patients and address the psychological, social, and behavioral problems that led them to addiction. By getting to the root cause of the issue, recovering users are more likely to produce lasting behavioral changes. Detox is not a substitute for any necessary rehab or therapy.  

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

How long detox takes varies from case to case and on several factors. However, it is essential always to consult a medical professional when attempting to quit drinking. Stopping the chronic consumption of alcohol is dangerous and can be lethal. The best way to ensure a safe recovery is by opting in for detox at an inpatient facility. Within the inpatient facility, patients can rest assured they will have the support and comfort they need during the challenging process. 

After the initial detox, recovering users can choose to continue their journey towards recovery in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Detoxing and not seeking therapy are not recommended. The persisting desire for the substance can make post-rehab life challenging for some individuals. That is why it is crucial for people who are committed to their recovery to find medical help when attempting to quit alcohol. Not only is it safer, but it also decreases a person’s chance of relapsing. 

Find Help Today

If you or a loved one have or suspect you/they may have an alcohol use problem, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Contact a treatment provider to discuss available treatment options. Do not wait another day. Call a treatment provider today. 

  • Author: Suzette Gomez | Last Updated: October 4, 2021

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    Suzette Gomez

    Digital Content Writer

    Suzette Gomez earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Central Florida. Her desire to help others led her to a Pre-medical track with a focus on psychological and social development. After graduation, she pursued her passion for writing and began working as a Digital Content Writer at Recovery Worldwide LLC. With her background in medicine, Suzette uses both science and the arts to serve the public through her writing.

  • Medical Reviewer: David Hampton

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