When a person is dependent on alcohol, not drinking can be a challenge. An alcohol detox occurs once a person stops drinking, and alcohol starts to leave the person’s system. But how long does the detox process take?

While a person goes through alcohol detox, they can develop several symptoms of withdrawal. In some cases, symptoms can become life threatening.

When a person is ready to quit drinking, they should consider seeking professional help to reduce the intensity of the symptoms.

Keep reading to learn more about how long it takes to detox from alcohol. We also discuss signs of addiction, some withdrawal symptoms that a person can expect when detoxing, and how to treat these symptoms.

woman with insomnia and anxiety due to alcohol withdrawalShare on Pinterest
Stage 1 alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, and nausea.

According to the American Addiction Centers, initial detox takes about a week. However, a person may find that their symptoms continue for longer. In most cases, a person can expect the following timeline:

  • About 8 hours after the first drink, the initial stage of withdrawal symptoms begins.
  • After about 24–72 hours, symptoms generally peak.
  • After about 5–7 days, symptoms may decrease in intensity.
  • After the first week, some side effects, particularly the psychological ones, may continue.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically occur in three stages:

  • Stage 1: The first symptoms, which include nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and abdominal pain, tend to begin within 8 hours of the last drink.
  • Stage 2: Symptoms can include high blood pressure, increased body temperature, abnormal heart rate, and confusion. These symptoms typically begin 24–72 hours after the last drink.
  • Stage 3: Symptoms typically begin about 2–4 days after the final drink and can include fever, seizures, hallucinations, and agitation.

As the alcohol leaves the system, a person should start to notice symptoms decreasing. Most people tend to notice a reduction in symptoms within 5–7 days.

In addition to physical symptoms, a person will likely experience some psychological side effects, such as alcohol cravings or anxiety.

Finally, it is important to note that, in certain cases, a person could experience life threatening symptoms due to alcohol withdrawal. According to Recovery Worldwide, alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person stops drinking following heavy and prolonged use.

They also note that a person can experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome whether they have been drinking for weeks, months, or years.

Withdrawal syndrome can be dangerous, particularly if a person experiences severe hallucinations or seizures. For this reason, it is advisable to go to a rehab center, where the staff can help monitor worsening symptoms.

When detox occurs in a medical center, healthcare professionals often use medication to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines to manage seizures and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

In a rehab center, the healthcare team will monitor the person’s body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing.

In some cases, a person may choose to reduce their alcohol consumption gradually over several weeks. In these cases, a person should work with a doctor or healthcare provider to develop a schedule that they can follow safely to decrease dependency.

If a person slowly detoxes, they may be able to avoid the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. A doctor might also recommend certain dietary changes or supplements, such as vitamins B-1 (thiamin) and B-9 (folic acid), to help the body cope with the decreasing alcohol intake.

As with other addictions, alcohol dependency can negatively affect a person’s life.

Signs of alcohol use disorder vary from person to person, but they may include:

  • drinking in secret or alone
  • short-term memory loss
  • experiencing blackouts
  • making excuses to drink, for example, saying that it is to manage stress or to relax
  • irritability
  • extreme mood swings
  • changing appearance or friends
  • choosing drinking over obligations or responsibilities
  • feeling hungover even when not drinking
  • isolation from friends and family members

Anyone can develop alcohol use disorder. It is important that people seek help if they suspect that they are becoming dependent on alcohol.

A person should seek help if they notice that they or someone they love has symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Seeking help can be challenging for the person who is struggling with addiction. Loved ones and friends can help by letting the person know that they are not alone in their struggle.

If a person is unsure whether they need help, Recovery Worldwide suggest that they use a tool called CAGE, which is a short questionnaire that healthcare professionals may use to help screen people for treatment.

If a person can answer yes to two or more of the CAGE questions, they should consider seeking treatment.

The CAGE questions are as follows:

  • Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?

It takes about a week to detox from alcohol in most cases.

A person can sometimes become dependent on alcohol within a few weeks, but in other cases, it can take several years.

When a person decides to quit drinking, they should consider seeking professional help. This help may take the form of rehab or working with medical professionals to reduce alcohol consumption gradually over the course of a few weeks.