Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox Timeline

Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox Timeline

Last Updated: February 17, 2023

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Alcohol withdrawal can occur when someone who struggles with alcohol abuse suddenly stops drinking. It can be uncomfortable or even dangerous, so facing alcohol withdrawal can discourage someone from quitting alcohol use. 

If you’re determined to overcome alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you’ve made an important first step. It can be helpful to understand the timeline for the withdrawal and detox process. Because success in sobriety is so closely tied to preparation, it is important to know what to expect when you quit drinking and how long it may take.

When Does Alcohol Withdrawal Start?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start within six to eight hours of the last drink. At that early stage, symptoms are likely to be mild and may include tremor, nausea and anxiety. If left untreated, withdrawal symptoms can worsen significantly.

How Long Does It Take To Withdraw From Alcohol?

Immediately after you quit drinking, you may notice that acute withdrawal begins within six to eight hours after the last drink. This withdrawal phase may continue and worsen for around five days after you quit drinking.

After this acute phase of alcohol withdrawal is complete, a period of prolonged withdrawal is possible. This phase, while often much less severe, may last for months.

Factors That Influence the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Different people may experience alcohol withdrawal in different ways. This includes not only the withdrawal symptoms themselves but also the withdrawal timeline. Some factors that impact the alcohol withdrawal timeline include:

  • Age: Younger people, especially those under age 30, are less likely to experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms than older adults.
  • Medications: People who take certain central nervous system depressants like sedatives may be at increased risk for withdrawal symptoms.
  • Previous withdrawal attempts: A person who has previously gone through alcohol withdrawal may be more likely to have serious withdrawal symptoms when they go through it again. This phenomenon, called kindling, can exacerbate withdrawal symptoms.
  • Other medical conditions: The presence of other medical conditions, including lab abnormalities, can complicate withdrawal. Medical conditions that can impact withdrawal vary widely and may sometimes be linked to alcohol addiction itself. Some complicating conditions can include stomach bleeding and liver problems.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Although the exact timeline for alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, there is a general withdrawal processthat you can expect when you stop drinking. Because both the symptoms and the timeline can be unpredictable in some cases, people with moderate to severe alcohol addiction should only undergo alcohol withdrawal while under medical care:

  • Stage one starts six to eight hours after your last drink. At this stage, mild withdrawal symptoms may begin. These can include tremor, anxiety and nausea.
  • Stage two: 12 to 24 hours after your last drink: Withdrawal symptoms can intensify during this stage. Tremors, agitation, insomnia and hallucinations are possible. You may also start to develop delirium tremens, the most severe complication of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Stage three: 24 to 48 hours after your last drink. During this stage, symptoms from stage two can continue to intensify. In serious cases, this can include alcohol withdrawal seizures.
  • Stage four: two to five days after your last drink. In this stage, withdrawal symptoms may include confusion, agitation, fever, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure and sweating. Delirium tremens is also possible. 
  • Stage five: one to six months after your last drink. This stage is also called protracted withdrawal. Although acute withdrawal symptoms may be far behind you, you may still have lingering symptoms like increased anxiety and trouble sleeping. Sometimes, these symptoms can last for years.

Detoxing From Alcohol

Alcohol detox refers to the process of quitting alcohol and giving your body the time to cleanse and heal from alcohol use. Generally, alcohol detox is accompanied by withdrawal symptoms if you drink heavily. These symptoms can be severe and unpredictable in some cases.

It is also important to remember that detox is only the first step in overcoming alcohol addiction. While detox ensures that the alcohol leaves your system, it does not address the root causes of why you began to rely on alcohol in the first place. To increase your chances of long-term sobriety, you should enroll in a rehab program to help you learn strategies for remaining alcohol-free over the long term.

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Alcohol Detox Methods

Multiple strategies exist for weaning yourself off alcohol. However, when you are deciding how to go about quitting, it is important to consider safety. Some alcohol detox strategies are safer than others. Alcohol detox methods can be divided into two broad categories:

  • Medical detox
  • Home detox 

Medical Detox

In medical detox, you are admitted to a special detox facility to wean yourself off alcohol. There, you will have around-the-clock care from doctors and nurses who can monitor you and treat any withdrawal symptoms as they occur. This means that medical detox is often one of the safest and most comfortable ways to quit drinking because symptoms are treated as they arrive with a team of specialists at the ready.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can wax and wane and may be unpredictable. Some symptoms, like hallucinations and delirium tremens, are extremely dangerous and can interfere with your ability to call for help if withdrawal symptoms start to spiral out of control. Because you are under vigilant care from a medical team while in medical detox, your symptoms can be treated before they ever reach that level.

