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Alcohol Detox

If someone decides to stop consuming alcohol, especially if they have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD), they should be aware of what might happen during the alcohol detox process. Alcohol withdrawal during detox can be dangerous or even life-threatening for some individuals without medical help.

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What is Alcohol Detox?

When a person seeks treatment for alcohol addiction, the first step in the recovery process is usually alcohol detoxification (aka detox), which occurs as the body removes any remaining alcohol from the body.

However, when someone who has developed an alcohol dependence stops drinking alcohol, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal during detox. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on previous alcohol consumption.

A person who is a heavy drinker is more at risk for severe withdrawal symptoms, whereas a less serious drinker may only experience mild symptoms.

Alcohol Detox: Symptoms of Withdrawal

For some individuals who have quit drinking after a period of alcohol abuse, the withdrawal symptoms may be relatively minor.

Some of the more common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling irritable
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Alcohol cravings

Individuals who experience more intense withdrawal symptoms are more likely to have been heavy drinkers than those who only experience mild symptoms.

Some of the more severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

Many of the more severe withdrawal symptoms won’t show up until 48-72 hours after the last drink. For the most extreme cases of withdrawal, delirium tremens may be present. Individuals showing more severe side effects should seek medical care immediately.

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Delirium tremens is a medical condition that can occur in individuals with the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms of delirium tremens can be fatal.

Side effects of delirium tremens can include:

  • Hallucinations (visual and auditory)
  • Withdrawal seizures
  • Severe disorientation
  • Extreme tremors
  • Inability to regulate blood pressure or heart rate
  • Organ failure
  • Impaired brain function

By seeking medical detox for the management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, patients gain access to medical care during the entire withdrawal process.

“Medically assisted alcohol withdrawal is what they call alcohol detox today. Alcohol detox is bringing the brain in for a smooth landing after someone stops drinking.”

- Quote from Dr. Kent S. Hoffman, Board Certified Addiction Specialist & Co-Founder
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Alcohol Detox Timeline – How Long Does It Take?

Individuals who go through alcohol detox may have varying experiences depending on age, addiction level, and other health conditions. However, there is a general set of expected timelines for a safe detox from alcohol.

Quick Overview of Alcohol Detox Symptoms:

  1. Within 6-12 hours: Symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, and insomnia may appear.
  2. Within 24-72 hours: Withdrawal symptoms peak, including tremors, increased heart rate, sweating, and hallucinations.
  3. Within 5-7 days: Most physical withdrawal symptoms begin to subside, but psychological symptoms like depression and cravings may persist.
  4. Beyond 7 days: Psychological symptoms may continue, requiring ongoing therapy and support.

You can expect the alcohol detox process to follow a general timeline lasting approximately 7-10 days.

Alcohol Detox: First 6–12 Hours (Phase 1)

Most people will begin to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 6-12 hours following their last drink.

During this early stage, your central nervous system is beginning to feel the impact of no longer getting the sedative effects of alcohol that it had become used to.

Within the first 6-12 hour period, symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Hand tremors (aka “the shakes”)
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability

Alcohol Detox: Days 1–3 (Phase 2)

Phase two of alcohol detox occurs within the 24 to 72-hour mark (i.e., 1-3 days). During phase two of withdrawals, symptoms will begin to peak. In addition, some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms can start to appear.

Seizure risks are the highest during phase two. In addition to seizures, prolonged sleep disturbances, mood changes, and fatigue can also be present.

Phase two possible symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Stronger tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in mood (anxious, irritable)
  • Brain fog
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Alcohol Detox: One Week (Phase 3)

The next week or more may also present some symptoms for some individuals.

Severe side effects will likely wane as the central nervous system returns to normal functioning. However, people recovering from alcohol use disorder should try to manage expectations during stage three.

Sometimes, mild symptoms may continue to present after the first few weeks. While these symptoms are not serious, they can feel disruptive and discouraging.

Whether or not symptoms continue during stage three will rely upon the individual, their history with alcohol use (length of time, amount consumed, etc.), and any additional health factors.

Home Alcohol Detox vs Medically Supervised Detox

When going through detox from any drug abuse, your safest option is to consult with a healthcare professional or addiction treatment provider beforehand. Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.

Home Detox for Alcohol

Mild alcohol addiction can usually mean mild withdrawal. However, it is best to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional about the risks involved with your individual situation. Alcohol withdrawals can be deadly if you aren’t careful.

If approved by a healthcare professional for at-home detoxification, you can anticipate experiencing mild symptoms of withdrawal as listed above.

During a home detox, the following practices may help:

  • Hydration: Keeping yourself hydrated during alcohol detox will assist your body with naturally flushing out any relevant chemicals.
  • Balanced Diet: Eating healthy, nutrient-rich foods will support your body’s healing and fuel you as your body adjusts to the lack of alcohol it has gotten used to.
  • Rest: Be sure to get plenty of rest and maintain a regular sleep schedule, allowing your body to continue healing.