Detox From Alcohol at Home

In home detox, you wean yourself off alcohol at home. It is important not to attempt a home detox without informing your doctor that you plan to do so. Your doctor can advise you on the safest ways to go about home detox, including having a person with you to call for emergency medical help if needed. It is also not recommended for those with moderate to severe alcohol addiction. 

A major downside to home detox is that alcohol withdrawal symptoms cannot be effectively treated as soon as they occur. Without a medical professional available to give you medications to relieve your symptoms, they may quickly worsen before you have a chance to seek help. In the case of serious alcohol withdrawal complications like delirium tremens, this can even lead to fatal consequences.

How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?

The alcohol detox timeline can vary based on the person. However, in general, withdrawal symptoms often start within six to eight hours after the last drink. Symptoms can then wax and wane for around five days as your body gets used to being without alcohol. 

Although acute withdrawal symptoms often stop after this time, lingering protracted withdrawal symptoms may last for months or years after a person has quit drinking.

Common Alcohol Detox Symptoms

Certain symptoms are common when a person is detoxing from alcohol. Although a person may not experience every symptom, many people have at least a few alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Tremor or shakes
  • Dehydration
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • High blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Sometimes, a person may experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be serious and may represent medical complications during the withdrawal process. For this reason, you should seek emergency medical attention if you suspect someone is having symptoms like:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Major fluctuations in body temperature 
  • Changing blood pressure
  • Extreme agitation

Some protracted withdrawal symptoms can linger for months or years even after withdrawal is complete. Although often less severe than acute withdrawal symptoms, these prolonged symptoms can impact a person’s quality of life. These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in mood 
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems 
  • Concentration problems
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • General physical complaints, especially unexplained pain

Alcohol Withdrawal FAQs

Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal? 

Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal if left untreated. For example, when untreated, the alcohol withdrawal complication delirium tremens is fatal in almost 15% of cases.

What Does Alcohol Withdrawal Feel Like?

Alcohol withdrawal feels very uncomfortable. In mild cases, a person may only have symptoms like mild tremor, anxiety and nausea. However, in more severe cases, a person may have a severe tremor, seizures, hallucinations, unstable blood pressure and may develop delirium tremens. 

What Helps Alcohol Withdrawal?

The gold standard treatments for alcohol withdrawal symptoms are low-dose, long-acting benzodiazepines like diazepam. However, a person must be closely monitored when receiving benzodiazepines during alcohol withdrawal, as symptoms can be unpredictable and may suddenly become severe.

Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking?

Medically speaking, shock is a condition that develops when blood flow to your body is interrupted. Therefore, when you stop drinking, your body does not technically go into shock. That said, stopping alcohol when your body has become reliant on it to function normally can certainly feel like a shock to your system. What actually occurs is the neurotransmitters in your brain are attempting to rebalance themselves now that alcohol is no longer available. Specifically, alcohol increases the activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). When you stop drinking, your brain must cope with sudden changes in the levels of GABA and other neurotransmitters.

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Shakes Last?

Shakes, or tremors, are a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. They can start within six to eight hours after the last drink and last for up to five days in severe cases.

What Medications Are Used For Alcohol Withdrawal?

Although many medications can be used to help alcohol withdrawal symptoms, the gold standard medications are long-acting benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium) or chlordiazepoxide. Like alcohol, benzodiazepines enhance the level of GABA in the brain. This means that they can help ease your transition to becoming alcohol-free while keeping GABA levels high enough in your brain to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Find an Alcohol Detox Center in Ohio

If you or a loved one struggles with drinking, help is here. Our medical detox program at The Recovery Village Columbus can help put you on the path to a better, alcohol-free life. Our facility not only offers around-the-clock medical detox care as you are gently weaned from drinking, but we also follow this with a full continuum of treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient rehab to help keep you sober over the long term. Don’t wait: contact our intake experts today to learn more about how we can help.

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