If you choose to do a home detox, it is ideal to check with a medical professional to ensure that it is safe for you to do without medical supervision. During the detox process, if you begin to experience more severe symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Medically-Supervised Detox (Much Safer for Long-term Alcohol Use Disorder)

In some cases, a medical detox is the safer choice when detoxing from alcohol use—especially when heavy drinking was the case beforehand. Medical detox allows the recovering individual to experience withdrawals under medical supervision to ensure their safety.

As mentioned above, more acute withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Having access to medical personnel can be critical.

“So when the brain is under the influence of alcohol regularly, it puts a dampening effect on it, a soothing effect, if you will. However, when that soothing effect is instantly or quickly lifted off, the brain and the central nervous system become increasingly agitated. They actually call it a “kindling effect.” And so that as you go through these withdrawals, the brain continues to get more agitated the next time and so on. That effect is why alcohol withdrawal is a very serious matter, and detox shouldn’t be done by the individual alone.”

- Quote from Dr. Kent S. Hoffman, Board Certified Addiction Specialist & Co-Founder

Medically supervised detox can be provided on either an inpatient or an outpatient level, depending on the severity of previous alcohol use. Various treatment programs are available to assist you through detox and provide peace of mind.

Besides monitoring your vitals and working to keep you safe, your medical detox team may also prescribe you certain medications to assist you through the withdrawal process.

Some of these medications are designed to lessen the alcohol withdrawal symptoms, while others are meant to help you resist the urge to relapse and return to drinking.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Detox

Here are some of the most common treatment medications utilized during the detoxification process:

  • Benzodiazepines: Used for their sedative effects to prevent withdrawal seizures. Such benzodiazepines may include chlordiazepoxide (Librium®), diazepam (Valium®), and lorazepam (Ativan®).
  • Naltrexone: More commonly prescribed during the late withdrawal stage to prevent relapse.
  • Acamprosate: Another common choice for preventing relapse, usually after the main withdrawal symptoms have subsided.
  • Disulfiram: Helpful for relapse prevention by causing an unpleasant reaction to drinking alcohol.

Alcohol Detox Aftercare and Additional Treatment

In many cases, aftercare for alcohol use disorder can be just as important as the detox process.

The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that 2.2 million people received alcohol use treatment in the past year.

After the symptoms of withdrawal have subsided, many individuals seek mental health treatment. Alcohol use disorder takes a toll on the individual mentally and emotionally, not just physically.

Support groups and individual counseling via psychiatry can provide separate but similar benefits to help you or your loved one continue their healing.

Additionally, you or your loved one may already be enrolled in an alcohol rehab program (inpatient or outpatient), and the detox process was just the first step in your journey.

Whatever the case may be, once detox is complete, you have finished one of the most critical steps in alcohol addiction treatment.

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Find an Alcohol Detox Near You

Not sure what alcohol detox treatment options are available to you? You can talk to your doctor or visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) online program locator to see what treatment facilities are near you.

Call them at 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) for free, confidential information about local alcohol detox centers.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Detox

How successful is alcohol detox?

Individuals who seek treatment for alcohol or substance use disorder are 50-75% more likely to succeed in their overall recovery journey. While alcohol detox has some general similarities, each person’s experience can differ slightly.

Individuals with a strong support system and a willingness to improve tend to experience more success overall.

Is medically-assisted alcohol detox covered by insurance?

Yes, in many cases, insurance (including Medicare) will cover medically-assisted alcohol detox. You should speak with your insurance provider to find out what exactly is covered when it comes to treatment for alcohol use disorder, including medical detox services.

How can I prevent relapse after alcohol detox?

Relapse prevention comes in a variety of methods. Having a strong support system, through either family or support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), can make a huge difference in relapse prevention.

In some cases, medication will be prescribed to aid the recovering alcoholic. These medications prevent relapse by eliminating the effects of alcohol and/or reducing cravings.

How long does alcohol detox take?

The average alcohol detox process takes between 3 to 7 days.

The length of time and severity of withdrawal symptoms will depend on some individual factors, including:

  • Age
  • Other health issues
  • Length of time a person drank
  • Amount person drank

Is long-term sobriety possible?

Long-term sobriety is completely possible, and many people have remained sober for decades! Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide a fantastic support system for individuals to help them maintain their sobriety.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  5. Rahman, A., & Paul, M. (2023, April 14). Delirium Tremens – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. National Library of Medicine.
  6. Saitz, R. (1998). Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health and Research World.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023). Alcohol Treatment in the United States. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  8. WebMD. (2023, October 8). Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatment and Alcohol Detox Duration. WebMD.

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